Tag Archives: 80s

On the set of Stand By Me

This picture was originally posted on Tumblr by thefactory-:

image from i.imgur.com

You know that montage when we’re walking back home, near the end of the movie, and we go by in silhouette during sunset? It’s what they used as inspiration for the poster.

This picture was taken when we filmed that little bit. That thing we’re sitting on is called a Chapman Crane, and it’s a really neat piece of film equipment that allows for those big, beautiful, dramatic, sweeping panoramic shots you see in movies.

It’s a little dangerous, though, because there are weights and things on the end of that arm to perfectly counterbalance the weight of the camera and whoever is sitting next to it. More than once in film history, someone has stepped off the crane before it’s been rebalanced, and, finding itself a hundred or more pounds heavier at one end than the other, the crane has turned into a very dangerous catapult. 

The way I remember it, we kept asking Rob Reiner if we could sit on it when the shot was over, because the idea of sitting up in the sky next to the camera was so awesome, and he eventually said yes, because he was like that.

We were so excited to sit on this thing, and so excited to ride it up as high as it would go — it seemed like a hundred feet, but I’m sure it was more like thirty — but we had to wear seatbelts, promise to sit still and not step off the thing until it was balanced. I don't remember what everyting looked like from up there, but I do remember someone deciding to give the slate to River (who, of course, has his serious face on, like he always did) because it was a fantastic publicity photo opportunity.

I’m glad someone took this picture, because it reminded me of a joyful moment that I haven’t thought of in over a quarter century.

Though I hadn’t seen him in over twenty years, I knew I’d miss him forever

I stood in the lobby of the Falcon Theater in Toluca Lake, and looked at Twitter while I waited for the rest of the guys to arrive. The walls were covered with posters from productions like CHiPs: The Musical and It's A Stevie Wonderful Life. Being in a theater during the day, when it's just a building with a stage, instead of the performance space it becomes when an audience fills the seats makes me feel like I'm getting to see The Haunted Mansion with all the lights on, like I'm in a secret place that few people get to see, and I felt an almost imperceptible longing to perform in a play tug gently but insistently at that thing in my being that makes me an actor.

Someone came over and started talking to me. I made polite conversation, but I don't remember what or who we talked about. This was an emotional day for me (though I didn’t know precisely how emotional it would be until later), and while I didn’t want to be rude, I wasn’t in a particularly chatty mood. It was the first time Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell and I would be in the same place since 1986 or 1987. We were technically there to give some interviews to promote Stand By Me’s blu-ray release, but  — for me at least — it was much more than that. It was a reunion.

We made Stand By Me twenty-five years ago. To commemorate the anniversary, a special blu-ray disc has been produced. Among the obligatory special features is a feature-length commentary that Rob Reiner, Corey, and I did together while watching the movie a couple months ago. On that day, I was apprehensive: what would they think of me? Would our memories match up? Would the commentary be entertaining and informative? …who would be the first to talk about River, and how would we all react to it?

It turns out that I had nothing to worry about then. It was a joy to watch the movie with them, and I was especially happy to discover that, after a very troubled life, Corey seems to be doing really well. Rob made me feel like he was a proud father and we were his kids, and when we talked about River, it was … well, private. I’ll leave it at that.

So as I stood there in the lobby, waiting for a familiar face to come through the door, I was happy and looking forward to our reunion without nervousness or apprehension. This stood in marked contrast to all the times I reunited with my friends from TNG when I was younger (my problem, not theirs), and I was grateful for that.

A few minutes later, the door opened, and an incredibly tall, handsome, well-dressed man walked through it.

“Holy crap,” I thought, “Jerry grew up.”

It was such a stupid thought, but there it was. I see Jerry on television all the time, and I knew that he was tall and handsome and only two years younger than me, but I had that strange disconnect in my mind that can only come from not seeing someone for about twenty years and I simultaneously did and did not recognize him.

I was standing near some food on a table, and Jerry walked up to grab a sandwich. As he reached toward the table, we made eye contact.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi, I’m Jerry,” he said, with a friendly smile.

“I’m Wil,” I said, “We worked on this movie together twenty-five years ago.”

In a few seconds that seemed to go on for minutes, I saw him look at me in disbelief, surprise, recognition, and joy. He flashed a smile that lit up the room and wrapped me in a hug.

