5 Questions with Stephen Chbosky - East Valley Tribune: Movies

5 Questions with Stephen Chbosky

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Posted: Saturday, September 29, 2012 6:15 am

Although Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” was published in 1999, it remains a popular sensation amongst the high school crowd to this day. A semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age tale, “Perks” follows a teenage boy as he navigates the tumultuous waters that are high school.

Thirteen years after the novel first hit bookshelves, Chbosky has finally adapted “Perks” for the big screen – serving as both the film’s writer and director, and locking in such stars as Emma Watson (the “Harry Potter” series), Ezra Miller (“We Can’t Talk About Kevin”) and Logan Lerman (“Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”). Sitting down with The East Valley Tribune, Chbosky shared why it took so long for the film to become a reality, some of his most memorable fan reactions, and the surprising connection between “Perks” and “Lord of the Rings”.

While many were clamoring for a film adaption shortly after the book’s publication, you instead chose to take a break from “Perks” to pursue other projects. What do you think you brought to the film now that you may not have had you made the movie a year or two after writing the novel?

I think what I brought, more than anything else, was an adult perspective, and I think that perspective rounded out the characters in a better way. So often, in movies about young people, the grown-ups in those movies are either fools or their tyrants or they’re stupid. I don’t know about you, but my parents weren’t stupid. Look, there’s a lot of parents that don’t want to know what’s going on so they’ll make that choice, but they’re not idiots. And so, yeah, I brought that perspective and I think it helped the movie.

You’ve previously noted films such as “The Graduate”, “Dead Poets Society” and “Rebel Without A Cause” as inspirations while adapting “Perks” for the screen. Aside from the story’s autobiographical influences, what pieces of literature and authors may have helped inspire the story itself or your writing style?

Most of my favorite books I listed in the movie to spread the word about those books, but I love classics. “To Kill A Mockingbird”, “The Great Gatsby”, “Catcher in the Rye”, and “The Stranger” and “Walden”, and there are others in the book. Past the ones in the movie and the book, I love George Orwell’s work – “1984” and “Animal Farm” are brilliant.

I love the comic writing of P. G. Wodehouse, if you know him at all. He was a British writer, wrote in the early 1900s and he was truly hilarious. So funny. But my favorite author of all time is Stephen King. “The Stand”, “The Long Walk”, “The Shining”, “Pet Cemetery”, you name it, he’s done everything. I think if it’s possible to underrate Stephen King…I think Stephen King is underrated.

One of the standout aspects of “Perks”, for me, was its cinematography. Any particular shots or sequences that you especially loved working on or felt challenged by?

You know, that’s a great question. There were so many shots that I’ve had in my mind for so long, and it was great to be able to finally get them out of my head and onto a screen. My favorite shots, for the most part, took place in the tunnel. The shot of Emma leaving the tunnel in the back of a truck, I think, is breathtaking because Emma was so free and the tunnel was so beautiful and it was wonderful to capture that.

I thought that the shot where Charlie makes the snow angel and you’re above him, or that shot where he’s walking into the party and he’s on LSD and it kind of feels like you’re on a ship, you know? I designed that shot with the steadicam operator, Alan (Mehlbrech), and I just thought they did such a great job and Andrew (Dunn) put in the smoke effect and it was the perfect compliment.

If I were to pick one shot, if you say I have to pick one, it was when Charlie begins to have his breakdown. I always wanted to do this shot, where you mount the camera with a long lens and you shoot down the street, and you know when there’s one Charlie, then another Charlie, then a third – that was just a time-lapse thing we did in the camera and then we did some CGI to fuse these elements together. I always wanted to show what fracturing felt like, cinematically, and so I’m probably most proud of that shot.

There are numerous fans of all ages that are highly passionate about the novel and excited for its film adaption. Have you had any particular fan reactions that have really moved or changed you in any way?

I’ve had so many fan letters that have moved me. I remember there was one girl that told me the first time she fell in love was when she read my book. When you get letters like that or from kids that were really losing hope, and the book was able to give them hope, it changed me. It made me appreciate what art could do and how much people need honest stories, including myself. See, the magic trick to me is – I wrote “Perks” for personal reasons, but you publish it, in part, you hope people read it and not feel so alone.

The unexpected surprise was – every time I get a letter or someone stops me in the street or I meet somebody in a restaurant, and they say that they love “Perks” – that the person that doesn’t feel alone in that moment is me, over and over and over again. I’m very grateful to all the fans for that because that makes me feel connected to something very beautiful that I think has as much to do with them as it ever could do with me.

“Perks” has been receiving some very positive notices and is on the “must-see” lists of many people that I know. Are there any movies coming out this fall that you are especially psyched to see?

This has been an exciting year, I have to say. I won’t talk about this fall, but let me just say this: I think “The Avengers” is great. “The Dark Knight Rises” was incredibly fun. I’m excited for – oh, and “Once”, that started on Broadway, because I love that movie. I’m trying to think about what else is coming out this year…Oh! “The Hobbit”. Hands down. I would be very hard-pressed to choose between “The Dark Knight Rises”, “The Avengers” and “The Hobbit” about which I was most excited about, but I would have to say “The Hobbit”. I can’t wait; I can’t wait.

I’m so happy, because I think “Lord of the Rings” is one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces I’ve ever seen, and “Fellowship of the Ring” was one of my inspirations to adapt “Perks”, because anyone that knows those books, they know the character Tom Bombadil. He was a character in “Fellowship of the Ring” and they spent like, 100 pages … I don’t remember how much. He’s a great character and a beloved character, but he doesn’t really influence the central story, it’s more of a tangent in the books. And when they cut out Tom Bombadil, I thought that Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson and their writing partners had a lot of guts, and that’s what made it special.

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