Even if you don’t know her name, you’ve seen Valerie Taylor’s work. She and her late husband, Ron Taylor, captured the live shark footage used in Jaws. The 12-to-13-foot Great Whites commonly found in the wild were considerably smaller than the film’s 25-foot monster, so director Steven Spielberg sent the Taylors a half-scale shark cage and a half-scale actor to make them seem huge.
In the new documentary Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story, the revered oceanographer recalls that, on seeing a wild shark for the first time, the small stuntie ruefully remarked that he should have asked for more money—and that was before the cage was destroyed by yet another shark that became entangled in its cables (yes, that footage was used in the film).
It’s just one wild incident taken from a life packed with adventure. Directed by Sally Aitken (David Stratton: A Cinematic Life), Playing with Sharks is a comprehensive look at Taylor’s career as a diver, filmmaker and conservationist, a vocation that has taken her around the world and into each and every ocean. Naturally, the underwater photography is spectacular, with jaw-dropping footage of a vast variety of aquatic life—especially sharks. Oh, so many sharks.