Stephen Chbosky, author, screenwriter and director of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, took a break from his busy schedule Friday to stop by Upper St. Clair High School.
He held a question-and-answer session with students in the high school theater and—to his surprise—was introduced to the entire student body at the homecoming pep rally.
"I'm very, very proud to be from this township and school," the 1988 graduate and valedictorian told the crowd. "It's the dream of my life to write this book and film it at home.
"When I wrote the novel, this (Pittsburgh and Upper St. Clair) is what I saw. There is no other place I would have wanted to film it."
Chbosky said it was "so cool" to be able to recreate Christmas on his street in the middle of May, and knew he wanted the characters to go to Kings Family Restaurant after the football game and have them visit the Hollywood Theater in Dormont to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where he first saw the movie when he lived in Upper St. Clair.
Chbosky played a big part in casting for the movie and Emma Watson, who plays "Sam," was the first person to come on board.
"When I saw how loving and compassionate she was, I knew she was Sam," Chbosky said. "She was dying to do it."
Logan Lerman was the second person to audition for the character "Charlie."
"I knew it was him, I couldn't believe it," Chbosky said, stopping all auditions after Lerman's.
Chbosky's love for writing developed while he was just a student at Streams Elementary. Kathy Kirsch, his 10th grade English teacher at Upper St. Clair High School, recognized is talent and pushed him to take honors English.
"I'm so proud that he's done so well," she said. "It's so exciting for Upper St. Clair. It means so much (that he came back). The fact he wants to share what he's learned shows what a great person he is. So humble."
Chbosky wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower book when he was 26. He told the students he was going through a rough time and Charlie, the main character in the novel, became his hope. At the end of writing the book, he said he "felt a whole lot better."
It took a full year of rejections before MTV published his book. He told students to never give up and to let him know if they ever needed help.
"We writers need to stick together," he said.
After the book was published, Chbosky received thousands of letters from readers. They all told Chbosky it was amazing he knew how they felt. But in fact, Chbosky said, it was the readers who were understanding how he felt.
"The book let people know you're not alone," he said.
"No one in this auditorium is alone," Chbosky told the students.
Chbosky's film received a standing ovation after its premiere in Toronto. He said it was so thrilling, not because the audience recognized all of his hard work, but because "everyone in the crowd got it" and could relate to what he went through.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower will be shown at all theaters on Oct. 5.
Meantime, Chbosky will be enjoying his success with someone new—his 7-week-old daughter.