The Hit Film ‘Stand By Me’ Almost Didn’t Happen, Director Rob Reiner, Cast And Crew Weigh In 30 Years Later

Three decades ago, a little movie named Stand By Me became a drama that put River Phoenix on the map and established Rob Reiner as a notable director. A small-budget movie got a big payout.

Reiner made a plot that could have easily remained a simple coming-of-age tale into a hit that found a universal appeal due to the message of mortality to which all can identify. The 1950s tale involves a hiking trip for four friends living in a small Oregon town. The friends go in search of a boy who was hit and killed by a train.

Stand By Me (1986)

— 1970 (@riverdicaprio) July 28, 2016

Variety explains the importance that directing this film had on Reiner’s career.

“For Reiner, best known at the time for playing Michael ‘Meathead’ Stivic in All in the Family, it was a chance to step out of the shadow of his father, legendary comedian Carl Reiner, and to position himself as a director of depth and nuance. It launched a career that would see him directing the likes of Misery, When Harry Met Sally…, and The Princess Bride.”

Although Stand By Me ended up being a huge success, and is now considered a classic, it initially had a tough time making it to the big screen. The film almost didn’t happen because funding for the film collapsed, seeing as it was financed outside of the studio system as a cult film.

The 30th anniversary of the film has resulted in an interview between the cast and crew with Variety. The film’s producer, Bruce A. Evans, explains the challenges they faced in making the film happen.

“Every studio in town had turned us down. 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.”

Casting for the film was apparently quite a difficult process, as directors had to sift through countless actors, including Ethan Hawke and Sean Astin, before they finally found the right boys for the roles. Reiner spoke about the experience and shared how River Phoenix stood out to him among the rest.

“We saw so many people. I can’t remember them all. Mostly, I remember being incredibly moved by River when he came in to read for Chris Chambers.”

Reiner also shared about his casting call with Jerry O’Connell.

“Jerry was so good and so natural. He came in and said, ‘hey you’re the guy from Channel 5.’ That’s where they showed ‘All in the Family’ reruns.”

Evans relays that the trickiest of roles to cast for was the one which Corey Feldman eventually landed.

“The hardest part to cast was Corey Feldman’s. We couldn’t find anybody that could be that angry. River was so good that we thought at one time about switching him to that part.”

Feldman shared that the audition was one that required him to get into an emotional state, but the actor noted that he really had no problem getting there because his home life was filled with a lot of turmoil, as the publication shares from the interview.

“When I did it, Rob was impressed a lot by the reality in my delivery. I didn’t have any problem getting to the emotional places. My life was such turmoil and havoc. I didn’t have the best home life. I didn’t lead a normal life. I was aware of that from a very early age. I remember being 7 years and coming home from school thinking, am I going to get abused today?”

In the end, all those who were cast in the film that celebrated its 30th anniversary were perfect for their roles and brought the world a true and meaningful coming-of-age classic.

[Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival]