Interview With Perks of Being a Wallflower's Stephen Chbosky

By Lawrence Truett, aka Ltruett 

Alexandra Dersch sits down with Stephen Chbosky and discusses his book and movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Photographs via Gretchen Burnton

Stephen Chbosky enters the room and sits down directly in front of Pinnacle High School senior Alexandra Dersch. They’re surrounded by seven other high school journalists who all have their pens, notebooks and recorders (mainly iPhones) at the ready.

Chbosky: (eyeing Dersch’s tape recorder from across the table) “Oh a micro-cassette!”

Alexandra Dersch: “Look at that!”

Chbosky: “Ooh, and it’s a clear voice plus.”

Dersch: “That’s right. Only the best.”

Chbosky: “Only the best!”

Dersch: Only the best!”

Chbosky: “I love it.” (laughs)

Chbosky: “… Tell me [your] schools. Does anyone go to the same school with the person [sitting next to you]?

All: “No.”

Chbosky: “All different schools? Awesome. Thank you. I’ve been asking … for this thing forever and you’re the first one that delivered it, thank you.”

Julie: “I’m just from a local paper, not a high school, but I was just wondering ‘cause you’re the author, director, and the screenwriter and there are a lot of pros to that ... but are there any disadvantages to that?

Chbosky: “No, there are no disadvantages. The only thing you have to do is you have to be really smart and surround yourself with very talented people who can tell you when you’re messing up. Because, you know, it’s wonderful … to feel this close to material, but sometimes you can be too close and things can become too precious so my producers Lianne Halfon, Russ Smith and John Malkovich, they helped me a lot in cutting … and I had a terrific editor Mary Jo Markey and other colleagues. So yeah, there were no disadvantages, I just had a great team.

Bronty: “Hi I’m Bronty.

Chbosky: “Hey.”

Bronty: “I’m from Shadow Mountain High School.”

Chbosky: “Oh great!”

Bronty: “I’m the News Editor for the paper there.”

Chbosky: “Oh cool!”

Bronty: “… What was your inspiration for writing the book in the first place?

Chbosky: “My inspiration for writing the book – when I was a little younger, I was going through a very tough time and a bad breakup and I was a little messed up. And at that time I needed to find something that was going to give me hope in my life. And Charlie was my hope in the form of a character. ‘Cause I’m sure you guys have experienced in your own lives – You ever, you ever look around and wonder why so many nice people that you know or friends let themselves get treated badly? You know? I wondered that too and Charlie was my response to it and he helped me find a way to not have that happen so often.”

Dersch: “I’m Alexandra Dersch. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Blueprint Magazine at Pinnacle High School.”

Chbosky: “And you have a mini-cassette recorder!”

Dersch: “Only the best, like I said.”

Chbosky: “Only the best.”

Dersch: “I mean cassettes are the best.”

Chbosky: (grinning) “Yes.”                    

Dersch: “I was wondering if there is any difference between how Charlie helped you in the novel as opposed to the movie since it was a healing mechanism for you?”

Chbosky: “Yes. Well, like I said, [the book] was more academic. The movie was more visceral. You see, even after I wrote the book a lot of the ... images that you saw, including some of the tougher ones, have been in my head and in my heart for a long time. And what the movie let me do is get it out of my head and onto film and it stayed there. And now it’s out and I have a lot more room to just spend time with my wife and daughter. You know? It’s the greatest feeling in the world. I feel free as a bird right now.”

Dersch: “And sorry, what’s your daughter’s name?”

Chbosky: “Maccie Margaret. But it’s Maccie, M-A-C-C-I-E.”

Dersch: “M-A-C-C-I-E. Thank you.”

Chbosky: “Which is my wife (Liz)’s maiden name, we wanted to honor her dad.”

Dersch: “Very cool.”

Sarah: “Hi, I’m Sarah.

Chbosky: “Hey Sarah.”

Sarah: “Ok, so what do you hope to accomplish for the gay community as far as Patrick and Brad’s relationship goes? Like, obviously it’s in the book and it’s in the movie too, and ... what are you hoping people get out of that when they see that?

Chbosky: “It depends who you are. Let’s say, I’ll speak about Patrick first and then I’ll talk about their relationship. I have to do it this way.
When I was a kid, when I was basically your age, my hero of movies was Ferris Buehler. I thought he was the coolest kid that basically ever was. And when I was making Perks the movie, I wanted Ferris Buehler to be the gay kid. (laughter) Because he never is, you know? And I wanted him to be the most fearless, most confident, funniest, coolest, over-it and the most profound non-victim you’ve ever met. And that’s what I wrote and that’s what we cast in Ezra Miller and he was perfect because I know from my own past, people I’ve known, friends, my travels, all the kids I’ve met at my book readings and school visits and everything else, there’s some gay kids and don’t have a ton of role models and I wanted to give them one. I wanted them to know, for whatever it was worth to them, that if someone calls you a f*ggot, you can hit back and you don’t have to take that sh*t. Oh that’s right, you’re high schoolers – you don’t have to take that stuff. 
But simultaneous to that, I also wanted to show with Brad how not being true to yourself could be a really difficult life. And I have a lot of sympathy for Brad, that’s why I cast Johhny Simmons in the part because I wanted the audience to have sympathy for him. I also wanted him to serve as a different kind of role model and a bit of a cautionary tale that not being who you are is maybe not the best way to go. That’s basically it.