“Oh my God, dude,” he said, “I can’t believe it’s … wow! You’re — I — Jesus, look at you!”

I smiled back, and strangely noted that my son is taller than him. “Look at you!” I said.

We talked as much as we could, trying to compress two decades into ten minutes, before he had to go to the make-up chair. As he walked away, my brain tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know, he’s married to Rebecca Romijn. When he’s talking about his wife, that’s who he means.” “I know, brain. I know,” I thought back, “don’t be weird. Be cool, man.” A moment later, Richard Dreyfuss walked into the lobby, followed fairly quickly by Rob and then Corey.

Before I had time to do more than Twitter about how surreal it felt to see them all, we were all gathered together and directed from the lobby into the theater for our first interview. On the way in, I said to Corey, “I feel like there are all these famous, successful people here … and me.”

He laughed and said, “I was thinking exactly the same thing!”

Before I could make a witty zinger, he clarified, “about myself, I mean. Famous people and me, not, like, famous people and you.”

I laughed. “I knew what you meant, man,” I said.

It was the kind of friendly, enjoyable, effortless conversation we couldn’t have when we were younger, and I was glad for it.

There were five chairs set up for us in a semi circle. Our names were on pieces of paper so we knew where to sit. I was between Rob and Corey, and Jerry and Richard sat to Corey’s left. When we all sat down, Rob looked down the row of seats and softly said to me, “it feels like there should be an empty seat here for River.”

People ask me about River all the time. He and I were close during filming, and for about a year or so after filming, but the sad truth is that he got sucked into a lifestyle that I just don’t have room in my life for, and we drifted apart. When he died, I was shocked and horrified, but I wasn’t completely surprised. I didn’t feel a real sense of loss at the time — the River I knew and loved had been gone for a long time at that point — but I felt sad for his family, and angry at the people around him who didn’t do more to help him help himself. Since he died, when I've talked about him, I've felt like I’m talking about the idea of him, instead of the person I knew, if that makes sense.

But when Rob said that to me, with such sadness in his eyes, it was like I’d been punched in the stomach by eighteen years of suppressed grief. I knew that if I tried to say anything, all I would do was cry, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to stop. I took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and nodded. “Yeah,” I whispered.

Later that day, when I’d had time to think about it and was recounting the whole thing to my wife, Anne, I said, “I think that having all of us together — the surviving members of the cast — made me feel like he really wasn’t there for the first time since he died. I don’t mean to be callous or anything like that, but that’s what it took to make his death and his absence a real thing that I could feel, instead of an event that I wasn’t part of but am forced to talk about more often than I’d like.”

I spent much of the next few days remembering all the things we did together during production, thinking about how much I looked up to him and how much I loved his entire family. I don’t know what would have happened to us if he hadn’t overdosed, if he ever would have come back from the edge, or if we would even have had anything in common … but when he was fifteen and I was thirteen, he was my friend. That’s the person I knew, and that’s the person I miss.

We talked about River in the interview, of course, and I think Richard put it best when he said that there is this monster in Hollywood that everyone knows about. It lurks just out of view, and occasionally it reaches up and snatches someone … and it got River.

Richard also talked about why we are actors, and what it means to him to be creative. It was so poetic and inspiring, that almost imperceptible longing to perform in a play I felt in the lobby turned into an overwhelming compulsion. Distracted by the responsibilities of every day life, it’s easy for me to forget why I love and need to perform. It’s easy to forget how satisfying it is to create a character, to discover something magnificent in a script or a scene, and then bring those things to life with other actors in front of an audience.

The entire interview lasted for close to an hour, I guess, and will be edited down to something between three and six minutes. I hope that the producers will cut together something longer, or even run the entire thing online somewhere, because it was one of the rare conversations that I think a lot of people, especially artists, would enjoy listening to.

When all of our interviews were done, I asked Jerry if he’d like to get together when he was on hiatus to have a proper conversation and really catch up on stuff. He said he’d like that, so we traded e-mail addresses. I didn’t expect him to actually want to see me once the glow of seeing each other for the first time in two decades faded, but we’re actually planning it, which delights me. Rob hugged me and made me feel like he was proud of me, and Richard blew me away with the work he’s doing for The Dreyfuss Initiative. 

