After director Rob Reiner screened the movie for Stephen King, he noticed that King was visibly shaking and wasn't speaking. He left the room and upon his return, told Reiner that the movie was the best adaptation of his work he had ever seen.
Kiefer Sutherland claimed in an interview that in one of the locations of the film, a Renaissance Fair was being held and the cast and crew attended and bought some cookies. Unfortunately, the cookies turned out to be pot cookies and two hours later, the crew found Jerry O'Connell crying and high on the cookies somewhere in the park.
In the campfire scene in which Chris breaks down, Rob Reiner was sure River Phoenix could do better. He asked him to think of a time in his own life when an adult had let him down and use it in the scene, which Phoenix did. Upset and crying, he had to be comforted by the director afterwards. The result of Phoenix's exercise is the scene that ended up in the final cut.
The pond the boys fall into was a man-made pool because the crew wanted them to be "safe and secure" and did not want to put them in a real pond because they did not know what would be in it. However, Corey Feldman stated in a interview that the joke of the whole thing was that they built and filled it with water in the beginning of June and by time they got to film the scene, it was the end of August. So it had been out in the woods for three months and they did not know what was in it anyway.
River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Wil Wheaton and Jerry O'Connell got up to much mischief in the hotel they were staying in during filming. This included throwing all the poolside furniture into the pool, Wheaton fixing video games in the lobby so they could play them for free and Phoenix (spurred on by the other boys) unknowingly covering Kiefer Sutherland's car in mud, only discovering whose car it was when Sutherland confronted a scared and nervous Phoenix about it later.
As with most of Stephen King's stories, this one originally contained connections to other books he has written. Ace Merrill later re-appeared in the book Needful Things (1993), although he does not appear in the film. The dog Chopper is compared to Cujo (1983). Characters are familiar with Shawshank Prison, from The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Teddy Duchamp was actually first mentioned in King's first book, Carrie (1976), in which Carrie destroys a gas station he once worked at.
In the shot where Gordie and Vern are running towards the camera with the train right behind them, the train was actually at the far end of the trestle with the two actors on the opposite end. The crew used a 600mm long-focus lens that, when shot at the telephoto end, compressed the image so much that it made it look like the train was right behind them.
While filming the scene in which Ace Merrill takes Gordie's brother's Yankees cap, Kiefer Sutherland's first instinct was to put it on, rather than hand it to Eyeball Chambers. Rob Reiner told Sutherland not to put the hat on as a way of showing that Ace was stealing it just to be cruel to Gordie and not because the hat itself was at all important to Ace. Sutherland and Wil Wheaton both confirm in the DVD's behind the scenes documentary that the reason that Gordie never gets the hat back from Ace is that Ace threw it away immediately after stealing it from Gordie.
In the scene where Gordie and Chris race each other through the junkyard, Wil Wheaton could run faster than River Phoenix but Wheaton's character was supposed to lose. Wheaton had to fake a fast run when running slow so that Phoenix's character would win.
Rob 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.
The movie is based on a short story called "The Body" by Stephen King, from a book of short stories called "Different Seasons" which also includes the models for The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Apt Pupil (1998), as well as "The Breathing Method", which has never been adapted to film.
In the opening of the scene where Chris meets Gordie and shows him the gun, River Phoenix jumps from the back of a truck and says, "Thanks a lot" to the couple in the front. The truck was driven by Phoenix' friend, with Phoenix' mother riding in the passenger seat.
River Phoenix lost his virginity during filming. Rob Reiner remembered that Phoenix came into work one day "with this big smile on his face" after spending the night with a family friend. He wrote to Reiner on a piece of paper, "It finally happened". Corey Feldman drank alcohol, kissed a girl off-screen, and smoked pot for the first time during that fateful summer of 1985.
Columbia Pictures, concerned that the original title, "The Body", was misleading, renamed the film "Stand by Me". According to screenwriter Raynold Gideon, " . . . it sounded like either a sex film, a bodybuilding film or another Stephen King horror film. Rob Reiner came up with 'Stand by Me' [after the Ben E. King song], and it ended up being the least unpopular option."
