In 1985, David Blum wrote a cover story for New York magazine titled, "Hollywood's Brat Pack." The piece began as a profile of Emilio Estevez, but after a night out with Estevez and his friends Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson, Blum switched his focus to the entire group. "They're Rob, Emilio, Sean, Tom, Judd, and the rest — the young movie stars you can't quite keep straight," the story proclaimed, characterizing them as "a roving band of famous young stars on the prowl for parties, women, and a good time." (The Sean and Tom mentioned were Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton.)

The actors felt betrayed by their portrayal, but the "Brat Pack" label soon came to encompass the rest of the cast of St. Elmo's Fire, too, including Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy and Andrew McCarthy. The Brat Pack became a pop culture phenomenon in the '80s, but the so-called members didn't want any part of this club, with many believing that it negatively affected their careers. Now, decades later, the Brat Packers themselves are finally sharing their side of the story in the documentary Brats.

Brats is helmed by McCarthy, who broke out in St. Elmo's Fire and Pretty in Pink before eventually moving behind the camera. McCarthy initially unpacked his baggage in a 2021 memoir, Brat: An '80s Story, but the film sees him seeking out the likes of Estevez, Lowe, Moore and more to finally talk it out together.

"I was surprised by how much affection we all had for each other," McCarthy tells A.frame. "None of us were particularly close; we were all so competitive and scared and just trying to figure this out, because there was a lot happening back then. So, to look at someone like Ally, where I was like, 'I just look at you Ally and I'm like, Wow,' and Ally's like, 'I know, I know.' There's very few people that I have that with, and I have it with these strangers, essentially, because we went through something together 30-odd years ago."

A.frame: You've been living with the Brat Pack for almost 40 years, and now, even the experience of making this film has taken a couple of years—

It feels like decades of my life. [Laughs.] It was a much happier experience than I thought it would be. It was about two years all said and done, but it took me about a year to track everybody down, and then I think we shot for 10 or 11 days. It's been a while, so I'll be happy to have it get out here and have a life of its own.

When did you start thinking of making a documentary about your experience as a Brat Packer and the impact that that label has had on all of you?

I wrote a book about my time in the Brat Pack several years ago, which was just my own subjective experience of it. As I was finishing the book, I started telling people what I was doing, and they said, "Oh, did you talk to the others about it too?" And I said, "No." What I was doing was examining my own experience of my past. I didn't want other people's opinions of my past, because we all have our own relationship to what happened to us in life. And then I thought, "Well, I know it was a seismic event in everyone else's lives, but I actually don't know what happened to them afterwards."

I thought it would be interesting to turn the focus onto them and see what their experience of everything was, and the movie very quickly grew out of that. I started calling people, but when I was calling these people up, I was calling them up for the first time in 30-something years. And then, when people said yes, I was like, "Oh, I guess I have to go out to Malibu now and film Emilio!" I didn't know for quite a while if there was actually going to be enough people to talk to, or if these talks were going to be interesting, but I just sort of followed it. Everybody in the movie is someone that I knew, that I just called up and said, "Would you talk to me about this?" And they all pretty much said, "Yeah, I'd love to."

And then I also wanted to get people that had a different perspective on it, other than just us, so that's why I talked to [writer] Malcolm Gladwell, and to Lauren Shuler Donner, who was a producer of these movies. Her perspective was very different than mine was at the time.


You mentioned that you hadn't talked to these people in decades. What was it like when you got back into a room together? Was there an immediate comfort and familiarity?

Well, I don't know these people at all; I haven't seen them in, like, 30 years! I literally hadn't seen Emilio since the night of the premiere of St. Elmo's Fire [in 1985]. If there was somebody else who I did a movie with 30 years ago, I'd have nothing to say to them. I'd go, "Hey, nice to see you again." I just did a movie with Harvey Keitel, who I haven't seen in 30 years, and it was like, "What's going on? Nice to see you." And we had nothing to say after that. But [the Brat Pack] was this seismic event in our lives that we've never discussed, and I know it was a big deal for them, because I know how big a deal it was for me. All it required was a willingness on everyone's part to say, "Okay, let's talk about this." That's why I had no questions. I wasn't interested in interviewing anyone; I just wanted to have a very subjective, human talk about... what was your experience back then? And how do you feel about it now?

I had no interest in taking a romp down memory lane. Who cares? I'm not a very nostalgic person, although I know that people will come to the movie for the nostalgia factor. But what's interesting to me is, how do we view our past? And how has that view of our past changed and evolved over time? And how do we evolve as people over time so that we can view the same event often in a very drastically different way? I find that fascinating. I hated the Brat Pack when it happened, and now I embrace it as one of the greatest professional blessings of my life. And nothing has changed about it except my perception. That's a journey of life and time, and I knew that putting that in the framework of the Brat Pack would make it a palatable thing for some people to want to come see. So, I asked Emilio and Rob, "How has your experience changed over time? You hated it, and now you think it's cool."

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"I had no interest in taking a romp down memory lane. Who cares? I'm not a very nostalgic person."

