A Look At The History Of JAWS On The Water

Inner tubes are buggers.

By now you’ve probably heard of our Jaws on the Water events (get your tickets here!), and the spectacle that they’ve become. After the event went viral, things have really started to explode. But, as with most things, that’s not where the story begins. To get the full story, a chat had to be had with the Alamo Drafthouse’s VP of Special Events, Henri Mazza.

The event actually started while Henri was still working in the Drafthouse's theater twelve years ago. Back then, Jaws on the Water was a part of the Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow, and like all new events, it had a whole host of logistical issues that needed to be sorted.

HENRI: So, they did a show at Lake Travis and had to figure out the logistics. Like how to get a projector to one side of the cove and project to the other side. But there were a lot of different challenges to it because digital projection wasn’t as strong as it is now. Back then I think they did one night. They did it where you got boated to the spot and got dropped off in groups. It was the same at the end so there was like a group just stuck while waiting for the boat. But, you know, when you do something for the first time there’s always going to be fun challenges that pop up.

The show went on a few more times after that inaugural event, but there came a point where Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League had to start focusing on expanding the Drafthouse and building out Fantastic Fest. Others continued to run the Rolling Roadshow in his stead, but after time they moved on to other opportunities as well. At that point, Henri had moved up in the company, and started work to assemble a team and get the events back up and running.

HENRI: Once we got the team together and sorted out the screens, we were trying to figure out what we were going to do. What type of shows, etc. one of the first things that we wanted to try to do was pick stuff up that fell by the wayside because they were an insane amount of work. Jaws is the one that everyone always remembered, so we figured that was the best place to start.

After deciding to make Jaws on the Water a focus again, the next big step was location scouting. Turns out that step would be one that would be repeated quite often through the event’s run, even up to this year! One of the first locations the team found was the Texas Ski Ranch.

HENRI: Back then Jason and Dakota (two of the guys running the Roadshow at the time) and I drove around all over the place trying to find locations near Austin, when we stumbled on a park called Texas Ski Ranch. I didn’t know that cable parks existed at the time! They’re like a roller-skating rink for people who wakeboard? I’m sure people will have fun with that one in the comments. It’s a rink, there’s a lake that’s a circle and then there are tables that have the handle and the rope stuff on them. So we went out to this one and thought we would use another manmade lake that they had right next to it, but this cable park actually ended up working better since it had an island right in the middle. We talked to the ski ranch people and put together a deal so they would handle the food and drink service and we would handle the movie tickets and getting people in!

It was after this first relaunch of the event that things started to explode for Jaws on the Water. You see, back in 2002 when the event first debuted, things didn’t go viral. That was no longer the case, and things got big quickly for the team behind the event. After that initial buzz, the team ended up adding days to the run. All told, they ended up doing three weeks of shows, but that was all they had in them. The set up and tear down of the event wasn't easy, so that was all they had in them at that point.

You can’t run a big event like that without having a few hilarious stories to share. In this case, it all revolves around them damn tubes!

HENRI: When we were doing the first one we didn’t anticipate how much of a nightmare the tubes would be. We had kind of the traditional black inner tubes and everyone just got to use one. Then they’d have to return them on the way out. But trying to collect tubes was a particular challenge. We had them on one side of the lake, but our storage was on the other. So the following morning we were trying to move them across the water using a rope and tube system that did not work. Quickly we realized that this was a disaster and weren’t sure what to do, but the Ski Ranch folks ended up helping us get them to where they needed to go and let us store them on site.

Unfortunately, we also learned that the black tubes will expand and pop when they’re inflated. Not all of them, but a good like, thirty percent. You don’t anticipate every problem because you think “Yeah, great, I know how tubes work.” But it was a huge hassle. They also weren’t super comfortable, so we ended up getting a lot of complaints about the tubes that year. Last year we ended up making custom tubes with the Alamo logo on them. The design team made them clear with the logo and the shark swimming under you, which just looks really cool. And it made it where we could make them a keepsake. We wouldn’t have to collect them, and it added a value to the ticket!

Each location change can present new potential issues as well. For instance, this year will occur on a lake instead of the water parks of yore, and that brings a new challenger into the ring. Fish!

HENRI: This year we’re on Lake Travis where the water is like 30 ft deep, and there is actual weird stuff in there. There’s at least giant catfish, and there could be anything else. Stuff that we didn’t have at Texas Ski Ranch. If something grabbed you there it was probably just the scuba divers we hired to grab people during the shark scenes, but, out on an actual lake? I don’t know! That might end up being an unforeseen complication. Oh! There’s actually a lake placid alligator attacking people, damnit!

Which brings us to where we are today! Here’s a few ways that the event has evolved since that first year.

HENRI: This is also the first time we’re showing more than the first Jaws. We’re showing all of them (obviously not all in one night).  No Lake Placid stuff, but we’re doing a night of Jaws 2 (just one night. It’s surprisingly not selling as well as the original) and we’re going to try to do Jaws 3D, which might not work because people are floating on a lake, and there are different outdoor projection types, but hey, we’re gonna try! People were saying it’s a stupid thing to even attempt, but that’s why we try to do things sometimes, right?

Then we’re going to close it out with Jaws: The Revenge, because they make the shark roar at the end and that’s just something that should be seen from the water. We have three weeks of it scheduled. We might add another one, but this time when we put it up all at once because we wanted to give people a chance to plan out a trip if they’re going to travel for it.

You can check out the whole list of Jaws on the Water events here!