Jackie: “Hi I’m Jackie. … My question is, last night you said the movie was more autobiographical for you … than the book … so my question is, what scene in the movie, or even in the book, means the most to you?”

Chbosky:  “There are two scenes in the movie and the book – well, it’s funny you ask that. There’s one scene in both that mean the most to me and it’s just a dialogue scene and that is right after the Secret Santa party: Sam and Charlie’s first kiss. That’s my favorite scene with dialogue and Emma [Watson] and Logan [Lerman] were fantastic in it. It’s the best scene I’ve ever written in my career and I love that part of the book. Past that, it’s not really a scene so much as a moment: the tunnels. The tunnels to me, I guess you could call it a scene, but it’s more of an expression of where Charlie is and what Charlie feels. And I love the music and I love the imagery and the comradery of the kids. Plus … when Emma Watson stood up in that truck and put her arms up in the air, it was take three of that particular set up and she was just so free and so happy in that moment, I’ll never forget it. I’ll always have a soft spot for that part of the movie because of what I know that moment meant for Emma.”

Erin: “Hi I’m Erin. I’m … from Desert Mountain”

Chbosky: “Hey.”

Erin: “Can you tell me about your interest in writing in general?

Chbosky: “My interest in writing in general… You know, I’ve wanted to be two things in my life. The first was a baseball player and the second was a writer and I made that switch when I was twelve. But the first inkling about being a writer was when I was in fourth grade [my teacher] had us write stories. I remember ... she read the examples of previous years and people drew covers. This one kid, I don’t know who it was, I never even read the story, drew this cover of this Technicolor blob [for] a horror story and I thought it looked so great. That was the first inclination I had that books just didn’t appear – that people actually created them.

At the end of that year, on the last day of school of fourth grade, [my teacher] out of nowhere said, ‘Steve Chbosky! Stand up!’ I thought I was in trouble and she said, ‘I want you to read your story in front of the class.’ I have no idea why she picked me to do it. I have since talked to [my teacher] and I asked her and she was like, ‘I don’t know.’ (Chbosky shrugs, impersonating her.) You know?  I thought it was some profound lesson about how ... I could pursue this career but no, I think she just thought it was a sweet story. That story was called ‘Two Killers in Snug Harbor’ and it was about a serial killer and a killer whale and the big twist – spoiler alert – is that the killer whale kills the serial killer at the end. It was a terrible story but it was so sweet that she asked me to read it and ever since then I thought I could do this. I owe a lot to [her].

James: “I’m James Bunting, Editor-in-Chief at Horizon.”

Chbosky: “Oh great!”

James: “I was just curious, while you were writing this, did you ever think that it would be where it is today? How does it compare to your expectations?

Chbosky: “It’s exceeded my expectations to a great extent. I’d hoped when I wrote it, like I said I wrote it for personal reasons and obviously when you publish something you hope that people relate to it, but you can’t predict 19 countries. You know? You can’t predict number one New York Times best-seller. It doesn’t happen that way. Even more than that, it’s the responses that I’ve received from individual readers and young people who deeply and very personally relate to the story. I’ve received those letters ever since I published the book, they always mean the world to me and I read every one I get. So yeah, it exceeded everything.”

Julie: “… I was wondering how hard it was to get funding for the film since you were pretty much running the entire show.”

Chbosky: “Getting funding, you know, it took a while to ultimately land at Summit but for me it wasn’t difficult because Emma did it. They liked the screenplay and god knows, you know, with Juno, and Ghost World and some of the other films that LeAnn Russ and John had produced, they knew there was a track record there and they loved Logan’s work. But it was Emma who came to Hollywood, she doesn’t do it a lot, she came to Hollywood and had meetings with all of the studios who had offered her everything. You know, you name the movie practically, she was offered it and she kept turning everything down and told everybody in Hollywood, ‘Make The Perks of Being a Wallflower. That’s the first movie I’m going to do after Potter.’ It was her insisting that this happen is … ultimately [why] we found the funding and why we got to make the movie that we made. I owe her a lot.”

Bronty: “Can you see The Perks of Being a Wallflower being like a staple in high school literature because of its relevancy?”