How surprised were you to see the radically different perspectives that each person had on that time period? Clearly you were affected by it, and Emilio seemed to be in that same camp. But Rob and Demi didn't feel the same weight of the Brat Pack.

Yeah, and everybody was decidedly themselves about it too. Rob saw the opportunity and the positiveness and how the public loved it. So, he embraced it very quickly. Demi has a more distanced, wise perspective on the whole thing. I was curious to get everyone's perspective on it and create a narrative arc out of that. You can't start at the end of the movie, going, "Oh yeah, we feel great about it." No. We had a journey to get to that point. I knew what narrative arc I wanted to tell, because I'd sort of done the outline for that in my book, but then, of course, there's surprises along the way that changed things.

One of the most gripping interviews is your sit-down with David Blum, the author behind the infamous Brat Pack article. It would have been easy for him to just apologize, but he was still a bit defensive about it. I got the sense that you initially weren't fully satisfied with the conversation. The interview is over and you're getting ready to leave, and you say, "But you could have been nicer." From your perspective, what was that sit-down like?

I'd never, ever thought about talking to that guy, and again, it speaks to the arc of time. If you told me 10, 20, 30 years ago that I'd be going to this guy's house, I'd say you're out of your f*****g mind. I thought this guy did me a lot of damage long ago. And then I sit there and I look at him and I have a certain affection for him. Emotionally, I found that to be a really interesting evolution. But I found the conversation fascinating.

What I wasn't interested in doing was catching him out or doing to him what he did to us. When he says they were mean to him on The Phil Donahue Show, I just sat there, gobsmacked, going, "Dude, what do you think you did to us?" [Laughs.] But I was much more interested in just letting him have his say, and I do think David's very conflicted about it. In the '80s, that was the snarky journalism that New York Magazine did so well, and he was a young guy who was trying to get his next assignment and came up with a really witty phrase. He didn't think it was going to live on forever; he was just trying to be funny. So, one minute, he sort of feels bad, and then the next minute he's defiant about it. I think it's interesting just to capture his ongoing relationship to it.

Ally Sheedy, Andrew McCarthy and Demi Moore attend the 'Brats' premiere during the 2024 Tribeca Festival.

The sequence that has most stuck with me is when you’re at a food stand and a worker asks you what the cameras are for and what the documentary is about. You seem a bit taken aback, and you then tell him, "It's about looking for people." Was that a moment that kind of snuck up on you? And now, with time to reflect on that question and your answer, have you thought more on what is this documentary about?

The whole movie is very much like a homemade movie. So, he's like, "What are you doing?" "Oh, well, what am I doing? Am I going to tell this guy what this is about, or am I not going to talk about it?" And then I tell him and he gives this great answer, he's like, "Who? The Rat Pack? I don't know, maybe I've heard of them." I'm like, "Okay! That's the whole movie right there, thank you!" It's just trying to be alive in the moment and real. There's nothing in the movie that is choreographed or planned. I planned to go to Demi's house. And I go chat with Demi, but that's as far as the plan goes. And in every situation, I said, "Let's just film whatever we're doing, all day long, and we'll see what works." We filmed me in the car, and the movie evolved and became a sort of quest movie, to go find and see all these people. I find I'm better in the car talking and musing about the stuff than I would be sitting there talking to a camera, being interviewed — even by myself.

The last thing I wanted was to sit down and have talking heads interviews with people, reading them a list of questions that I was going to ask them. To me, that would've just been dead. And what was interesting is we're talking about a topic that is dead. It was 35 years ago, and yet, it's somehow still alive. If I had a list of questions to ask about what happened back then, it would have been a dead interview, as opposed to a live conversation. To me, the movie's very much about now. Yes, you come for the nostalgia, but you stay for the experience of how we make sense of our lives. Some people just go, "Yeah, yeah, it was really fun. I liked all the old clips," and that's fine. But to me, what was of interest was making sense of our lives.

Without spoiling anything, you essentially sign-off with a Marvel-like mid-credits scene featuring Judd Nelson, whom you never were able to grab for an on-camera sit-down. How did you arrive at your ending?

There's no more iconic Brat Pack moment than when Judd pumps his fist at the end of The Breakfast Club — that is the Brat Pack, so my editor just put that in. We had something else at the end, but in that moment, I was like, "That's perfect. That's how the movie needs to end." And then we had this moment of answering the phone for Judd, and so we had that little beat too. Our arc in the movies is exactly like my real life arc with Judd. I called him up, he didn't answer. He called back, and he started talking, talking, and talking. I said, "Don't tell me this now! I want to get it all on film!" And then I went out to start filming people and Judd kept not being around and being elusive, and I couldn't find him anywhere. And then, finally, right at the end, he called and said, "You know what? I don't want to do this." I said, "Okay, that's fine." But he's so smart and fascinating. Even some of the clips that we have of him in the film, he is just very articulate. So, everybody was themselves throughout the whole process. They were who I knew them to be.

By Derek Lawrence


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