The film's success resulted in renewed interest in the Ben E. King song, which inspired the title, used in the movie and featured on the soundtrack. King's version of the song was originally released in 1961, and was re-released at the time of the film. The re-release would reach the Top Ten, peaking at #9 in the fall of 1986.
Rob Reiner developed a good working relationship with Stephen King after this movie, so much so that King only agreed to sell the film rights to Misery (1990) if Reiner directed the film. Reiner's production company, Castle Rock Entertainment, also went on to produce several other adaptations of King's stories. In addition, John Cusack went on to appear in the film 1408 (2007), and Kiefer Sutherland's father Donald Sutherland appeared in Salem's Lot (2004).
Rob Reiner credits much of his success with his cast to the fact that he had been an actor himself. Wil Wheaton said he did not 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."
The apparel of the four boys is the same throughout the movie, except for Teddy. From the beginning to the treehouse scene, he is wearing a nice shirt with a design on it. Then he is seen wearing a green shirt, from the part where they all meet up to go on the journey, to the end of the movie. Gordie, Chris and Vern, on the other hand, are all wearing the same clothes throughout the movie.
Coca-Cola bought Embassy Pictures, the film's original production company, and announced it wasn't going to fund the film just two days before production was to begin. Norman Lear--who had worked with Rob Reiner for years on All in the Family (1971)--was one of the three owners of Embassy prior to its sale. He believed in the project enough that he agreed to personally foot the film's $8-million budget.
The four main actors met Rob Reiner and some of the crew in an Oregon hotel suite in June of 1985 to perform games based on Viola Spolin's Improvisation for the Theater to develop trust in one another. The actors did things like mirror each other and talk each other through traversing the hotel lobby while blindfolded.
During a 2016 oral history of this film in the trade publication "Variety", Jerry O'Connell said that it was not until after he had already been dating Rebecca Romijn (who would become his wife) for many months that he learned she had been a devoted fan of the movie as a child (and she wasn't the one to tell him). O'Connell said, "I'm married to Rebecca Romijn, a beautiful model. She's way out of my league, a million times out of my league. About three months into dating, my wife is from Berkeley, and I went up there to met her high school friends. We got a little drunk and her high school best friend said to me, 'You know, "Stand by Me" is Rebecca's favorite movie of all time. You know she had posters of it all over her room growing up'. She never told me that."
The train scene took a full week of shooting, making use of four small adult female stunt doubles with closely cropped hair, made up to look like the film's protagonists. Plywood planks were laid across the trestles to provide a safer surface on which the stunt doubles could run.
The disaster that struck the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) had a direct influence on the making of this film. On July 23, 1982, Vic Morrow and two small children were killed by the main rotor of a crashing helicopter during filming of a bombing of a small Vietnamese village. Special effects explosives destroyed the tail rotor of a hovering helicopter while Morrow and the children struggled across a shallow river. Because children were involved, restrictions on children working in films was seriously tightened, and director Rob Reiner found it very, very difficult to shoot certain scenes involving the children. Fortunately, with the help of stand-ins for the boys and special effects, he was able to get what he wanted without any danger to the children.
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.
Corey Haim auditioned for the role of Gordie Lachance, but the studio wanted him to play Chris Chambers. He didn't want to play the role of the best friend so he turned it down in favor of Lucas (1986) and the irony is that his friend Corey Feldman landed the role of Teddy Duchamp
David Dukes was originally cast as The Writer. After those scenes were shot, Richard Dreyfuss was cast in the role and the scenes were re-shot with him. However, the opening long shot of a grown-up Lachance sitting in the car is of David Dukes.
The Royal River is mentioned in several of Maine native Stephen King's novels, including "The Body", when the boys cross it only to be attacked by leeches, as well as "Salem's Lot" and "The Shawshank Redemption", as the river into which Andy threw his gun.
