‘The Meg’ director isn’t looking for an Oscar, he just wants everyone to enjoy the ‘big f—ing shark’

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Warner Bros.

  • “The Meg” director Jon Turteltaub explains how he made sure not to do a remake of “Jaws” while making his shark movie.
  • “The Meg,” starring Jason Statham, is based on a novel about a massive shark known as a megalodon thought to be extinct since prehistoric times.

“You can win an Oscar if you do a shark movie where the shark represents some grand flaw in mankind’s soul,” director Jon Turteltaub told Business Insider over the phone in a moment of contemplation. “But in this case, I wanted to do a movie where the shark represents a big f–king shark!”

Turteltaub went into making Warner Bros.’ late-summer, $130-million-plus blockbuster “The Meg” (in theaters Friday) with one goal in mind: let the audience have fun. His favorite movie of all time is “Jaws,” and he said fun was the one thing he leaned on when deciding to take this project.

Steven Spielberg’s three-time Oscar winning classic isn’t just the greatest shark movie ever, but also launched the Hollywood summer blockbuster season. Turteltaub knew in his gut he could make “The Meg.” But the challenge he faced was to figure out how to make a summer shark movie that audiences wouldn’t feel was just a rip-off of “Jaws.”

The Meg Bantam Books

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Bantam Books

“The Meg” is based on the 1997 Steve Alten book, “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror,” which follows the adventures of Navy deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor as he combats the thought-to-be-extinct massive shark known as a megalodon, which ruled the deep oceans in prehistoric times. (The gory sci-fi book launched a series of novels with titles like “MEG: Hell’s Aquarium” and “MEG: Generations.”)

It was the kind of story Hollywood had to get a piece of. The rights to the book were quickly acquired by Disney, then moved over to New Line where directors like Jan de Bont and Guillermo Del Toro were attached, and finally landed at Warner Bros., where Turteltaub took the reins.

“It was really quick, I think I signed on in March [of 2016] and we were shooting in September,” Turteltaub said. “Because of the novels, because of the many lives the project had before I joined, the ball was already rolling and some really smart work had already been done.”

Thanks to Chinese financier Gravity Pictures coming on board to help with the costs, “The Meg” got the blockbuster treatment, with a majority of the production shot in New Zealand (doubling for Singapore) and lots and lots of work put in for CGI and 3D.

Though Turteltaub had practically seen it all in Hollywood – having directed everything from “Cool Runnings” to the “National Treasure” movies – he was shocked by how much work had to be done in post production for the movie.

Jason Statham in

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Jason Statham in “The Meg.”
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Warner Bros.

“When you have this much CG you know it’s going to take at least a year to finish the movie,” he said. “But you also leave a shocking amount of time to do all the 3D work. I couldn’t believe how much time and effort and expertise goes into that. We really needed five months just for that.”

Another big change in today’s moviemaking compared to years past was that America no longer dictates when a movie is released.

“It used to be America picked the best date and then the world followed,” Turteltaub said. “Now it’s the best worldwide date and America follows.”

That’s especially true when China is behind your movie’s financing.

Turteltaub said “The Meg” was completed in the beginning of the year but because Chinese New Year is in February, the thought was it wasn’t a good time to open the movie there. So it got pushed, with August eventually being the right date.

Turteltaub wasn’t too worried when the movie opened because test audiences had given him the only feedback he needed.

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“The Meg” director Jon Turteltaub.
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Getty

“I was thrilled how the word ‘fun’ was the first word out of everyone’s mouth regardless of what country we showed it in,” he said. “When someone says your movie is fun, that’s usually the word they say when they don’t have something nice to say – but in this case I was going for that response. Not primarily interesting or political or emotional, primarily fun.”

In the movie, action star Jason Statham plays the Jonas Taylor character, who has sworn off the water after previously battling a megalodon (though no one will believe that was what he actually saw). But when he gets word that his ex-wife along with the crew of an underwater research facility are in danger, and that they may have discovered the meg, Jonas has no choice but to throw back on the wetsuit and save the day.

The movie is a mix of outlandish gory action, dark comedy, and a central theme of family, which Turteltaub believes will play well to a global audience. And in staying away from “Jaws,” he intentionally flipped the structure so the part of the movie when beachgoers are rudely visited by the meg, which suddenly appears from beneath them, comes at the end instead of the first hour of the movie.

“It just gets bigger and more fun,” Turteltaub said of the movie. “Ultimately, I thought of this less as a shark movie and more like a monster movie.”