Chbosky: “You know, it already is taught in high schools. It would be a dream of mine to be part of that curriculum the way some of the other books that I list in my book have become. It has in some places and hopefully if the reputation of the book keeps growing and it offers some help to students and teachers, then it will. One thing I do know is that, supposedly, it’s happened quite a few times, where people will come up to me and say ‘Oh I gave this book to my friend and she’s never finished a book in her life and yours is the first book she ever finished.’ People who don’t like to read seem to like to read this book. There’s this one teacher in Ontario, California, she would read aloud to the class and she did something very tricky where she would read it aloud and say, ‘OK guys listen, these next few pages there’s some really intense stuff that happens and if I read this out loud, I’ll get in trouble.’ And these kids that she couldn’t get to read if she hit ‘em with a stick suddenly were like, ‘Oh, there’s like something you know dirty.’ (laughs) So they would jump right in and read and they really liked it. So I hope that continues. … Quick tangent, I once got a letter from that teacher’s class where a kid, he was a junior in high school, and this is a poor school, OK? His reading comprehension level went from fourth to eighth grade. He started my book at fourth grade and he ended at eighth. I don’t know why it was able to do that for him, but I’m very humbled and honored that it did.”

Dersch: “What is the symbolism behind mix tapes and vinyl for you personally or for Charlie?”

Chbosky: “You know, a lot of this movie – when I set this movie in the early ‘90s, yes, it was the book and yes, that was when I grew up but one of the main reasons that I kept the time period that I kept was that I wanted to capture the last analog moment for music but also for adolescence itself. Like you guys, you know, it’s strange. You were born right before the Internet was basically mainstream so it’s the only reality you’ve ever known. I’ve known both. There’s something about capturing that last moment before everything became public whether it was Facebook or Twitter or email and vinyl and mix tapes went right along beside that. I just love that. Look, don’t get me wrong, I also love my iPhone and I have tons of songs on it and I do it and I love YouTube and, you know, I can waste hours there like everybody else. But it was part of that almost like a last little bit of nostalgia because we’re never going to go back. This is it. This is the future. And even though I do believe, in the nature of things, that someday Twitter is going to be this very quaint nostalgia for you, like 30 years from now you’re like, ‘Oh, Twitter, that’s so great.” But I don’t know, I wanted to capture that time.

Dersch: “Thank you.”

Chbosky: “Sure.”

Sarah: “Well, I personally know a few people at my school who’ve actually gotten quotes from the book tattooed on them.”

Chbosky: “Oh wow.”

Sarah: “Yeah, I was just wondering how that feels…”

Chbosky: “Hopefully it was the good lines.”

Sarah: “Oh yeah, of course.”

Chbosky: “Not like, ‘I love Twinkies.’”

Sarah: (laughs) “But I mean, just to have those things that you said and you wrote show up on people’s bodies and just in their lives like, how important it is to them.”

Chbosky: “So is your question like how I feel about that generally?”

Sarah: “Yeah.”

Chbosky: “You know, it’s funny, I’m very flattered and I’m very moved that they would do that, at the same time I’m something of an old-fashioned guy from Pittsburgh and I would never get a tattoo like in a million years so I’m always like one of those nervous, square adults that go, ‘Are you sure you really want to put that permanently on you?’ Look, if they’re going to put something, I’m glad it’s something positive – that’s all I can say. You know, because my daughter, she’s three weeks old today, and you know, if she came to me in 14 years and said, ‘I want to get a tattoo,’ I’d be like, ‘Really? You really wanna…?  Just give it another year. Please, please please.’ So yeah, I’m a little square that way.”

Jackie: “How do you interact with you fans because I know you don’t have a twitter, so do you use social media?”

Chbosky: “I don’t use social media. I might start as a way of connecting but I greatly prefer something like this. (Chbosky motions to the student journalists, sitting around the table.) I greatly prefer a book store than social media. I know that social media gives you a far greater reach in terms of numbers but I don’t know if  it’s a greater reach in terms of connection. So I would much rather go for connection. We’ll see. I don’t know. A lot of my friends who make films and write, they’ve started and they like it. They feel it gives them a way of connecting and I could see in the near future, trying at least.”

Erin: “I know you mentioned your fourth grade teacher. Are there any parallels between Charlie’s English teacher and your fourth grade teacher?”

Chbosky: “Yeah, well actually the person who inspired Bill, or Mr. Anderson in the movie, played by Paul Rudd, is a man named Stuart Stern – he wrote the screenplay for Rebel Without a Cause. I’ve known him since I was seventeen-years-old. He taught at USC Film School where I went to undergrad. He’s been my hero and mentor since I’ve been nineteen, I’d say. It’s really fun actually, Stuart lives in Seattle, he’s ninety-years-old, lives up there with his wife, and … I’m flying up to Seattle to play the movie and do a Q&A after the screening … with Stuart. That will be the greatest moment of my professional life because he’s a wonderful person and it will be great to honor him that way.”

