Stand By Me Turns 30 | Culture Features | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Stand By Me Turns 30 

SW sits down with the film's cinematographer to reminisce

Going back and re-watching movies from your childhood is mostly an exercise in futility and disappointment. As an '80s kid, it's impossible to recapture the same magic I felt watching "The Neverending Story" or "The Golden Child" as an eight-year-old. While some of the movies I loved as a kid are still inherently "good" movies, they just don't hold the same power over my imagination as they once did.

With that in mind, I was nervous to re-watch "Stand By Me," which I hadn't seen in probably 15 years. "Stand By Me" helped me grow up. The movie showed me how to stand up to bullies, how to go on an adventure safely, and most importantly, what real friends looked like. Because of all that, I shouldn't have worried. "Stand By Me" hasn't just stood the test of time as a film, but has cemented itself as a piece of timeless cinematic history.

The film tells the tale of four best friends growing up in rural Oregon in 1959. Over the course of a Labor Day weekend they hear about a dead body 30 or 40 miles down the railroad tracks, and go on an adventure to see a real live dead boy.

I had a chance to sit down with the film's cinematographer, multiple Emmy award-winner Thomas Del Ruth, ASC. We talked about horrible hotels, River Phoenix and his process for shooting films and television.

On living conditions during the shoot, Del Ruth says: "We were at this plastic hotel that was all painted pink. Inside was this river that flowed around with these plastic pink ducks and swans in it and it was festooned with thousands of artificial plastic trees. It looked cheesy as hell, like it was decorated at a Wal-Mart. It would get so hot in there during the summer time that the water inside the lobby would permeate and you'd start sweating. It was like being in a hot house in Miami."

On his natural progression from assistant camera operator to cinematographer: "There's two ranks of assistants: a second and a first. Sometimes you start out as a loader and then you go to second assistant, then first and then camera operator. The operator and their assistants are the ones that work closest together and my job was mostly to supervise them, but basically I work with the director. We plan out what we're going to do and I orchestrate the lighting with my grips and electricians, plus making any set changes that we need to make on the spot. We also help stage the action and then ultimately put it on film."

On his process for shooting "Stand By Me:" "It was a conscious choice on my part to give the film a sense of time and passage. I tried to light the scenes according to whatever the emotional beats were in the scene. You try to add thematic feeling to the entire film so there's a visual narrative that threads along and you try to maintain that as best as you can. Now, you're doing a film that's 80-85 percent exterior and that's very difficult to do because you have no control over Mother Nature or where the sun is. The only control I had was to move the actors around into the most favorable light and to use scrims to take light off them or add light if I need to if they're in complete shadow. Exterior pictures are hard to do for cinematographers if they're looking for a period or romanticized look."

On whether it's easy to tell if the child actors from "Stand By Me" would carry over into adult acting: "You can't foretell. You don't know what these people will grow into, ultimately. I had a sense these kids were quite good and Rob (Reiner) did a good job working with them as far as rehearsing them and getting them into character. Rob was primarily responsible for getting the performances. They all had innate talent, especially River. River was great. He was wonderful."

"Stand By Me" 30th Anniversary Celebration

Friday, Aug. 26, 8 pm

Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., Bend


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