Kudos to Variety for interviewing members of the cast and crew of Stand By Me, which came out in the summer of 1986. As I've insisted here before, if you grew up in the 1980s, '86 was a hell of a year for pictures: Top Gun, Platoon, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Aliens, About Last Night, and Back to School, to name a just a few. And then there was Stand By Me, which was made on a budget of $7.5 million and went on to gross more than $52 million. Hard to believe, but almost every major studio turned it down.
According to producer and cowriter Bruce Evans,
The consensus was that no one would be interested in a story about four 12-year old boys on a railroad track. It was dark, there was not a girl in it, no one knew how to sell it. Of course, what attracted us to it was that it was a coming-of-age story without girls or buying rubbers or first kisses or all of that. It was about kids becoming aware of their own mortality.
Or, in the words of the grown-up Gordie (played by Richard Dreyfuss): "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"
But there were other stumbling blocks as well. Embassy Pictures, which finally took on the project, got sold to Columbia, which had no intention of running the film. As director Rob Reiner recalls, "The last place we went was Columbia, because they had already passed on it originally. We figured, they're not going to want it, but it was a new studio head that had come in. [Guy McElwaine] wasn't part of the original decision. He screened it for some friends at his house and he was crying when he saw it. He said, 'I just want this picture. I don't know if it will make money or not.'" Also, McElwaine's two daughters got to see the film and fell in love with River Phoenix.
The interview by Brent Lang is worth reading in its entirety. But just a few nuggets: Phoenix had been considered for the role of Teddy (played by Corey Feldman). The focus in the original was not on the insecure Gordie (Wil Wheaton) but rather Phoenix's character, Chris. Reiner built-in a few weeks of play time for the boys at a hotel suite so they could bond. But as Wheaton reveals, he was often the target of bullying by Corey Feldman.
"All four of us were very much like the characters that we were playing," says Wheaton. "I was a weird kid. I was shy, I was incredibly sensitive, and I was really awkward. It was really easy to make me cry. I was the one they picked on. Corey picked on me all the time to the point of it being like cruel. I remember River telling him to stop, and I remember Rob or one of the producers telling him to get off my back."
Leave Wesley Crusher alone!