This year marks the 40th anniversary of the movie 'Jaws 2,' which was filmed locally and brought the Emerald Coast into the national spotlight.
Forty years ago, a little movie called "Jaws 2" was released in theaters.
It was Hollywood's first summer blockbuster sequel and at $30 million, it was the most expensive film Universal had produced at that time. It may not be as broadly beloved as Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," but it does have a special place in the hearts of people who lived on the Emerald Coast at the time of its production.
From the Holiday Inn on Navarre Beach, where the cast and crew stayed, to the original Hog's Breath Saloon on Okaloosa Island, where extras played pinball for the cameras, "Jaws 2" was the big news in the area.
"Everybody has their own little story about it," said Ben Anderson, who got the role of the diving instructor, Sparky. "It was a lasting memory for the entire community. I'm excited to still be a part of it."
'Sand fleas and sand castles'
Long before he was the Okaloosa tax collector, Anderson was a 26-year-old Realtor who saw a notice for an open casting call for the movie. He remembers sending his application and writing that he was certified not only in scuba diving but also "sand fleas and sand castles." He got cast as an extra and was eventually asked if he'd be interested in auditioning for a speaking role. That's how he became Sparky. His pay went from $2 an hour to $850 a week.
Anderson said he doesn't get any residual check from the movie, but he did get a "lifetime of benefits." He used his acting salary to buy an engagement ring for his wife.
"We were married in April 1978 and the movie came out in June 1978," Anderson said. "So our anniversary coincides with the anniversary of the movie."
Filming was a lot of "hurry up and waiting," Anderson said. He remembers taking a whole day to film a scene at Shalimar Yacht Basin in which he and some kids had to jump in and out of the water on a cold January day. It amounted to about 12 seconds on screen.
"It was interesting to see how it all came together," he said.
Anderson remembers when the movie was released on June 16, 1978. A group of locals who worked on the movie made T-shirts for the occasion and arranged a private screening that morning at Cinco Cinema. Anderson still has the ticket stub — the price was just $3 back then — framed alongside a photo and newspaper ad for the movie.
He can easily recall his big line in the movie: "Get us in for Christ's sake, get us in."
"It was surreal to see and hear myself on the screen," he said.
'A labor of love'
Much of the film's locations have changed dramatically over the decades. Captain Dave's on the Destin Harbor is no more. The Holiday Inn on Navarre Beach is now a SpringHill Suites. Destin wasn't even a city when "Jaws 2" was filmed. It was just the "Village of Destin." Anderson said he doesn't watch the movie very often, but he enjoys seeing the Emerald Coast frozen in time.
"It's a reflection of the area 40 years ago," he said.
In 2015, authors Louis R. Pisano and Michael A. Smith released their book "Jaws 2: The Making of the Hollywood Sequel." Smith spent time in the Destin and Navarre Beach area collecting photos and conducting interviews with locals, like Anderson, who were involved with the film. Being a huge fan of "Jaws" and "Jaws 2," the research was a "labor of love." An expanded and updated version of the book was recently released with even more backstory on the Hollywood sequel.
"The new book has 200 new photos, most of them never seen before," Smith said. "I talked to three different people on special effects, both makeup artists and the assistant film editor. Paul Williams (the film's composer) is the one person from the opening credits that is still alive that I haven't interviewed. If I ever talk to him, I'll do another updated version of the book."
"Jaws" is Smith's all-time favorite movie. Since he first saw it in 1975, he hasn't stopped writing about it or its franchise.
"It's given me a great life," he said of the original film. "I had taken a tape recorder to one of the showings and recorded all of the dialogue. I'd go to bed listening to it. Then in school one day, I was playing it and another kid said 'Are you listening to Jaws?' We've been friends for 43 years."
For Smith, the movie's anniversary brings him back to his teenage years. To mark the 40th anniversary of "Jaws 2" Smith will be at the Destin Fishing Museum on Saturday to sign books.
"I remember driving around with friends in December 1977. We knew which theater and which showtimes were playing the 'Jaws 2' trailer," Smith said. "It has its own place in history. It wasn't 'Jaws.' It was a good movie and it brings back so many fond memories."