As I drove home from the theater I was overwhelmed by conflicting emotions. It was wonderful to see those guys again, and especially to reconnect with Jerry, but it was also tremendously sad to truly feel River’s loss for the first time. That turbulent mix of joy and sorrow stayed with me for several days, which is why I haven’t been able to write about it for almost a week.

Most actors will go their entire careers without doing a movie like Stand By Me, or working with a director like Rob Reiner. I got to do both when I was 12. For a long, long time, I felt like I needed to top or equal that, and it wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that I accepted that it’s unlikely to happen — movies like Stand By Me come along once in a generation. 

But getting to spend a few hours remembering the experience with Rob, Jerry, Corey and Richard, free of the burden to prove to them that I was worthy of Stand By Me’s legacy, was something I will cherish for years. I just wish that River was here to enjoy it with us.

From The Vault: Cross the Blazing Bridge of Fire!

Did you know that I used to write a weekly column called The Games of Our Lives for The AV Club? It was about classic arcade (and occasionally console) video games that were just far enough off the mainstream radar for Gen Xers to realize that they remembered playing or seeing them, even if they hadn't thought about them since the 80s.

I worked very hard to keep it funny, nostalgic, and even a little informative. Though I didn't always come up with heartbreaking works of staggering genius, I'm really happy with about 95% of the columns I turned in … like this one for Satan's Hollow:

The flyer from Bally advertises "The hot new battle game that dares you to cross the blazing Bridge of Fire to do battle with the Master of Darkness-Satan of the Hollow!" After languishing for years in the obscurity of role-playing games, Satan finally crossed into the mainstream of arcades everywhere. Parents panicked as kids eagerly coughed up pocketfuls of quarters to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.

Gameplay: It's 1982, so of course you have to enter Satan's Hollow in a spaceship. To pull this off, you build a bridge across a river of fire by picking up pieces from the left side of the screen and dropping them onto the right side of the screen. You have a shield that will protect you (for about .08 seconds) from the gargoyles and demons dropping World War II-style bombs. When the bridge is completed, you cross into the game's eponymous locale and face down Satan himself. If you avoid his magic pitchforks and destroy him, you won't save mankind from eternal damnation, but you will earn bonus points and an extra laser blaster for your space ship.

Before you complain that none of this makes sense, please remember that the number-one song of 1982 was "Centerfold" by J. Geils Band, and the number-one film was Tootsie.

Could be mistaken for: Galaxian, Dark Tower, Phoenix

Kids today may not like it because: Satan looks more like a sea monkey than like the Prince Of Darkness.

Kids today may like it because: Freaking your parents out because you're playing a game with Satan in it is always cool, whether it's 1982 or 2005.

Enduring contribution to gaming history: Doom wouldn't have been able to take players right into Hell in 1993 if Satan's Hollow hadn't opened the portal 11 years earlier. 

Every column had a different byline, which I tried very hard to make some kind of clever "nobody's going to get this, except for those few people who do and totally love it" joke: 

.mraf ynnuf eht, notaehW liW ot seilper rouy dnes esaelP .egassem terces eht dnuof ev'uoY !snoitalutargnoC

See what I did there? It's a game with SATAN in the title, so I put at BACKWARDS MESSAGE in the column. Ha! Ha! Ha! I am using the Internet!

I loved doing this column, and deliberately retired it while it was still going strong, so it didn't turn into [Pick some series that should have ended years ago while it was still funny. This is not a placeholder note to myself, it's a free option for you, dear reader. Merry Christmas.]

“What on earth did nerds do in the 1980s to figure this all out?”

I'm way late to the party on this, but I just started reading Spook Country this week. Unlike most Gibson books I've read, it doesn't ramp up slowly, and instead hits the ground running (that's not a bad thing). I'm only 30 pages in (it's been a busy week without a lot of time to read) but I'm pretty sure I'm going to like it; I can easily connect to the tone, the characters, the setting, and the storytelling style he uses.

When I logged into Goodreads this morning to put it on my bookshelf, I saw that people had Memories of the Future on their lists, and a few readers had reviewed it (overall, they seem to like it, which pleases me.) One of the readers mentioned that my book was recommended to her by a blog called Stacked. I took at look, and here's what I found:

Christina [Stacked's editor] is watching the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time ever and reviewing episodes in conjunction with Wil Wheaton's book Memories of the Future.

