Stand By Me (1986) tells the story of four adolescents on a search to find the dead body of a kid hit by a train. During their quest, they develop a deeper bond with one another, and learn to appreciate life.
One of the film’s more infamous scenes involves The Great Shasta Rail Trail. While crossing a railroad bridge, the boys find themselves faced with an oncoming train. It’s poetic in the sense that their whole journey is based on finding the body of a kid hit by a train, only to find their own lives nearly spoiled by the same fate. Gordie (Wil Wheaton) and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) get out of the train’s way just in time.
In reality, their close encounter with the train wasn’t as close as it seemed. The look was achieved using good old-fashioned camera trickery. The filmmakers employed a 600mm, long-focus lens shot with the telephoto end. This method compresses the image and made it look like the train was right behind the boys, when in reality it was on the far end of the trestle the entire time.
This faked sense of danger made it challenging for the kids to convey an authentic sense of fear, according to director Rob Reiner.
"“The truth is that the train entered the trestle just as the boys were getting off. They weren’t anywhere near so they didn’t really get too scared.” Therein lay the problem: O’Connell and Wheaton’s lack of fear meant they weren’t taking the scene seriously, unlike the grips employed to push the heavy camera down the track on a dolly.
To compound matters, Oregon was enjoying one of the hottest summers on record… Finally, Reiner had had enough. “You kids are f------ this thing up,” he told them. “You see those guys? They don’t want to push that dolly down the track any more. And the reason they’re getting tired is because of you. I told them if they weren’t worried that the train was going to kill them, then they should worry that I was going to. And that’s when they ran. I scared the shit out of them.”"