I was sitting by the pool in Vegas reading [The Perks of Being a Wallflower] when my waitress says, “Oh my God! I love that book.” I would love to have written a book that people appreciate.
Stephen Chbosky: I had one experience like that on the Jersey Shore. Not the show, but the actual shore [laughs]. My wife has a little house in Ocean Grove and as I was walking I saw a teenage girl reading it. I went up to her and said “This has never happened to me before. I’m sorry, but that’s my book.”
As I was preparing to talk to you I found out that people love The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Books are so personal to me. When I love something I’ve read and want to pass it along, that means a lot. I’ve never felt that book sales were an accurate statistic for how popular a book is.
SC: I’ve been told that for every book that sells, three and a half people read it – because of libraries and people passing it around. With books like mine it’s even more because you might get a young person in school that reads it and passes it to all their friends. I was at a reading in Phoenix and this girl gave me a book to read that looked like it had been marked by her whole school [laughs].
What was your process like making this film? You previously worked on the film adaptation of Rent. Did you learn a lot from that first experience?
SC: I learned a lot. Rent was a special project for me. It was my first notable screenplay job. I worked with two wonderful directors on it, starting with Spike Lee in the summer of 2001. I wrote a draft for Spike and he was really good to me. He was great because as long as you worked hard, he was really good to you. It’s all about work for him. He’s also a really amazing leader and literally the most intimidating person I’ve ever met. That version of the film didn’t come together, but a few years later Christopher Columbus took on the project. Chris was also great because he started off as screenwriter and knows we are neglected so he was open about me coming to set to watch. I went to set five different nights and watched him do it. Past him, and past the experience of Rent, even with Jericho and Jon Turtletaub I was on set all the time for the pilot. I got to see all these journeymen and women directors come through. You see [directing] isn’t some magic trick, everyone has their own style, and I could do it the way I wanted to do it.
Seeing as many films as I do, you notice quickly that people have their own style and it boils down to if you like their style or not.
SC: I totally agree.
You learned a lot working on Rent, what were some of the key things you took away from that experience?
SC: Screenplay wise it wasn’t that much different. Rent was wonderful in that I was able to adapt something that was beloved to fans, something that was very iconic, but something I had nothing to do with the creation of, so I was very removed. Perks is different because it was my book. Because I created it and in a great many instances I lived it, I could give it a sense of authenticity that I could never give rent. It lent itself to a deeper understanding of the characters and I think some creative solutions on how to turn an objective telling of a book to an objective telling of a movie.
I imagine it’s a much more personal feel with something you’ve created. In one way or another you’ve already imagined how things would look.
SC: It’s much more intimate plus Rent is a musical and the artifice of the musical is people singing in the streets of New York and that doesn’t happen. [Perks of Being a Wallflower] was almost the opposite because it does happen and in many instances did happen.
For me that’s what’s beautiful about Perks is those things do happen. My dad turned 70 this year and a lot of the stuff he went through as a teenage boy, I went through. Teenage angst and the awkwardness of trying to find yourself never changes.
SC: Do you think people will relate to this story 25 years from now? That’s what I think about and I think that it could. I don’t think that adolescence changes all that much. Our language might seem strange, but the central message will always be the same.
For me, I was definitely a wallflower until my brother passed when I was 17. [Stephen gives his condolences] As sad as that event was, that was the event in my life that told me I had to step away from that wall. Whenever my time came, did I want to be this observer the whole time or do I want to live life and enjoy it.
SC: Of course you were a wallflower. You’re a writer and that’s what we all are.
Stephen Chbosky (pron.: /ˈʃbɔːski/; born January 25, 1970) is an American novelist, screenwriter, and film director best known for writing the coming of age novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999), as well as for screenwriting and directing the film version of the same book, starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller. He also wrote the screenplay for the 2005 film Rent, and was co-creator, executive producer, and writer of the CBS television series Jericho, which began airing in 2006.