Getting Stand By Me's Cast To Fear A Fake Train Took Some Aggressive Directing

Director Rob Reiner's 1986 coming-of-age film "Stand By Me" elicits emotional themes of mortality and self-preservation. Audiences follow four friends in 1956 who venture on a journey through the rural parts of Castle Rock, Maine to find a dead body. The screenplay is adapted from Stephen King's novella, "The Body" which spotlights the characters' abusive and dysfunctional family backgrounds as they ponder their own shortcomings living in a town that seems to erode away at their future. Previously coming off of the comedic satire "This is Spinal Tap", Reiner embraced a project where he can showcase multi-dimensional characters in order to create nuance. However, one scene was particularly difficult to film because the child actors were not generating enough fear so a normally calm and collected Reiner upped the stakes. 

Run like hell

The group of friends is played by Corey Feldman (Teddy), Jerry O'Connell (Vern), River Phoenix (Chris), and Wil Wheaton (Gordie). Stacked with talent, the boys breathed new life into what a coming-of-age story looks like but struggled to relay the amount of fear Reiner was seeking in a scene where the boys had to outrun a train on a bridge. Carefully going step by step across the bridge (with Vern crawling on all fours for some reason), Wil decides to check the tracks. He turns and sees smoke rising from the tree line and yells "train!" as the boys haul ass to the other side barely escaping their demise. However, the kids and the train were never on the tracks at the same time. Speaking with Variety, Reiner mentioned he "lost it" but "did it as kind of an act" while filming this scene. 

"[I] used such a long lens, and so the boys had jumped off the train track before the train even entered the trestle. It was so far away from them that they weren't scared. It was very hot, 90 degrees out, and the guys were pushing this dolly down the track to follow these boys running and they were supposed to be hysterical, just crying and panicking. We did it a bunch of times and they kept not getting worked up. Finally, I start screaming, 'these guys, the crew, are exhausted because you guys keep messing up and if you're not worried that the train is going to kill you, I'll kill you.' They started crying and we started rolling and then they ran off the track and gave me a hug and said, 'we did it. We did it Rob.'"

The long haul

Discussing the film with The Guardian, Reiner described the difficulty involved with the train scene. He disclosed that "for long shots, we had stunt doubles and when I did shots with the actual boys, we used long lenses so the train looked like it was right on top of them even though it hadn't even entered the trestle." The four stars eventually got the emotion that Reiner wanted and the film became a success with an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and for two Golden Globe Awards: one for Best Drama Motion Picture and one for Best Director. It helped propel the careers of each of the boys who worked steadily after the film's release becoming teen heartthrobs in their own right. Phoenix's heartbreaking death at the age of 23 remains a sore spot in Hollywood and his legacy lives on through the multiple film and television projects that set him apart from other actors his age. Described by many as a young James Dean, Phoenix was one rising star that burned out way too soon.

Reiner looks back on "Stand by Me" fondly. He stated the film "means more to me than any of the other films I've made. It was the first time I did a film that reflected my own personal sensibility; it had a mixture of melancholy, humor, and nostalgia. I was 12 in 1959 so the music was the music I listened to and the feelings I had in relation to my father, I injected into the film. When it came out and was accepted it validated me. It gave me a big boost to press forward." 

While the emotional delivery was challenging at times, the overall effect it had on its cast, crew, and audiences decades later is still palpable.