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Behind the Camera - Stand by Me
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Remind Me
Stand by Me,Stand by Me

Behind the Camera On STAND BY ME

The major task before principal photography began was, of course, finding the right four actors to play the adolescent boys. Reiner realized to get the best performances, he would have to cast according to type, to match the young actors' real-life personalities closely to the characters they would play on screen. Any actor that age, he reasoned, would not have the craft to go too far from who they really were. He picked Wheaton for the part of Gordie for his intelligence and readily projected sensitivity, evident in his "doe-like" face. River Phoenix, as Chris, had something of a rebel about him yet also was a peacemaker, an "earth person," as Reiner put it, having been brought up by itinerant hippie parents who lived out of a VW minibus. Corey Feldman, as the troubled Teddy, was from a broken home, the product of many difficulties and negative influences, with a lot of the anger that Teddy possessed. "There was no other kid who walked into the room who had as much pain and turbulence in his life as I did, and he could see that," Feldman later said of his casting.

Corey Feldman later elaborated on his casting: "For the sake of honesty and to be really brash, what drew me to it was that my parents were my managers and I did what they told me to do. It was, 'Hey you have an audition with Rob Reiner.' 'You mean Meathead from All in the Family? OK cool, what does he want?' When I met with Rob, the first thing I thought was that he didn't look like Meathead anymore. He had matured and looked very much like a director. So immediately I walked in the room and took him very seriously. Number two, once I saw the material, I realized this was a bit more heavy than anything I had previously worked on. The subject matter was going to be a bit more difficult and a little more intensive than anything I had done in the past."

River Phoenix auditioned for the part of Gordie Lachance, but Reiner thought that he was more right for the role of Chris Chambers.

Rob Reiner: "River Phoenix was like, you know, he was a young James Dean and I had never seen anybody like this." Wheaton remembered being extremely impressed and a little intimidated by Phoenix because of his professionalism and intensity. The two grew especially close. Even though they were the same age, Wheaton describes Phoenix as a kind of father figure, as well as "one of the kindest people I'd ever been around. ... We stayed friends after we worked on the film, and I went and visited his family. I guess around the time that I was turning maybe 15, we just drifted apart, and I always felt really sad about that."

All three boys were experienced actors who had been appearing in films and television shows for at least five years (longer in Feldman's case). At only 11, Jerry O'Connell was the youngest of the bunch and had never been in a film. He had done a bit of TV and commercial work in his native Manhattan. Reiner saw him as this "kind of wacky, goofy kid, and perfectly suited" for the part of Vern. O'Connell later said he felt he had the advantage of not being a Hollywood kid full of preconceived notions about what he was supposed to do.

Reiner took his cast up to the Oregon locations where they would be shooting much of the picture, and began a couple of weeks of rehearsal, which he later characterized as acting classes. In the 2002 documentary about the making of the film, Walking the Tracks: The Summer of Stand by Me, Wheaton said he later learned that what they were doing were classic theater games designed to get them to trust and know each other, to be so in sync that it would appear they had been friends for a long time. After that, they spent a lot of time rehearsing the movie's scenes so that Reiner could get sustained takes of all the boys together giving performances that hit all the right notes, rather than having to do individual close-ups with each actor being "fed" his performance.

"I felt from the very first time we all got together up in Oregon that we were making something really special," Wheaton said in an interview on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Reiner credits much of his success with his cast to the fact that he had been an actor himself. Wheaton said he didn't realize it at the time, but that the experience of working with Reiner taught him the meaning of the term "an actor's director." In the making-of documentary, Kiefer Sutherland said of Reiner, "Because he's so proficient as an actor, he can allow you to discover a moment when in fact he's telling it to you."

Reiner later said that he wasn't getting the full emotion he wanted from River Phoenix in the scene where Chris breaks down, so he asked him to go off and think about a time when an adult he trusted really let him down. Phoenix came back and did the scene perfectly, although according to Reiner, it then took him a while to get over the emotions he had dredged up.

Reiner said even then Phoenix's talent was evident and that everyone was sure he would be an actor of great longevity.

