Both Charlie, the narrator of Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and I grew up during the 90's. I'm a few years younger than he is, but we speak the same language of shared cultural experiences. The highs and lows of Charlie's first year in high school, those moments that shape his friendship with Sam and Patrick, remain relatable to both teens and adult years after the novel was first published. This is one of the best books I've read. (Like, ever.) There are great truths in it.
The film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower had its first public screening at TIFF over the weekend. We're on pins and needles here at Indigo, as we're all super excited for this movie. (Charlie has friends beyond Team Teen wishing him well.)
When Simon & Schuster Canada asked us if we'd like to interview the author/director, all of Team Teen collaborated on the questions. Welcome Stephen Chbosky to the blog!
Indigo Teen Blog (ITB): It has been roughly 12 years since The Perks of Being a Wallflower was written. What do you hope this new generation of readers will gleam from this story?
Stephen Chbosky (SC): I want young people to find validation of and respect for what they go through every day. I wanted to show the great times and infinite times as well as the tougher things that people rarely talk about. All of those things are part of growing up, and I want young people to see the movie and read the book and know they are not alone.
ITB: The letters/diary format is so personal and intrinsic to the novel. How does this form work into the film?
SC: Charlie's letters proved to be as intrinsic to the movie as they were to the novel. Of course, the novel is highly subjective since it's all written in Charlie's voice. So, I needed to find the right cinematic language to tell the same story and characters objectively. But his letters are still the cornerstone of the story. And they still remain the most personal writing I've ever done. I loved writing new letter passages for the movie. It's been awhile since I wrote in Charlie's voice.
ITB: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is so closely tied to the music of its time-setting. Are there songs today that Charlie could connect with as strongly?
SC: Charlie would love The Swell Season, Mumford & Sons, Phoenix, Coldplay, The Strokes, Bon Iver, Landon Pigg, Brandi Carlile, Regina Spektor (especially "Samson"), Fun., Stars (especially "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead"), Imagine Dragons (especially "It's Time"), and so many other great artists. I would break your server answering this question if I did not stop myself now. But I have to add that he would have discovered The Tragically Hip's "Ahead by a Century" by now, and his life would be better for it.
ITB: You’re both a screenwriter and a prose writer. When you wrote the novel, did you find yourself envisioning parts of it as they would adapt to screen, or are prose writing and screenwriting two very separate processes for you?
SC: My dream was always to write the book and then make the movie. So, when I wrote the moment when all the kids run after the sunset after the last day of school, I hoped someday I would get to film it. The same goes for the moment when Charlie holds his hands up in the tunnel. Filming that was a dream come true. As for prose writing and screenwriting, they are completely different processes. Writing a novel is closer to the process of directing for me. It's about creating a world and a tone and an intimate connection with the reader (or viewer). The process of writing a screenplay is more difficult because you don't have 213 pages, but you have just as much story to tell. So, you have to constantly focus the story and when you can, find the picture that's worth the thousand words.
ITB: One of my favourite parts of the novel is when Charlie describes feeling infinite. Would you share with us a time that you felt that way?
SC: I felt infinite the day my daughter was born. And the day I married my wife. But since those are very private to me, I will share another story about Perks. We were shooting the first tunnel scene. I was in the camera car. Emma Watson was in the truck. And on the last run of the night, something magical happened. For whatever reason, Emma let go in that moment, and as she put her arms in the air, I realized that I had never seen more joy on a young person's face. My young friend was completely free and happy and alive. I felt infinite in that moment just witnessing it. I will never forget that moment as long as I live.
ITB: This is more of a comment that maybe you can speak to. Throughout our lives we develop many coping mechanisms to protect ourselves. When we become teens, it is the first time that we really begin to see the world in a new way and find that our coping mechanisms no longer work. As well, we tend to ponder our place within the world and novels, such as yours, are a way for readers to safely tap into these questions.
SC: Books, songs, and movies are more than entertainment when we're young. They help all of us discover who we are, what we believe, and what we hope our life can be. When I was growing up, movies like Dead Poets Society and The Breakfast Club helped me. Classic films like The Graduate and Rebel Without a Cause did the same. Of course, a lot of what is sold to young people is just entertainment, but every now and then, a great band like The Smiths or a classic book like The Catcher in the Rye comes along and changes how we look at youth.
ITB: What’s your favourite part of The Rocky Horror Picture Show? If you’ve ever gone to a show, who did you dress up as?
SC: My favorite part of Rocky is the beginning of "Time Warp" to the end of "Sweet Transvestite." As far as I'm concerned, that 10 minute sequence is one of the greatest in musical history. Of course, I have gone to dozens of shows, and I always dress as the same person. The shy writer in the audience who worships the performers. My wife likes the look, so I'm sticking with it.
* * *
Thank you again to Stephen Chbosky for taking the time to answer our questions and to our friends at Simon & Schuster Canada for facilitating this Q & A. The Perks of Being A Wallflower opens on September 21st.