Teddy says that he and his dad had fished the Royal River for "cossies." There is no fish by that name. This is a joke and play on words--cossies are 1950s-era one-piece bathing suits. The name derives from "costume"; the British call bathing suits "bathing costumes."
In the leech scene, the leeches were apparently real; the crew constructed the man-made pond, and when they came back a few months later to film the iconic scene, the pond had become a real swamp, complete with real moss and leeches to match.
The significance of the deer Gordie, alone, sees and decides to keep it to himself until his adult life, it has been debated what this means. Two examples often suggested are: (1) After all the bad things in the lives of the four boys--the death of Gordie's brother and the treatment from his parents; Ace and his friends; Teddy's abusive father; Ray Brower's death; etc.--the deer represents that some things in the world are still beautiful and this gives him hope. He wanted to keep it to himself so that nobody could debunk his theory. (2) Gordie has spent the entire trip in the constant company of his friends, not doing or saying anything that isn't seen/heard by the others. The deer is the one thing that is personal to him from the entire time they are searching for the body.
The boys sing "The Ballad of Paladin", which is the ending theme song to the TV series "Have Gun - Will Travel" (1957) starring Richard Boone as Paladin. Songwriter Johnny Western successfully sued the producers for not securing his permission beforehand.
Since 2007 the city of Brownsville, OR, which served as the setting for Castle Rock, has held an annual "Stand By Me Day" celebrating the movie. In 2013 the Chamber of Commerce set the date to July 23 so that the big 30th-anniversary event would fall on a Saturday in 2016. The movie has a significant fan base in Japan, and they receive a lot of visitors there as well.
The very next year, Wil Wheaton appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) as Ens. Wesley Crusher. His character, a young Starfleet officer serving as a Helmsman, was arguably analogous to the character Chekhov from the original series. Wheaton would later lend his voice to various Romulan characters on Star Trek (2009), which featured Anton Yelchin as Chekhov. Yelchin also began his career as a child in a Stephen King adaptation, Hearts in Atlantis (2001).
Although it is assumed that the other kids are the same age as Gordie, River Phoenix figured that Chris Chambers might have been a year older and had once flunked a grade. Early reviews of the film suggest his age to be 13, accordingly.
The handgun Chris steals and is handled by the four boys is a Colt M1911A1 which he calls simply a ".45," according to the novella, he had 9 bullets in total stolen in the box of shells, when not being fired, it appears to be replaced with a replica model, which is noted by an external extractor. (but it is clearly a 1911 replica in .45 and not a 9mm Star B.)
Teddy and Verne where talking about Mighty Mouse and Superman. Sadly, George Reeves, who played Superman in the Adventures Of Superman died about three months (June 16, 1959) before the film takes place (September 4 to September 6, 1959).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When they were filming the scene where Gordie and Vern are about to be run over by the train, Wil Wheaton and Jerry O'Connell did not look scared enough. In frustration director Rob Reiner yelled at them to the point where they started crying and that's when they were able to film the scene.
According to Wil Wheaton on the DVD documentary, the scene in which Vern (Jerry O'Connell) can't remember the "secret knock" to the clubhouse was thought of by Wheaton, River Phoenix, and Corey Feldman on the day it was shot as another way to make Vern look more pathetic.
In the original theatrical release, the final words typed by The Writer, "Jesus, does anyone?" were obviously added in post-production. The size and color of the letters did not match the other words on the computer screen. This was re-shot for subsequent home video releases.
The end of the film says that Chris died, while the other three boys went on with their lives. In the original novella, all of the boys except Gordie were dead by the end of the story, and Chris was actually the third one to die, not the first.
At the end of the film it is said that Chris dies trying to stop a fight, while the others went on with their lives. River Phoenix actually did end up dying from an overdose in 1993, while the other actors are still pursuing their careers.
When the two gangs confront each other, Ace Merril attempts to kill Chris Chambers by cutting his throat. In the narration at the end of the movie, it is revealed that Chris was killed, years later, by being stabbed in the throat.