James: “What are your plans for the future?”

Chbosky: “I’m two-thirds of the way through my next book, I’m really excited about it. It’s my tribute to Stephen King who’s my favorite, favorite writer. Making movies based off of books that I wrote – I love doing it. I loved doing it with Perks and I know I’ll love doing it with my next book. So I think that’s what I’m going to do for a while.”

Chbosky: “You guys take such good notes, it’s amazing. I’m telling you, you know, with adult journalists, ‘cause you guys are used to it in class, taking notes, like adult journalists just go like this (pretends to record on his iPhone) and you just talk into their machine. So this is really fun. I feel like I’m teaching a class. You all get A’s. (laughter)

Julie: “All right, what sets this story not just the movie but the book also apart from the other underdog, coming-of-age stories, in your opinion?”

Chbosky: “I don’t know. You know, it’s a good question. I don’t know that I’ve read enough of them to know what sets them apart. You could probably answer that a lot better than I could. Is there any in particular that you mean?”

Julie: “Just a lot of movies like this have come out, especially recently, like, every generation has their own movie coming-of-age, underdog rising sort of thing, so I was just wondering because you said … that you took a lot of inspiration from a lot of those timeless, classic movies like that so…?”

Chbosky: “I don’t know if it sets it apart, look, when I mentioned Rebel Without A Cause and The Graduate and Harold and Maude and Stand By Me and Dead Poets Society and Breakfast Club, those are the movies that I loved. I don’t know what sets Perks apart from them, I was just trying to, I was crossing my fingers that I would make a movie that would even belong as number 10 on that list, you know? I love those films, I found them to be very honest and ambitious artistically and I wanted to do my best to add one more to the ranks, I guess. I don’t know what sets it apart. Hopefully people find it honest because I know it is honest and hopefully people find it inspiring and fun as well as it deals with tougher subjects. ‘Cause when I look at you guys (motions to the student journalists around the table), you know, I remember this about high school very much, that you, you have so much going on. You’re part of a million clubs, probably, and then you’re studying, and then maybe you’re dating somebody, or maybe you’re not, or maybe you want to, and then that takes a lot of time, and then the music takes a lot of time – I don’t know how you have the time. Then you’re in classes – when do you guys wake up like six in the morning?”

Dersch: “I wake up usually like five or so.”

Chbosky: “Five. When do you go to sleep?”

Dersch: “Late.” (laughs)

Chbosky: “That’s what I’m saying! See this is what happens though, when you get older, you can’t possibly do that and sustain it. So I just wanted to show the balance of all the social parts of school but also Sam has the pressure of the SAT’s, they all want to have a good future, there’s the grade that you have to get to keep moving forward, there’s the teacher that’s giving you extra assignments and then there are all the things that maybe you’re not talking about as much that you have to deal with as well, or if you’re not going through it , and I hope you’re not, maybe you know a friend that is, you know? I was just trying to show the totality of that experience and be as honest as I could about it.”

Bronty: “What is it that you think about coming-of-age stories that has such a relevancy to anyone really?”

Chbosky: “To anyone? Listen, you know, I can offer it this way and this is something for the guys as well - kind of like guy-guys. On some level we all love sports. You know, the Olympics just happened and we all to one degree or another watched the gymnastics team or we watched Michael Phelps and we all cheer on their greatness. Or if you don’t particularly like swimming or gymnastics, if it’s football or if it’s baseball or the perfect game, we try to strive for something that represents our own excellence. For someone like Charlie, it’s not a football game and it’s not gymnastics, what it is for him, and I think that’s what relates to any coming-of-age story, is you start at one place and you have some challenges and you have adversity and through good friends and through support and experience you overcome that, so that by the end you are stronger than you ever thought you could be, you’re [more free] than you ever thought possible and you could take on anything. By the end of the movie, Charlie’s going to participate and that’s the equivalent of a gold medal for him and I think that’s why people are inspired by it and will relate to it no matter what their age is because we’re all coming-of-age all the time.”

Dersch: “What was it like seeing your own home town on the big screen?”

Chbosky: “It was great. What’s funny is, there was this one moment, we were filming the luminaria scene where Aunt Helen is talking to little Charlie and it was on my street growing up and we filmed it and someone asked me, ‘Is this surreal for you?’ I said, ‘In a way not really,  because when I wrote the novel, that’s what I saw in my head. I saw this place.’ So it was just about making that through a different kind of technology a reality. It was a little weird dealing with the extras, you know, it was like, ‘All right, you’re playing the Maruca family, just go ahead and run to the front porch,’ that was a little strange, I’m not going to lie. But everything else as far as the pure imagery or my hometown or you know, the theater where I first saw Rock Horror Picture Show, or the Fort Pitt tunnel or King’s Family Restaurant – the diner where Charlie, Sam and Patrick talk for the first time after the football game. I used to go there after Little League games. So it was great, it was great to bring it home.”

Dersch: “Any déjà vu moments?

Chbosky: “No, because, you know, a movie, it was like a circus came to town, all you had to do was look around at all the cables and trucks and everything else and think that there’s no déjà vu here. Because you know, when I went to high school there weren’t like five equipment trucks and a bunch of caterers – it didn’t happen. And Emma Watson was not there.”

Dersch: “Unfortunately.”

Chbosky: “Unfortunately, yes.”

Sarah: “OK, what would you say to young people who are dealing with the loss of a friend?”

Chbosky: “You know, first of all, by saying that it’s OK to be sad about, because I think so often, because it’s so painful you just want to rush by the fact that there’s grief there. So if you respect that it’s supposed to hurt, then in an ironic way it will make it hurt less. That’s first. Second, to have hope that time heals things, you know? And also, this is a really important one. When you lose somebody close to us and that’s happened to me, we want to hold onto them – that’s part of grief. We think that if we let go of our sadness then we’re letting go of our friend, and they’re two very different things. You know, you will hold the memory of that person in your heart forever and you don’t need to only do it through grief you can do it through celebration or memory or just honoring what they meant to you. I guess that’s the best way I can put it, I don’t know. It’s always hard, there’s no way to make it easy. So yeah, I hope that answers your question because it’s a very beautiful one and I wanted to say something real to you.”

Jackie: “How long did it take you to write the book and was it difficult for you at all?”

Chbosky: “No. The book took me, look,  I thought of the title in college and after I thought of the title I thought about Charlie and his older friends and the tunnel and the Aunt for I’d say about five years, but once I was ready to really write it, it poured out pretty fast. The first day, it was a Saturday, I wrote the first two letters in that first day, it’s pretty much what you read … and within a month I had half of it. Within a year, I had two drafts. If you add just the simple number of days it took me to write, it would four months spread over two years. The screenplay was far more difficult and took a lot longer.”

Erin: “Did you have to deal with any writer’s block when you wrote the book or movie?”

Chbosky: “No, with the novel absolutely not. There was no writer’s block. The screenplay was another matter. It was so difficult to figure out a way to translate this to the screen. Several times I [was] like, ‘How am I going to get from this part to this part?’ It was a real head-scratcher, I’ve got to say.”

James: “I’ll just go off that, what specifically made it harder to write a screenplay than a book?”

Chbosky: “Because Charlie’s voice in the book was so near and dear to my heart, it was so personal and he was such an effective narrator, I thought and he was so connected to the emotions of the story that he could just say, ‘Patrick’s hilarious,’ or ‘Sam is so nice’ or whatever. His point of view … was very freeing for me. I could just go anywhere, do anything, there wasn’t any calculation, I didn’t need to do it. Then when you say, ‘All right, wow, I have to actually earn everything that Charlie just gave me on a silver planner as a narrator.” I [had] to make the audience love Patrick the way Charlie in the book loves Patrick. I have to make the audience feel like Sam is that free and I have no crutch, I just [had] to do it. It was tricky to divorce myself from Charlie’s point of view and do a more objective point of view to make it work on the screen.”

Julie: “You mentioned how Stuart Stern was your inspiration … and that he was the first person to read your screenplay. What type of changes did you make after he read it? What kind of influence did he have on it?”

Chbosky: “You know what it was? He, and this was helpful, he and then my wife Liz, she really seconded it and brought it home in a different way. Because I was trying to find a distance, I didn’t have any letters in the first draf of the screenplay and I think that he, he was always very complimentary about the book, I think that he helped me understand that it was ok to use those letters because it’s so much of Charlie’s personality and voice and Liz did the same thing. After that, I started writing the letters and that gave me my way into the second draft and it improved dramatically. I mean … could you imagine [the movie] without the letters? It’s impossible. But I tried. But I will say, sometimes it’s great to try something that does not work because it forced me to think in terms of imagery and pictures and editing and a lot of those, because I didn’t have the letters I didn’t do everything else, some of those things rounded out the movie in a nice way so I’m glad I did it as an exercise.

Bronty: “Because of the subject matter, the drug referencing and [other difficult topics] have you encountered any conflict because of that?”

Chbosky: “What do you mean by conflicts?”

Bronty: “Just criticisms or…?”

Chbosky: “You know, yeah. In a way, yes. … Look, the American Library Association, they keep a list of the most banned books in America and I have made the top 10 list five times. You know, and this is a book that’s been around for 12 years. So yeah, some people object very strongly because either they think that I’m trying to use these elements to be exploitative on some level, which I’m not but they think that or they simply blame the messenger and think I’m trying to encourage behavior when all I’m really trying to do is show it in a very non-judgmental, true-to-life way. Look, we all know, not all kids do drugs, we all know that, you know, the vast majority of them don’t and they don’t get pregnant and they don’t go through the things that some of the characters in the book and then in the movie go through, but some do. I just think either they wish that it wasn’t true or they think I’m encouraging it. It’s like a chicken and the egg thing. I didn’t come first. You know what I mean? This stuff existed and I wrote about it and so some people do object about it, for sure.”

Dersch: “So fifteen years from now when your daughter’s growing up and she’s fifteen-years-old, how do you want her to see this movie and read the book? What reaction would you like to see from her?”

Chbosky: “You know, all I want Maccie to get from this movie and book is a validation of what it means to be fifteen in the year 2027 - whatever that looks like. When she makes fun of things like Facebook, I don’t know, I don’t know who the bands are going to be – all the style and all the pop culture that changes. Here’s a quick tangent then I’ll bring it back to Maccie. You understand, there was a time when teenage girls lost their minds for the clarinet player Artie Shaw, you know what I mean, like the Beatles. It all changes. That’s not what’s important. What I hope she gets is a validation of her feelings, of her experiences and of her friendships. You know, and I will be at that age, fifty-something and what I hope is, and of course I’ll be too-protective, because she’s my little girl. In a lot of senses, like any other parent, I won’t want to think that she’ll have to struggle the way that I struggled, but I also know that she will because that is the nature of adolescence. So I hope that this gives her a little bit of a blueprint and I hope that for our family it’s what it leads to for other families which is, I hope that she sees this and comes to me and says, ‘You really understand all this Dad?’ and I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I really understand it’ and then I can ask her, ‘Listen, I’m not going to judge you. What’s really going on at your school? What are you thinking about? Are you afraid of anything? What bands do you love? Why do you love ‘em? Are you crushing on someone? Are they good to you?’ You know, all those things that really matter in the trenches of adolescence. One of the advantages about making the movie and waiting 13 years between book and movie is that I now speak fluent parent, just like I spoke fluent kid before. And I consider myself on some levels a translator because your parents get you a lot more than I think you might think they do. It’s already happened, some of these early screenings, where the daughter sees it and the mom sees it independently and suddently they understand and they talk more than they did before. I already know five examples of that that exist already and that’s the greatest hope I can have of this movie and that’s what I hope Maccie gets from it too. ‘Cause she has a cool mom, you know? Even though we’ll be older and she’ll think, ‘Oh you don’t get it,” well, yeah I do. So I hope she understands. Great question, by the way.”

Dersch: “Thank you.”

Jackie: “So I know we talked about it a little bit, and I understand the book is pretty similar to the movie, but was there anything, ‘cause obviously you can’t keep everything, was there anything that you really, really wanted to keep in the movie that you had to let go of?”

Chbosky: “There were two things that I did script and they made it to the final script when we went into production. I did shoot them. One was a flashback scene with Charlie and his best friend Michael which was a beautiful scene and Owen Campbell played Michael and did a great job. But ultimately that had to go because there was only room for Aunt Helen and anything past Aunt Helen confused matters more than complimented them. And then Charlie’s sister. (SPOILER ALERT. If you have not read the book and plan to do so, please skip to the next paragraph.) In the book, as you know, she gets pregnant and I did write that and Nina Dobrev did a phenomenal job with it. But what I found is when I had that in the movie, that when we got to the cafeteria fight with Patrick and Brad and we got to the part with Charlie and Patrick, and then saying goodbye to Sam and everything that Charlie goes through – it was just too much. Something had to give and unfortunately because Nina was phenomenal in the scenes, that was the thing. I’ll always mourn that but I’m really glad I shot it and people will see it on the DVD if they’re interested, to see what a great job she did. So it will exist.”

Sarah: “How has music impacted your life? [Since] it’s clear in the book that it impacts all the characters.”

Chbosky: “You know, music helped me get through high school and college. Music helps me think and dream and think of ideas. Wow, you know. God, what has it meant to me? Music to me, it formed so much of my identity and it brought me closer to friends. You ever notice how you and your friends love the same songs? Isn’t that interesting? What an interesting thing to form your family of friends to, that we all have these soundtracks and we share these songs and they say so much about our lives and our hopes and our dreams. That’s what it is to me and it always will be. I wrote pretty much every word of the screenplay to one song or another. Even though say, Stars’ “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” or Regina Spektor’s “Sampson,” which I wrote the first kiss scene too … or “The Rat” by the Walkmen is what I wrote the Homecoming dance to. Those songs became as much of a part of this movie to me as the eventual songs became.”

Erin: “Do you feel that the actors accurately portrayed your original vision of the characters or did the actors take on a slightly different perspective?”

Chbosky: “You know, the answer is both. It’s funny, by taking on their own point of view of the characters, they were more true to the characters than if I dictated every beat that they were supposed to do because the character of Patrick, you can’t dictate what Ezra Miller did. You just have to let him do it. And Logan’s performance was so delicate and layered and Emma was so warm and free. They all exceeded my expectations. This is one of the best young casts I’ve ever seen and that’s not me being a cheerleader. Quick tangent but I’ll explain it; so I finished the mix of the movie and then I went on a much, much belated honeymoon with my wife to London and Paris and Amsterdam. There was a good two months between I saw the final mix that you … see in the theaters and what is known as the near field mix which is for home video. ‘Cause you guys ever watch a movie at home and suddenly you’re turning it up and down and the music is wrong and then that’s too soft and it drives you crazy? Well, now we do what we call the near field mix so you don’t have to do that. So I had a good couple months away from the movie and so I saw it fresh, like truly fresh and I couldn’t believe how much I loved it and how wonderful the cast was. There was a ‘pinch me’ moment of, ‘Oh my god, I made that movie?’ That’s how I felt about the cast. I think they’re great. I couldn’t be prouder and it’s my hope that like 10 [to] 15 years from now people say, ‘My god, all those people were in that movie?’ I think with a cast this talented there’s a chance that will happen.”

James: “Two things. I don’t know if this was already addressed, if there was one thing that you wanted viewers and readers to take away from this story what would it be? And my other thing was, [who’s] your favorite artist … right now?”

Chbosky: “Oh right now? Right now? I love The Swell Season because I love that movie Once and they’ve released a couple of records since. I love them. And you know, it’s so weird. Do you guys watch that show ‘The X-Factor?’ Did you watch it last season? That girl, Rachel Crow, I love that girl. She’s fantastic! I love Rachel Crow! And that band Fun. What’s that song? [Some Nights.] I love that song. It’s singles now so much more than bands. If The Strokes release something, I’ll always buy The Strokes, if Coldplay releases, I’ll always buy Coldplay. But otherwise, right now, it’s certain songs. Well, I can look and see what I got right now. (Chbosky pulls out his iPhone.) Let me look at ‘2012’ the playlist here. ‘Cause I do it by year, it’s really fun. Here we go, Bon Iver “Holocene,” that’s a great song. The new Coldplay, well it’s not new, it came out last year but I’m still into it. Let’s see here, a lot of Regina Spektor. Do you guys know Brandi Carlisle? Know her at all? She’s a singer, songwriter and she’s really good. I’ve got Tenacious D, they’re always kinda fun. Oh yeah, you know what’s funny? Because of the trailer of Perks, I had never heard of Imagine Dragons before – that song “It’s Time.” When they played me the trailer I was like, ‘Ooh, what’s that song?’ and then I bought it. I bought Imagine Dragons, it wasn’t just given to me, trust me. Oh, and Phillip Phillips from American Idol? He has that song, “Home” that they used for the Olympic team, the girls gymnastics – that song’s awesome! I love that song. Past that, I love older music. I mean that’s all kind of more current stuff but I love older music and when my daughter was born, when she was about to be born, I wanted to buy her a bunch of vinyl records that I could play for her, that she could keep with her. So I bought her all these old Beatles records, and Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin – yes, I bought an infant Led Zepplin and yeah the list goes on and on and on. I love music, I kinda love everything. Cool question, by the way.”

Julie: “What do you want the audience to take away?”

Chbosky: “Well, I kinda answered it with the thing about Maccie. … What I want the audience to feel is that what they’re feeling and going through is valid and it’s respected. That they understand, I mean more than just feel, that they fundamentally understand that they’re not alone.  A lot of people feel that they are. A lot of young people feel that they’re alone. My hope is if you sit in an audience … and if you’re laughing and a person in front of you is laughing or the girl next to you is crying when you’re feeling choked up that there it is. That’s how much other people understand what you’re going through. I hope that this movie will, like other movies, like Rocky Horror Picture Show, where like-minded people will say, ‘Oh, you like that too?’ and they will feel less alone and they’ll make friends with each other and encourage each other and they’ll have better lives. Look, I know it’s a movie, it’s a very idealistic thing to say but I think we have a chance, I don’t mind saying. I think we have a chance.”

Julie: “… Did you sit-in for the actual screening of the movie?”

Chbosky: “No, I was at a book signing and also, you know, I can’t watch the breakdown anymore more. It took so much out of me to create that, that I can’t do it for a while. I will watch it in Toronto, we’re premiering it in Toronto and I will watch it at the L.A. premiere on the 13th. I will watch it two more times and I think maybe that’s all I can do for a while. But I always watch the end-tunnel thing – that’s always good. Yeah, I always kinda poke my head in and I see if people clap.” (laughs)

Julie: “I was wondering if you were watching the audience ... and how they react. The audience last night because teenagers are known to be loud and annoying in theaters but last night they were dead silent and totally into the movie and I was just wondering what your thoughts were on that.”

