The young cast of Stand by Me on their journey to find a dead body (Photo: Everett)
No question about it: The ’80s were the greatest era in history for kids’ movies. And this isn’t just nostalgia talking. You can rattle off multiple titles like Explorers, Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, Tron, The Princess Bride, E.T. and Flight of the Navigator, and still only scratch the surface of the joyous adventures that awaited children inside the multiplex during that decade. Perched at the apex of the ’80s kids’ movie boom is Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me, the story of four boys’ search for a dead body, which became a children’s classic in spite of (or maybe because of) its R rating. In fact, for many children of the ’80s, myself included, Stand by Me was the first R-rated movie we ever saw in theaters, which made an already memorable film even more of a major life moment.
That’s a sentiment that Stand by Me’s screenwriters, Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon, are used to hearing. Thirty years after the film’s release, they’re still approached by fans who try to put into words what the movie — which was adapted from the Stephen King novella The Body — means to them. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film’s release on Aug. 8, 1986, Yahoo Movies reached out to them to discuss how the movie came together and how King reacted when he saw it for the first time.
Ethan Alter: I first saw Stand by Me when I was 8 years old, and the movie left a permanent impression on me. I’m sure you get that a lot.
Bruce A. Evans: You weren’t supposed to see it! [Laughs.] We were working on something with [singer] Adam Levine recently, and he told us that one of his favorite movies is Stand by Me. I said to him, “How did you get to see it?” And he said, “My parents took me!”
Evans: We had a huge fight with Columbia about making it an R-rated film. They wanted us to lose the “f—s” and make it into a PG movie. Rob was shooting Princess Bride at the time, so it fell to us. The studio’s argument was that the kids who wanted to see it wouldn’t be able to see it because it was rated R. But we had been in the South, where an R rating meant that if you were a toddler and could buy a ticket, you could get in! [Laughs.]
Raynold Gideon: Norman Lear [who helped raise the money for the movie] said, “Don’t change a thing. If my life has meant anything, it’s to keep artistic excellence the way it is; we don’t try to compromise because of ratings.” Also, we felt that an R would make people go, “Oh my God, I have to see that movie!”
Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell, and Corey Feldman (Photo: Everett)
The line I always come back to is: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12.” It resonates so much with younger viewers.
Gideon: There are certain lines that people come up to us about. “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant” is one.
Evans: Adam [Levine] asked me who came up with the line, “Suck my fat one, you cheap dime-store hood.” I had to admit that was Stephen King! When we found his story The Body in [the anthology] Different Seasons, we contacted Stephen’s agent saying we wanted to acquire it. We were attracted to it because it was a coming-of-age story without girls or rubbers. It was about the discovery of your own mortality, and the last bit of adolescent friendship. At the time, Stephen was not happy with Hollywood. From what we understood, his experience with The Shining and Christine had not been great. [But] we grabbed the book and carted it around Hollywood for a couple of years.
Gideon: We just made the movie; we didn’t have to show dailies to anybody. At our first script reading, Irby Smith, the first assistant director, said, “We’re lucky to be here today and make this kind of film. I think we’re going to make a classic.” And it was a great shoot. Rob [Reiner] was like our godfather. On weekends, we’d have pizza pig-outs and then go out to a movie together, or we’d go white-water rafting. We were all like 12-year-olds making a movie. And what you see onscreen is exactly, word for word, what was in the script. Rob knew not to let a bunch of kids improvise.
Evans: Except for one line of dialogue at the junkyard, where they’re spitting water. Jerry [O’Connell] improvised the line, “Oh yeah, right. Spit at the fat kid!” And then he said, “Oh Rob, I’m sorry! I added a line.” And [Rob] was like, “It’s a good line.”
Lard-Ass Hogan (Andy Lindberg) in his moment of triumph. (Photo: Columbia)
Stand by Me also features one of my all-time favorite movie scenes, Lard-Ass’s Barf-o-Rama.
Gideon: The Lard-Ass scene we loved and obviously took from the novella. But Rob wasn’t sure he wanted to shoot it.
Evans: At the time, All in the Family was not that far from people’s minds, so to them, Rob was still “Meathead.” And he was concerned about Meathead putting a vomit scene in the middle of a movie; he felt they’d accuse him of stooping to get a laugh. So we set off on a rewrite to come up with various ideas to substitute for the scene. There was one version where we did a Western story that didn’t quite work.
We may have tried a war story, too. But none of them captured the fun of the Barf-o-Rama.
The great thing about Rob is that he’s a sponge for ideas and really listens. So at one point, we told him, “This is a tone poem, and because we have all this bad stuff happening, we need a splash of color to set up the ending.” And Rob went, “Ah! OK.” Once that kicked in, he went for the Barf-o-Rama. And it was the ultimate gross-out moment. I remember seeing it with the first test audiences, and they went crazy.
I’ve watched the movie with my son, and he always laughs hysterically throughout that scene.
Evans: I have a 15-year-old daughter who has not seen the movie from beginning to end. But she has seen bits and pieces at her friends’ houses, so she knows the Barf-o-Rama and the leeches. The leeches are what send the girls right onto the floor with laughter.
Watch the leech scene:
King wasn’t involved in the film’s production, but how did he feel about the finished feature?
Evans: When the film was almost done, he was staying at a hotel in Beverly Hills and asked to see it alone. We set up a screening, and waited outside with Rob for 90 minutes. We knew when the film would end, so we showed up and could hear the end credits’ music running. It ends, but Stephen still hasn’t come out! So we’re thinking, “Oh, Christ, he hated the movie and left in the middle!” Rob goes to open the door and see if anyone’s in there, and Stephen emerges with tears running down his face, and he said, “Those were my friends.”
Gideon: Then he said, “I’m going to go collect myself, and I’ll come down and talk to you guys.”
He told us some of the true stories the novella was based on, like how the real Chris Chambers died. He had stories for all of the kids. He talks like he writes. He’s one of those guys who has his finger plugged right into heaven — or wherever you get stories.
Watch a ‘Stand by Me’ trailer: