"You're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat": 'Jaws' Writer Reveals Origins of Movie's Famous Line

Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw-Jaws Still-1975
Universal Pictures/Getty Images

"[Spielberg and I] shared a house together and spent every waking moment together for the next four months because I was either rewriting or acting in the movie," says Carl Gottlieb.

In 1974, Carl Gottlieb was the story editor on ABC's The Odd Couple when he was asked by his friend, a then relatively unknown director named Steven Spielberg, to give him notes on the script for his movie about a shark.

"[Spielberg] was anxious to do a rewrite before they started shooting — they were about two or three weeks before principal photography," Gottlieb tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I was sent the script with a memo saying, 'Eviscerate this.'"

After reading Gottlieb's extensive notes, Spielberg asked if he would join the Jaws production and help to redraft the troubled script adaptation of Peter Benchley's best-seller. Gottlieb quit his day job.

"We shared a house together and spent every waking moment together for the next four months because I was either rewriting or acting in the movie," remembers the 77-year-old scribe, who also played the small onscreen role of Ben Meadows, the town's newspaper editor, in the film.

The infamous line from Jaws, "You're gonna need a bigger boat," which landed at No. 3 on Hollywood's Top 100 Movie Quotes, came about during those rewrites.

"It was an overlap of a real-life problem combined with the dilemma of the characters onscreen," Gottlieb says of the origins of the line. The real-life problem being a barge (named by the cast and crew S.S. Garage Sale), which carried all the lights and camera equipment and craft services, was steadied by a small support boat that was too tiny to manage the job.

Gottlieb recalls: "[Richard] Zanuck and [David] Brown were very stingy producers, so everyone kept telling them, 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.' It became a catchphrase for anytime anything went wrong — if lunch was late or the swells were rocking the camera, someone would say, 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.'"

Roy Scheider, who played Brody in the movie, ad-libbed the line at different points in his performance throughout filming. But the one reading that made it in to the final cut of the movie was after the suspenseful first look at the great white shark. Says Gottlieb, "It was so appropriate and so real and it came at the right moment, thanks to Verna Field's editing." 

Gottlieb has heard the line pop up in a lot of strange places, but he says the most memorable time it was quoted back to him was in a casino: "I was playing poker and thought I had a winning hand, 'cause I had a full house, which is referred to as a 'full boat,' and the guy across the table from me said, 'You're gonna need a bigger boat,' and he put down a larger full house." 

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