For the part of the older, threatening gang of boys, Reiner chose some "veterans," notably Kiefer Sutherland, son of famous actor Donald Sutherland, and Casey Siemaszko, both of whom had been acting for several years and were in or approaching their 20s. Casting here was not necessarily to type. Reiner said Sutherland was a very soft-spoken, sweet, and intelligent young man who nevertheless relished the chance to be menacing and had a lot of fun with it. He did it so well, in fact, and stayed in character so completely during the shoot that he actually frightened the younger boys. "I wasn't scared of anyone on the set except Kiefer," Jerry O'Connell said. "He really made himself very menacing to us." Wheaton said he didn't recall being afraid of Sutherland or remember him being overtly menacing or cruel or anything like his character. "I just remember thinking, 'He's a really good actor.' He was one of those guys I just watched and tried to learn from being around. But I know a lot of the other guys, especially Jerry, were terrified."

Siemaszko said the filming was "kind of like a summer vacation, really, even though we were doing this film; it wasn't a big film in the sense that it didn't feel big budget. I don't think they spent much money on it. But it felt more like a summer vacation. I can't recall ever working like that since then really. [Rob Reiner's] a great storyteller obviously, I would go to the set just to hang out and watch him work and listen to the stories. ... When you're working, you're all playing your parts. There was an intensity when we were working but then they yell 'cut,' we were a bunch of kids, pretty much. It was really beautiful in Eugene, Oregon, we had great weather, it was just a fun group of guys and we were driving around a lot. I remember driving down to Portland a couple of times, hitting the bars and clubs and stuff."

Several actors were considered for the cameo role (and off-screen narration) of the Writer, i.e., the adult Gordie looking back on the adventure. Among them were David Duke and Michael McKean, who had starred in Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap (1984). Some reports say Duke even began working on the picture but was let go when it was determined his voice wasn't quite right. Reiner finally decided to go with Richard Dreyfuss, whom he had known since they were both 15. Reiner had directed Dreyfuss in a theater production years earlier. Dreyfuss said it was not difficult finding the right tone for the voiceover because "the writing was self-evident."

The tree house seen at the beginning of the film was built specifically for the movie. Wil Wheaton says he was the one who came up with the bit about Vern not remembering the secret knock to get in.

The swamp was not a natural formation but one the crew dug and filled with water and vegetation expressly for the shoot. Wheaton said it was cold and also really "gross," primarily because they built it in June and shot the scene in August, when it really had become a dark swamp by then, with all kinds of things growing, living, and floating in it.

Reiner "agonized" over the pie-eating scene because he was having trouble trying to envision what kind of writer Gordie would become and how that would play out as a 12-year-old. "Ultimately, in my mind, he became Stephen King," Reiner said. "And Stephen King is a great story teller and most of the stories he tells are supernatural or there's horror involved." He decided to go over the top with it and make it rather cartoonish, the way it would appear in a young boy's mind. According to Reiner, the audience went crazy for it, justifying his decision to leave it in.

Parts of the film were shot in Brownsville, Oregon, the fictional town of Castle Rock in the movie. Other scenes were shot in other parts of the state, including in and around Eugene, Veneta, Franklin, and Cottage Grove.

The scene of the boys outracing a train crossing the trestle was filmed at Lake Britton on the McCloud River Railroad, near McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, California.

In the train-dodge scene on the trestle, Reiner was having trouble getting the right emotion out of Wheaton and O'Connell. After several takes he screamed at them about what a lousy job they were doing. Both boys started to cry, so Reiner had them get on the trestle and shoot immediately. The fear and distress we see on their faces in the film was the result of the director laying into them so strongly.

In the shot where Gordie and Vern are running towards the camera with the train right behind them, the train was actually at one end of the trestle with the two actors far on the opposite end. A telephoto lens compressed the image enough to make it look like the train was right behind them.

The roughly 60-day shoot was favored with sunny days, unusual for that sustained a period in Oregon, but since the story takes place over only two days, it was fortunate to have consistency in the weather.

The lead actors weren't allowed to see Ray Brower (Kent W. Luttrell) until they unveil him on camera; this method was used to unsettle the four boys and gain the best reaction possible.

by Rob Nixon

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