Chbosky: “I think it’s great. That process that you’re describing, I went through when I was doing different cuts. I showed it publicly several times and just asked, ‘Is this joke working? Are people moved here? Is this too much?’ That’s when I did that. Now that it’s over, I feel like it belongs to the audience now. It doesn’t belong to me anymore. I would much rather save my energy for the Q&A and answer questions. Yeah man, I cannot watch the breakdown anymore. I just can’t. I don’t know what I’m going to do in Toronto to be honest. You know, I’m just going to sit there, like this (covers his eyes with his right hand). ‘Cause you know, it’s tough for me. But now, like I said, it exists in film and I don’t have to think about it anymore which is great. But that sound mix – you can ask the sound engineers. You’d be surprised how much went into that. I know maybe it seemed fairly effortless, but if you brought the sound mix just a hair less, it was a calibration like I’ve never done before.”

Bronty: “How would you compare yourself to Charlie as a teenager? Like what you went through or what his characteristics were?”

Chbosky: “Well, you know what, Charlie was what I was feeling on the inside when I was in school. Outwardly I was an athlete, I played soccer and I was a pretty friendly guy and I got along OK. But Charlie was more of the secrets I kept and some of the things that were in my mind more than what was outward. The only time I was truly shy was for some reason seventh grade. I could barely function. But past that, in high school I got out of that a little bit and I did better. But what I will say is true to my high school is freshman and sophomore year I played soccer but I didn’t really do anything else past that. I wasn’t very social in terms of clubs and things like that, you know, school papers. I did movie review for my school paper but that was later and then junior year … I suddenly realized all the girls were in musicals, so I tried out for a musical and then I started mixing with the ‘arty’ kids and I don’t know, my life was better after that.”

Dersch: “Are all of your characters based off of real people or do you take different characteristics from different people?”

Chbosky: “I take different characteristics – I’m usually inspired by one idea of someone or you know, the girl that inspired Sam for example, she’s not really like Sam as a character but my passion for her to have a great life was equal to Charlie’s passion for Sam to have a great life. Or her love of music, they shared that. Past that, I’d say, some characters, like I said, Stuart Stern inspired the teacher, a friend of mine from college inspired parts of Patrick and the only character I’d have to say was 100% invention was Mary Elizabeth because I was in San Diego when I was in college, I went to school in L.A. But I went down to San Diego and I saw Rocky Horror floor show and this little, punk girl, I’d say she’s probably 16 , really short and she was dressed all in the outfit and she was yelling at everybody to kinda get in their places. She was like their drill sergeant. I just thought from a distance, you know, ‘I wonder if someday that girl will be 30-years-old or something and she won’t be punk anymore but she’ll still be yelling at everyone in an office somewhere, just running them like a tyrant.’ I wondered if that was true. I actually love Mary Elizabeth. I thought about that person who had that much force of nature and Mary Elizabeth was my response in life because I never even met that girl, I don’t even know her name. So yeah, that was Mary Elizabeth and Mae Whitman was fantastic.”

Sarah: “[My question] actually goes along with hers, I know you said that you wrote the book as kind of a bad breakup thing, but was there someone in your life who was similar to Sam and the way Charlie looked at Sam?”

Chbosky: “Was there someone like that for me?”

Sarah: “Yeah, in your life, personally.”

Chbosky: “Yeah, that was like my entire high school – look, it was like when I was in middle school there was Megan Churmer, and then there was Karen Axelson and then there was Tara Conte and Kenny Claver and over and over again. You guys know me because he’s in your school. You know the guy that you’re like, “He’s so nice but I have no interest in him whatsoever and I just want to be his friend and tell him all of my troubles?’ That’s me! So all I can say is keep in touch with that guy because he’ll blossom and become amazing.

Chbosky: “Thanks guys. It was so great talking to you.”

Note: Other than the removal of a few, various stammers, this is the direct transcript of the interview. The moderator explaining how the round-table would work at the beginning of the interview was also removed. When some of the other high school journalists were giving their descriptions the audio was too low to pick up anything although what could be salvaged was. There was also a question that Dersch asked regarding the major plot twist in the book and film that was excluded in order to prevent any spoilers. Everything else is included.

Read The Perks of Being a Wallflower review here.

Alexandra Dersch, Editor-in-Chief


  1. Somebody give this writer a pulitzer.

  2. This was great! I really got the sense of being there, you asked intelligent questions and got in-depth answers. Big fan of Perks - the book and the movie. I read the book when I was 18 (back in 2000), and feeling very used up after some pretty empty sexual experiences. What I loved about the book was the way Charlie looked at Sam - how he could see past her reputation. And it gave me hope that someone might see something beautiful in me someday. So thanks for that, Stephen. Your wife and daughter are extremely lucky to have you.


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