St Elmo’s Fire writer looks back on classic; new Region 4 Blu-ray available

Emilio Estevez also comments on the term ‘Brat Pack’ – what does he think of being labelled as a member?

Movies Anywhere/Via Vision

The term ‘The Brat Pack’ can be attributed to David Blum, a writer for New York Magazine who penned the term (a play on ’60s group ‘The Rat Pack’) to describe the hot assemblage of young actors in Hollywood in the ’80s who frequently appeared together in teen-oriented coming-of-age films.

The article was originally designed to fix on a rising young actor at the time by the name of Emilio Estevez, son of acclaimed actor Martin Sheen. After Estevez invited Blum to hang out with him, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, and others at the Hard Rock Cafe, the writer decided to rework his article into a piece about the group.

“Well, you know, my worry is I’m going to be the… Brat Pack is going to somehow figure into my obituary, and that’s nothing I’m going to have any say on”, actor Emilio Estevez, who starred in such heavily promoted fare at the time like The Breakfast Club, Young Guns, The Outsiders and St Elmo’s Fire told Moviehole.

Estevez, who in recent years has transitioned filmmaking (his film The Way is an absolute gem, check it out) says the term has become more endearing over the years – almost ‘nostalgic’.

“The title kind of changed a bit now and it’s actually something to kind of be a little bit more proud of. Whereas at that time, it was like someone calling you a brat”, Estevez laughs.

The actor, who is gearing up to reprise the role of Billy the Kid in a third Young Guns film, believes that “when you keep pushing back against something, it keeps coming at you, right? Maybe the idea is if you embrace something you no longer have to deal with it.”

Featuring a very hot ‘all star’ cast at the time – in addition to Estevez we had the likes of Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore and Ally Sheedy –  featuring a divine soundtrack, and a timeless and credible chronicle of friendship, St Elmo’s Fire was anything but a critic’s darling at the time. Strange, considering how fondly many critics look upon it today. The film features brave, uninhibited performances, particularly by the likes of Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, and flashy, effective direction from the late Joel Schumacher.

The pic, which despite poor reviews went on to gross $37.8 million on a $10 million budget, centers on a clique of recent graduates of Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University, and their adjustment to post-university life and the responsibilities of adulthood.

The time capsule of a film is now available on Blu-ray by Via Vision, and the transfer will be an absolute delight to fans. That pumping soundtrack can be heard in all its speaker-thumping glory, the bar scenes look luminous, and Lowe’s ‘sax’ appeal is as detailed as you’ve seen it. It’s a must for fans of the movie.

We spoke to screenwriter Carl Karlunder about the film :


Straight-up, are you proud of “St Elmo’s Fire”?

It’s funny-when the movie came out some of my friends made fun of it, and we had some tough reviews but I am very proud of the movie now and in particular all the life experience that went into it.

Is it your script on screen though? One hundred percent?

St. Elmo’s Fire came out of a dialogue Joel Schumacher and I had been having for quite about life after college. I was twenty-four when we wrote the script and was living much of what we were writing about, so it was appealing getting to write a movie about my generation. Joel kept telling me that it was not just my generation, but that every generation which goes through this– the “this” being that these feelings in your twenties about whether you can actually become a “real person” with your first job, your first apartment, your first real love. I’m really proud of that-probably more today than I was at the time. It’s amazing and humbling to me that the film has had such an after-life.

Did all the characters make it onto the screen?

The original script I wrote was about my infatuation with a girl named Lynn Snyderman – who became Dale Biberman [in the film]– while she was working as a waitress and I was a bellhop at the St. Elmo Hotel in Chautauqua New York. I was so obsessed with Lynn  – I had mailed her a short story I first wrote called St. Elmo’s Fire – today, they call this stalking –  and instead of calling the cops, she encouraged me to write more which led to me getting a freak internship to Universal Studios. Meanwhile, Lynn moved to D.C. to work for Senator Arlen Specter-so conveniently we shot blocks from her workplace. Some of that original material still exists in the Kirbo/Dale subplot, but most of the screenplay came out of people who I knew and who Joel knew, and our own experiences in various forms.

Tell me..

“Kirbo” was a nickname Joel had for me based on a story I told him about a high school friend.  “Kevin” played by Andrew McCarthy was also based on my best friend who wrote for the newspaper in college, and Jules was the name of a real girl who I was living with in an anarchist collective in a rough section of Hollywood. She was as wild as the character but some of Jules’ humour was based also on Joel and my mutual friend Wendy Finerman and then the Rob Lowe character Billy had some composites of some folks I knew and some folks Joel knew.

I used to think some of the more innocent idealistic characters were closer to me, and some of the wilder, darker characters were Joel, but frankly, we each put a lot of ourselves into all of them. For instance, I hate to admit it, but one drunken evening, I did put a girl’s car keys in my pants, and I once dramatically tried to “freeze myself to death” during college after a girl broke my heart-but as I was going to school at Duke in North Carolina where it never gets that cold, it was more about the melodrama.

Via Vision

The truth is that for the script that became St. Elmo’s Fire Joel was twenty years older than me and had much more worldliness. He controlled the structure of the script and integrated many of my real-life experiences, combining those with his own, in able to direct the film. We wrote the script known as St. Elmo’s Fire together with me putting pages on the wet bar of his office each morning and him rewriting them and combining them with his own scenes during the day. The whole script was written very quickly but we re-wrote many things, even on the set. So, in the end, I consider the characters in the movie to be a product of both Joel and I. and our friendship.

Any of the casting choices you weren’t particularly happy with?

Nah. I know Emilio strongly wanted to play Billy, the part Rob Lowe would play in the film. But Joel had decided on Rob and still wanted to use Emilio’s huge talent in the movie and so offered him Kirbo. Emilio, knowing that much of this came from my somewhat pathetic life, would good-naturedly joke with me about some of the things I did to try to win [my crush] Lynn’s affection.




And, before Andie McDowell was cast, I never felt any actress could live up to the real-life object of my desire, Lynn. But the first day of the reading of the script, Joel asked me to tell the real-life Carl/Lynn story to Andie and Emilio. As I remember it, Andie was wearing a t-shirt that said “if you love something, set it free. If it won’t come back, hunt it down and kill it”-or something like that. And after I told the whole St. Elmo story, she just smiled and said something like “you have beautiful eyes” in that sweet Southern drawl-and well,… I always thought she was doing a bit of method acting in trying to get me to be infatuated with her… and it worked.

As for the rest of the cast, I was lucky to be in on all the casting and those who got the parts really emerged as the frontrunners early -though we did have some great people read such as Anthony Edwards who would later do E.R and Lea Thompson, who I had a bit of a crush on. A friend had suggested casting Kevin Bacon from Footloose and Jennifer Beals from Flashdance and getting the rest of the actors from Yale Drama school, I recall. We looked at hundreds of actors.

I love Demi Moore in this movie. She’s brilliant.

Joel spotted Demi Moore after she was auditioning for John Hughes in the office next door-and, at his instruction, I ran after her. Ha-Ha. That may have been one of the few times I ran after anything in my life-and it seem so hokey. I was panting, saying, “excuse me, we are doing this movie…”

Demi turned out to be so wonderful in so many ways in this role and I believe it ended up being cathartic for purging her own wild side.

Any other stories about the cast members?

I recall that after Andrew’s audition, I ended up driving him around in my Hatchback – in this recent book, Susannah Gora’s You Couldn’t Ignore Me if You Tried, he talks about me being Joel’s assistant and thinking he blew the audition – but I remember thinking how much he was like Kevin. He’d say all these cynical things sometimes about the script, and I could never tell if he was in character. But I thought he did a great job in the film.

He did. I still think he’s one of the most underrated actors of his time… as is Judd Nelson

I remember Judd after Breakfast Club… he could do anything. I think he had a rebel side and playing the leader was tougher on him. He had graduated from college so that helped. Most of the others were either still taking classes or had gone straight to acting.
It is funny, in that we had written Wendy as this character fighting with her weight and then Mare [Winningham] came in so thin – so we rewrote it. Then, she was pregnant during the movie, so we put the weight lines back in the script. And Ally Sheedy, well, who wasn’t in love with her after War Games, and Breakfast Club? She was very sweet in person.

Again, it is hard to imagine anyone but each of these actors playing the role now. It just wouldn’t be the same movie.

How did you get hooked up with Joel Schumacher?

I think it was my first week at Universal as an intern, based on a scholarship I had won while at Duke University. I had to get lunch for a meeting that was between Thom Mount, who was head of production at Universal, Bruce Berman, the executive in charge of me as an intern (later Village Roadshow), and Joel Schumacher. I got Joel “gazpacho, no sour cream, no croutons, chopped egg on the side.” The meeting was about a movie Joel was doing called D.C. Cab which starred Mr. T, Bill Maher, Gary Busey, about cab drivers.

Yeah I know it well, D.C Cab is great!

Yep. A year later, after I had written the spec script St. Elmo’s. I had gotten an agent, I was on the Universal lot and the production coordinator Mary Courtney Edwards invited me to see dailies. I asked her if it would be all right, and she said sure, the director was a sweetheart. Well, the lights came up after dailies and Joel looked over at me and curtly asked who I was-I was nervous as hell and said, “I’m Carl, I got you gazpacho, no sour cream, no croutons, and chopped egg on the side a year ago.” Joel laughed and had me get him a Perrier, lemon, no ice. I eventually became his assistant, and he became a real mentor to me in so many ways. I was terribly shy, especially with girls, and Joel encouraged me to be more aggressive with them, and even taught me how to get a good table in a restaurant.

That’s great. And then you started working together?

After D.C. Cab came out, Joel was thinking about what to do next, and one rainy Thursday, I told him the story of the girl I had met at the St. Elmo hotel and I how I had written this short story to impress her and how I had expanded it into a screenplay. That night, Joel read the screenplay and the next day, he said he wanted to do a movie about life after college and use my title and the Carl/Lynn story but make it an ensemble. We drove around for three days around L.A. talking about stories and the final script that would become St. Elmo’s Fire we wrote very fast together. The title and movie always had a “magic” about it, and I was lucky in that, having been Joel’s assistant, and learned how to get lunch orders – and much of show biz is about learning to get the lunch order right, I was part of every aspect of production alongside of Joel-which most screenwriters don’t get to do.

St Elmo’s Fire is now available On Blu-ray from Via Vision.

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