Christina calls the project Amnesia of the Future, which I just love because it's clever, and I enjoy clever things, as you may already know. I've just read the posts she's done so far (she's up to Code of Honor), and I really enjoyed them. Allow me to share some highlights:

Farpoint

Episode: If someone were to tell me that in a few hundred years humans will regularly be traveling vast swaths of space and encountering other intelligent life forms, I would not at all be surprised to find giant. space. jellyfish included amongst the aliens. Actually, I think it’s kind of cool and in my next life would like to come back as one.

MotF: Post entertaining recap of the episodes, was the “Behind the Scenes Memory” which brings a rather cool dimension to the show. Despite the faults Wil Wheaton points out about the two part episode, they were obviously doing something right. I didn’t notice the repetition of background actors during the mall scene and, even after having it pointed out, re-watched the episode and still missed them despite telling myself “Hey, self, look out for the repeat actors!”

The Naked Now

Episode: …the assistant engineer is acting like a five-year-old attempting to master Jenga and Wesley Crusher is speaking way to coherently for a drunken fourteen-year-old. In fact, he doesn’t seem much different from the previous episode’s overly-exuberant puppynerd self. Shouldn’t a normal drunk teenager be slurring and trying to get laid? 

Dear Wesley, I hope you enjoy being a virgin for the rest of your life. You might want to start stocking up on pocket protectors now.

MotF: I’m so smart! Wil Wheaton also feels that this episode came too soon.  I definitely think that moving it back to a later spot in the season would have been a wise move and an opportunity to play with the repressed desires of the characters that would be bound to come out when intoxicated.

Code of Honor

Episode: Ultimately, the episode was just as hokey for me as The Naked Now. I appreciate the analogy and moral questions raised and the set-up for what happens rolls out very nicely. But where is the Jell-O? If you’re going to have juvenile boy-thoughts about a girl fight, shouldn’t they be in bikinis and Jell-O?  Give them such “advanced” weaponry and have them fight on the set of Flashdance, but Tasha gets to remain in her uniform with her communicator on?  At least Yarinna got to wear a pink lamé bodysuit and come out like the reigning champion.

MotF: Really Wil Wheaton? Pillow fight was as good as you could come up with? Were you afraid of trademark issue in mentioning Jell-O? Because Jell-O fight trumps pillow fight any day. At least you had the Beavis and Butthead running joke. I found that to be infantile and pointless at first, but you pulled it off nicely.

Now I kind of can't wait for her next bout of amnesia (cue the All My Circuits theme) because it's interesting and entertaining to read the first-time impressions of a new TNG viewer 22 years after we made the show, especially when that viewer is reviewing my book in tandem with the episodes. It's just so delightfully meta, I couldn't not link to it. I'll be interested to see if she gets the same facepalm fatigue I started to get, and when it arrives if she does.

Speaking of Memories of the Future, I thought some of you may like to know that work has begun on Volume Two; Angel One is ready to go beneath Andrew's Red Pen of Doom.

senses working overtime

Anne and I stayed with my friends Steve and Julie when we went up to San Francisco for w00tstock. I've known Steve since high school, and Julie's sister was friends with my brother when they were younger, in case anyone was wondering how small the world actually is.

Steve and I were in the same gaming group (with Darin, Cal, and some of my other friends you may recall me mentioning from time to time) so when we got to their house, I went straight to his gaming shelf to see what overlap we have now (Dominion, Settlers, Pandemic, etc.) I saw, on top of a bookcase, a complete set of first edition AD&D core books. Sitting on top of them was a thick stack of TSR-era AD&D modules, including classics like Tomb of Horrors and Village of Hommlet.

"I can't believe you still have these!" I said.

"Do you want them?" He asked. "I don't have room for them here, so they were going to get thrown out or —"

"THROWN OUT?! THEY BELONG IN A MUSEUM!"

From the living room behind us, I heard Anne apologize to Julie.

"It's okay," I may have heard her say. "I'm married to one, too."

Steve and I spent some time (not nearly enough) looking at all those old modules, as well as his AD&D core books. I even made most of my saves vs. Nostalgic Overload (Rogers will be happy to learn that I didn't once say that I felt like I was visiting with old friends).

