Stephen Chbosky turned filmmaker last year as he finally adapted his novel The Perks of Being A Wallflower for the big screen - something that has been his hope since penning the novel back in 1999.
I caught up with the author turned filmmaker to chat about the film, adapting his own novel and working with such a fine young cast.
- Perks of Being a Wallflower is about to be released on DVD so for anyone who hasn't seen the film yet can you tell me a little bit about it?
I am so bad at summaries (laughs). The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a coming of age film that celebrates a world of firsts; your first kiss, your first crush and that perfect drive to that perfect song with your friends to get you through it.
- You penned the novel but what made you want to adapt the book for the big screen and then go on to direct the film? Was that an easy decision to make?
That was always my hope that that is exactly what I would do. It was always part of the dream of this story - to write the novel and then direct the movie.
- I was reading that you found the screenplay far harder to write than the novel so what was it that you found so difficult with the adaptation?
The thing that was difficult was I was telling a subjective, intimate story in an objective medium and I had to find a way - and it was a very dense story - so I to find a way to tell a very dense story in an hour and forty minutes.
I knew that if I didn’t it would be too emotionally overwhelming for the audience. So every decision I made along the way was to make the movie feel like the book as much as possible.
- That slightly leads into my next question the book is told through a series of letters so how did you find shifting that to more of a narrative structure and screenplay - although the letters do feature?
That is what was the biggest challenge of this adaptation because… let’s say in the book Charlie, as the narrator, says ‘Sam is so nice’ or ‘Patrick is so funny’ and because he is a reliable we just go with that and we love Sam in the book the way that he does because he is our eyes and ears and out way into it.
What I had to do in the movie I had to write Sam and write Patrick and cast them and do many things with them such as music and lightning to make the audience feel what the reader just naturally felt and that took a lot of doing.
- Such a great young cast has been assembled for this film including Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller - he is just terrific in it - so can you tell me a little bit about the casting process and what you were looking for in for this trio of characters?
The casting process was one of the great joys of making this movie because I was looking for more than just great young actors as I was looking for great young people.
I wanted people that were kind and generous and passionate and committed because I knew that I couldn’t tell the story that I wanted to tell without it.
There is an instinctive thing that directors and anyone who does casting feels - it is a moment when the person walks in, you just meet them or talk to them and the moment goes ‘clink’ and you realise you just met the person who was always meant to play this part.
In the case of Emma she did not audition and I just met her in New York City. I had seen her Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - or was it Half Blood Prince? And she has this beautiful scene with Daniel Radcliffe outside a dance on some stairs and she was so touching I just thought ‘I think that is Sam’.
When I met her in New York what I saw was this lovely young woman who grew up in the eye of a hurricane but who was desperate and passionate to move on into the next phase of her live - that made her exactly like Sam.
Logan Lerman came in and auditioned and I had known of his work for years. I always thought that he would be more of a Patrick but he was passionate to try this one role and, as I said, with his audition it just clicked.
And with Ezra Miller I was in Los Angeles and he was in New York and so we did the audition over Skype. I knew of his work from this movie called City Island and even on Skype you just knew that he was right. I knew these characters so well that I always recognised when someone was right for a part.
- This movie really does rest on the shoulder of Logan Lerman as we see the world through his eyes so how did you find working with him - he gives a great performance?
I loved working with Logan because he is such a committed actor and he cares so much about the performance.
I remember he came out a week early just to sequester himself in his room and feel the solitude of Charlie.
So he just sat there and read the script over and over again and he got to know it so well that when it was time to shoot he didn’t look at the call sheet and the scenes we were going to shoot as he just knew the script.
He knew exactly what he wanted to do and as a first time filmmaker it helped me enormously to have a maypole that solid.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book that is incredibly personal to you so what was it like sitting in the director's chair and seeing your characters come to life?
It was wonderful. I made a decision early on that because I had the book I did not have to be a controlling task master and that I was going to embrace the collaborative side of movies - they are very collaborative. And so I found the experience wonderful.
I loved directing it, I loved working with the cast and the crew was fantastic. Of course there were the normal stress and madness of making a movie and there were certainly days where, at the end of it, I could barely crawl into bed because it was so exhausting and stressful - anyone who makes movies will tell you about those days.
But all in all it was one of the greatest experiences of m life; not just my artistic life but my life.
- How did you find stepping into the director’s chair?
I did make a low budget film for about fifty grand when I was a kid but this was my first studio movie. I just loved and I didn’t know if I would, to be honest. I knew that I wanted to tell this story and I knew that I wanted to make this movie but I was fully prepared to hate making movies.
Being a working class minded person from Pittsburgh I knew that I could make a good movie even if I hated the process - but as it turned out I loved the process.
- How have you found the response to the film so far as this is a book that has really touched people over the years?
The response to the film has been as wonderful and powerful as the response to the book has been. Fans of the book love the adaptation and the people who don’t know the book at all have just found themselves enjoying the film.
The most gratifying thing for me personally is I can’t tell you the thousand of people who have never heard of my book but have seen the film and decided to read the book.
I designed the movie to be a sibling to the book so you could find the movie through the book or you could find the book through the movie - or either could stand alone.
- I have touched on how the book has touched so many people already so did you make this film with them in mind? And how much did you think about what they were going to think about the film?
I took the consideration of the fans to heart because I knew how much the book meant. It didn’t limit me in any way what it did was focus me to find the essence of the story having met fans over the years - so I would ask myself what is the most essential parts of the story and the characters?
There were some things that I wrote in the screenplay because I thought they would fit in the film for the fans and for myself.
Even though some of those things did not makes the final version they will be on the DVD; there is a very big subplot with Charlie’s sister and there is a flashback scene with Charlie’s best friend Michael - who we didn’t get to meet in the movie.
- The book was released back in 1999 and ten years on it is still as popular as ever so when you look back now what is it like to know that you have written something that is loved by so many people and has maybe helped and touched so many people?
It is funny you ask me as a writer and I can tell you that nothing fills me with more of a sense of gratitude or humility. The thing is that I wrote this book for very personal reasons and when I published it I did think that it might be able to help somebody and I am so grateful that it has.
I am so grateful that it has made a lot of really great kids who feel that they are alone know that at least someone out there knows what they are going through.
The magic trick of Perks is I wrote this for persona reasons and I sent it out into the world and it made all these kids not feel alone.
They write me letters and emails and they see me at signings and they tell me ‘you made me not feel alone’ and all that means to me is that they made me not feel alone.
If I got what they were thinking then they got what I was thinking and what I found at the end of this process, especially over the last few months of promoting the movie, is that there are a lot more of ‘us’ then there are ‘them’s’.
- Finally what is next for you - are we going to see you back in the director's chair or are we going to see you concentrate on writing?
Right now I am writing my next novel and I will make that movie as well - but it will not take ten years. Writing a novel is a lot like directing a movie because you are creating a world and a tone, you are creating a large canvas and all the details.
That is the same job as a director you are a story teller but you are using so much detail. Screenwriting is a little harder because you have to provide the structure and the blueprint and that is a tougher job.
What I have found with writing the novel is that the director in my brain is constantly working as well - I am not tailoring the book to the movie but all of those details and that authenticity is coming through and I am storing away from down the road.
When I am done with this novel the screenwriter in me gets to go and have five miserable months trying to figure out how to do it in two hours (laughs). So that is my life right now - that and having a beautiful daughter.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is out now on Blu-ray & DVD from Entertainment One