Have you ever read a book that helped you get through the toughest times of your adolescence? I have done just that when I was a senior in high school. In 1999, author Stephen Chbosky created such a great book called “The Perks of a Being a Wallflower.” Thirteen years later, Chbosky has brought the book to the big screen – this time, as director. The new film tells the tale of a An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world. This movie stars Logan Lerman, Emma Watson & Ezra Miller. Our roving reviewer, Dean Rogers, joined in a roundtable discussion with John Hanlon (John Hanlon Reviews) & Lauren Veneziani (DC Film Girl) to talk to Mr. Chbosky about this dynamic film.
TRR: What gave you the idea for the book in the first place and How did you develop the protagonist, Charlie?
Stephen Chbosky: If I knew where it came from, I would go back there over and over again because I’m so proud of the book and the movie. I have been thinking about this boy, his two older friends, the tunnel and the aunt for five years. You know when you see movie trailers, well that was like my own movie trailer. I placed songs in it and just kept thinking about it and thinking about it. I had this idea called “Letters from a Friend” and I was going to write this book of a series of letters and claim that some kid pick me out of a phone book and I decided to published the letters that he sent to me. SO, it was like this gimmick idea.
Then one day I went through a bad break up. It was a Saturday morning that I’ll never forget and it was like Charlie tapped me on the shoulder. In that moment, I knew that this story was actually this story and this kid was not writing to me but Charlie was writing out to the world. It just went click. A month later, I had a half a book. Within a year, I had two drafts. It just poured out.
The development of the character, Charlie wasn’t in a development so much as thinking and then channeling. At that time, I needed some purity in my life. I needed some hope. I needed to answer the question and we all know this, “Why do good people let themselves get treated so badly?” and Charlie was my response to that.
TRR: Next, Stephen told the trio of writers about “The Emma Tunnel Story”
SC: Emma is a lovely and proper English girl and she a team player and works her ass off. The one thing that Emma didn’t get a whole lot of opportunity to do in her life was be a kid. None of them did, they all grew up on sets. Don’t let me know not the prom story; it’s also so awesome (all of us chuckled). And’s its in the same spirit. I love these kids, I really do. So, it was Take 3 and we were going through the tunnel and she asked me, “Can I please, please, please can I do the stunt?” I said, “Sure, of course.” We got the safety cables. She climbs out of the cab of the truck and she goes and she stands up. With Take 3, most of this tunnel scene was based on this moment.
When she went into the tunnel, she was Emma. When she came out, she was Sam. I filmed what happened and she got tears in her eyes. If you saw with her arms slowly moving and she hadn’t done in any other ones. She just let go. I never saw a young person be happier in my life. I never seen anyone have such a profound moment of freedom in just a moment as that girl had in that moment as an actor but also as a person. The pressure she’s under constantly as part of the Harry Potter world but also the fashion stuff she does and everything else. Her schedule would probably make us all cry with how she lives her life. To see her be a kid for just a moment was probably my greatest moment on the set.
The upbringing we probably all take for granted. The three on the cover and Mae Whitman never had prom, never had a real graduation. They never capped and gowned it. This movie was their high school experience, the only one they ever had. Those moments meant everything to me.
TRR: Speaking of HS Experience, I was very touched by the relationship between Paul Rudd and Charlie when they shared the reading classics like “Catcher in the Rye.” What books did you like to read as a teen? What do you like to read now?
SC: As a teenager, every book that I listed in my book was the books I read. With the exception of Peter Pan which my tribute because that’s Stewart Stern favorite. Beyond Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Fountainhead, I read in college. My favorite author is Stephen King. I love his works so much. I read his books more than anybody else. I am actually reading “11-22-63” his new one right now, on the plane. In terms of what I’m reading right now, I’m reading Stephen King still. He’s the one I read my whole life. I just read Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants” Did you read that? It’s so funny, I love that book.
TRR: A follow-up question, have you met any of your favorite authors growing up?
SC: No, I haven’t
TRR: If you could, who would you like to meet?
SC: Stephen King! When I did this show, “Jericho”, I wrote the pilot. When I heard from this Entertainment Weekly columnist that King really like this show, I was happy. He didn’t read my writing but at least he saw it. That was really great.
TRR: I wanted to touch on the censorship especially since your book was challenged five of the last ten years by a couple of school systems for promoting sex, homosexuality. Why do you think your book was being challenged?
SC: They challenge it because there are a few moments in the book those deals with tough subjects in a realistic manner. I think the fact that it deals with drug use or homosexuality or premarital sex or some of the things that are part of the teenage landscape, not all teenagers but some. They think that I am promoting it on some level rather than simply showing it for what it is. I try not to judge it but make it part of the landscape. One thing in particular and I don’t have this in the movie. On page 29 I think, where Charlie witnesses a date rape when he was twelve when his brother threw this party. That section to me its very strange. There are some people who gotten up in arms because they think is titillating. To me, and no disrespect to anyone, shows a hell of a lot more about the people who protest then it does about me or this book.
TRR: Tell us your thoughts on the MPAA Rating. Perks was originally rated R but later changed to PG-13
SC: I think ultimately the reason we got a PG-13 was because of the book. You see, the MPAA wants their ruling and ratings to reflect what they believe the vast of the American parents would feel. If they felt that the majority of American parents would think that this is a hard-hitting R-rated movie, that’s what they would go. What we were able to make them understand at the hearing was the book was taught in school and is available in middle school libraries. I was able to say that there are already these bannings and this has happening. I published this book thirteen years ago and you know how many angry letters I received from parents? They don’t hate it, they love it because it’s promoting good values, it’s pro-education. I wanted to have that access because if that eighth grade girl or boy needs it, I want them to go. I didn’t have to compromise anything to get there. I just had to be smart.
TRR: I am glad because it was one of the two films this year that talks to the teens of the generation. If films can influence teens in a positive light, then they did their job. You have definitely done a brilliant job.
SC: Thank you
TRR: How does it feel to film in your hometown in Pittsburgh, that must have been a great honor.
SC: That was honor! Pittsburgh, I am very proud of where I’m from. Most of my family is still there. Fun little fact: at that communion scene during Christmas, side by side if you look down the rows, Dylan (McDermott) is across from my father. Kate is across from my mom. It’s fiction family and real family right down the rows. It was also fun to film on my street growing up because my parents got a location fee. It was fun to have those details. When Charlie, Sam and Patrick go to this diner (Kings Family Restaurant) That’s where I use to go after the little league games and we would have hot dogs there.
The Hollywood Theatre in Dormont, where we filmed the Rocky Horror scenes, is the first place I saw the Rocky Horror. So, it was like going back to the scenes of a crime. It’s great. The most gratifying thing about it was that my wife came to visit me during pre-production. After spending two days in Pittsburgh, she said “I finally understand you. That last piece that didn’t make sense, just being here. Ok, I get it.” At the Hollywood Theatre while filming the Rocky scenes, we created a poster of the George A. Romero film festival for when you are from Pittsburgh, Romero is a huge fan. I got to use Tom Savini as the Shop Teacher. You know the original “Dawn of the Dead.” That’s our shop teacher! For the people from Pittsburgh, they’re gonna flip out.
We would like to thank Mr. Stephen Chbosky for his time, his book & for one of the best interviews I ever had. The Perks of Being a Wallflower will be infinite in theatres this Friday.
FOR INTERVUE, I’m Dean Rogers