"You can have all of these," he said, "because I know I'm not going to have time or space to use them any time soon."

"I would love to keep these, if for no other reason than to preserve the history," I told him. In my mind, I was already sitting on the floor of my office, the smell of a freshly-sharpened pencil rising in the air to meet the sound of Rush on the Sonos while I surrounded myself with open books, graph paper, and piles of dice.

Alas, when it was time to return to Los Angeles, we didn't have room or spare weight in our suitcase to bring them with us, so it's going to be a little while before my dream becomes reality.

Still, I can't stop thinking about those books and the memories they're going to shake loose when I finally do get to read them. I still have the books from my Red Box Set, though, so as soon as I got home from my trip, I took them (including B2 – The Keep on the Borderlands) off the shelf and hopped into the time machine. The last few nights, I've read Keep on the Borderlands cover to cover, all the character creation rules in the Player's Book, and all of the procedures in the Dungeon Master's Book.

As I pored over these three books, pausing frequently to feel the comforting warmth of a nostalgic childhood memory wrap around me, I remembered why I fell in love with D&D and then AD&D when I was growing up: when you get down to their fundamentals, D&D and AD&D provide a framework for imaginative, collaborative storytelling.

As I read the Keep on the Borderlands, and I crawled through the Caves of Chaos for the first time in 25 years, I let my imagination take over. I could see the same places I visited when I was a kid. I could see the wide and winding dirt road, coiled around towering mountains and steep cliffs, that I traveled from the Keep to the caves. (Well, I could see it the way 10 or 11 year-old me created it in his youthful imagination, which is to say it looked an awful lot like that 1978 animated Lord of the Rings movie.)

I could see the Lizardmen (who were more than a little reminiscent of the Sleestaks), I could hear the clang of my fighter Thorin's sword against the cave wall, after he cleaved a kobold in two (just like that animation from Dragon's Lair) and the jingling bag of electrum pieces he took off the corpse (which sounded a lot like the pocket of quarters I kept around for sudden outbreaks of Pac-Man fever). I could smell the crackling fire of braziers (summer campfires), and feel the terror of facing down a minotaur who never seemed to miss when he attacked (pop quizes in math class).

If you played Keep on the Borderlands, some of the encounters that sparked my own memories may be familiar, but I bet that any images of the caves they may have stirred up for you different than mine, because when we played this game in the 80s, every single place we went was made real by our imaginations. In fact, that's one of the things I love and miss the most about the earliest days of tabletop RPGs: I miss gaming that was entirely independent of minis and combat maps. I miss being able to close my eyes and picture the zombies and skeletons lining that hallway, knowing that the way I saw them was different from the way my friend Simon saw them, even though he was sitting right next to me. 

I stopped playing AD&D during 2nd edition, when I felt like it was more about complicated math, charts, and THAC0 than it was about using your imagination to explore a wondrous fantasy world. I switched to GURPS, and even though I know that's a system that can easily lead to min/maxing and metagaming, I played with a group of guys who were into storytelling, with a GM who made you think very carefully about what disadvantages you took. When that group grew broke up, I didn't play seriously again until 4E, which as everyone knows I really enjoy.

Still, when I opened The Keep on the Borderlands and read "Welcome to the land of imagination. You are about to begin a journey into the worlds where magic and monsters are the order of the day, where law and chaos are forever at odds, where adventure and heroism are the meat and drink of all who would seek their fortunes in uncommon pursuits…" I realized something: I never played RPGs later on in life like the ones I played when I was 12.

… Jesus, did anyone?

i never did national network tv interviews later on in life like the ones i did when i was twelve

When we filmed Stand By Me, none of us knew it was going to be the huge success that it became. None of us expected it to be part of that 50s revival that was so much fun in the mid-80s, and none of us knew that it would essentially launch all of our acting careers.

But I think that, if you asked any of us – actors or crew – who worked on the film, we'd all say that we knew we were working on something special, something that was definitely not going to suck, something that we could be proud of. The fact that audiences agreed with us was pretty awesome.

I don't know about the other guys, but I was totally unprepared for Stand By Me's success and the way it shoved a lot of us into the center of the spotlight. Maybe Corey knew what to expect, because he'd already been in a ton of popular movies (we all saw Goonies together while we were on location in Oregon) but I certainly didn't know what to do when I came home from a family vacation and saw several boxes on my porch, filled with fan mail. 

You know, I haven't thought about this in two decades, but I just got this almost-photographic memory of sitting on my parents couch long after the rest of the family had gone to sleep, listening to Led Zeppelin IV on my dad's huge stereo (with the multi-band graphic equalizer component attached) on a very hot night in late August of 1986, trying to read and answer all of that fan mail by myself. I recall feeling embarrassed by it all, a little weirded out, but also a little excited. I remember thinking that maybe, in those boxes, was a letter from a girl who might want to go to the movies with me.

As I said, I was totally unprepared for the whole thing.

After about a year of being part of that whole Teen Beat crowd, I was totally over it, I thought it was stupid and fake, and really wanted to just get back to being an actor and having a normal life … but for the first few months, I will admit that it was pretty cool and a lot of fun to travel around the country for interviews on TV shows, like Good Morning America.

I forget what day this picture was taken, but it was 1986, right after Stand By Me had been released. There we are, sitting on chairs in the green room, waiting to go be interviewed by (I think) Ron Reagan, Jr. It was my first trip to New York, and I remember how excited I was to go to that huge, almost mythical city, see Times Square, ride the subway, visit the Statue of Liberty, and hang out with Jerry in his home town.

Waiting to promote Stand By Me on Good Morning America in 1986

This photo captures our personalities perfectly: River and Corey are focused and serious (Corey is even wearing a tie and drinking coffee!) I am listening to the same person they are, but I'm not even trying to contain how excited I am to be going on a television show that I had been watching with my Aunt Val since I could remember, in front of the whole country, no less.

My favorite part of this picture, though, is Jerry. It's almost like he caught my mom or dad taking this picture of us, and decided to strike a pose, just to be silly. I just love that he isn't taking the thing too seriously, and that he's just having fun and enjoying the whole thing. As I got older and began to feel like the teen magazine publicity stuff was taking over my life, it stopped being fun, and it started to feel like a chore. I always envied that Jerry seemed to take it all in stride, keep it in perspective, and just have fun with it. I heard him on the Adam Carolla podcast about a week or so ago, and he hadn't changed a bit: still silly, still cracking me up, still keeping everything in perspective.

I've always said that Stand By Me was so successful because Rob cast four young actors who were so much like their characters, but I think it's spooky how the four of us ended up being so much like our characters: River died too young, Corey struggled like crazy to get his personal demons under control, Jerry found success and happiness, and I'm a writer.

…I have had a fucking weird life, man.

everything’s drawn and super 80s

Anne and I went to the grocery store this afternoon. When it was time to get the orange juice, there was only one left, and it was way in the back of the cooler.

I reached in really far to get it, and as I did, Anne began to sing the chorus from Take On Me.

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know this*, but even if you do, I'm telling you this story right now because it's a perfect excuse to point out, once again, that my wife is awesome. It is also a perfect excuse to repost the Literal Version of Take On Me, which is almost as awesome as she is.

Almost.

Take on Me: Literal Video Version – watch more funny videos

*and, um, a lot of other things. Like, at least 6090 things, which is why you shouldn't follow me on Twitter.

LA Daily: A Gamer’s Arcade Memories

This Week's LA Daily was knocked out of my brain by 8 bits of sound this weekend:

My son is home from college, visiting briefly before he goes back
for his summer session, so I've been making a concerted effort to cram
as much writing as I can into limited working hours each day, so my
evenings are free to spend with him and the rest of our family. This
weekend, my wife and I took him out to dinner, where I found myself in
front of a Centipede arcade machine, drawn there by the unmistakable
sound of the player earning an extra guy.

Something caught in the mental driftnet, and I began to reel it in.
"I have to play this," I said, doing my best not to be as manic as
Richard Dreyfuss behind a pile of mashed potatoes.

They looked at each other, warily. "Okay…" my wife said.

I dropped a quarter into the slot, felt the trackball fit
comfortably beneath my right hand, and began to play. By the time the
first flea dropped, I'd retrieved a childhood memory from the early
'80s.

You can read the whole thing at the LA Weekly.