Pittsburgh actors recall thrills of 'Wallflower' set
Light streamed in through the yellowing classroom blinds as Lexi Dripps sat in her last day of freshman English. But it wasn't sunlight. The time was nearing 2 a.m. And, instead of waiting for the bell to ring, she was anticipating a different sound to signal her freedom: “Cut.”
Dripps, 20, an English and acting major at Robert Morris University, was at work as one of the background actors on set of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
“There was something magic about that set,” Dripps says. “It was as if the entire production traveled back to the '90s and the best memories of high school. … The fact that I might see myself in a movie for a moment only added to the fun.”
The movie offered Pittsburghers the opportunity to do exactly that.
Director Stephen Chbosky's novel was one of Kaitlin Fellers' favorite books from high school. Like Dripps, Fellers was a background high-school student in scenes that included a football game, school dances and a basement party. But most of her time on set was spent waiting.
“It's not as fast-paced or exciting as you might think,” says Fellers, a 21-year-old bartender from Lower Burrell. “There were days when I would come to the set at 8 a.m. and wouldn't leave until 2 or 3 in the morning.”
For Fellers, this abundance of downtime was an advantage. She met some of her closest friends while filming.
“When you spend 10-plus hours a day together for a few weeks participating in such an exciting and unique experience, you really form close friendships with the people around you,” Fellers says. “I'm actually going to the theater to see (the movie) with almost every person I became friends with on set.”
Walter E. Myal's name will scroll in the ending credits with the title of second second assistant director. Myal was the right-hand man to the on-set manager of day-to-day operations. He was responsible for directing background actors, providing detail information to the crew and recording the day's progress in the “daily production report.”
“I grew up watching movies and admiring them, idolizing actors and directors,” says Myal, 30. “Working with these idols and telling my stories is the most rewarding.”
Myal believes Hollywood's recent focus on Pittsburgh provides not only a boom in local business, but a chance for those hoping to break into the industry.
“The best thing is the opportunity it gives local students. Now, aspiring filmmakers do not have to run to California,” Myal says “They can get their start here and build a resume or reel.”
The same goes for aspiring actors, like Dripps. While the acting required of extras is miniscule, it's still important to paint a realistic background picture to the main action of each scene. In one of the homecoming scenes, she danced to Dexys Midnight Runners' “Come on Eileen” repeatedly for about three hours.
“It was a blast,” Dripps says. “But if someone ever makes me dance to that song again, it won't end well.”
Kiesha Lalama, 39, a professor of dance at Point Park University, remembers the filming of this particular scene quite differently, because she choreographed it. Chbosky's vision for the dance scene was for it to seem as though stars Ezra Miller and Emma Watson had done this routine often at home in their living room. Lalama spent 10 or so rehearsals not only teaching them the steps, but ensuring they were comfortable with them.
“The coolest thing about that number and that specific scene is that Ezra and Emma were open to everything and anything,” Lalama says. “They were so generous with their time and generous with their ideas. It was a true collaboration.”
Lalama, who grew up in Aliquippa, had the same praises for Chbosky's “captivating” script and the way he embraced everything Pittsburgh represents with his story.
“What I think is most amazing is that the characters are written with such power and honesty,” Lalama says. “And now that I think about the casting of Emma and Ezra, and Logan, as well, I feel like these guys are real and honest, as well … These are great people playing great characters.”
For Lalama, the film was just as good an experience on paper as it was on set.
“Steve created this environment that was just positive and fun,” Lalama said. “I remember walking on set every day thinking: ‘Today's going to be a good day.' And that's what I walked away with, every day. Whether it was Ezra's smile or Emma's eyes. You know, her eyes, you can read them from a million miles away. It was such a great energy.”
Richelle Szypulski is a writer for Point Park News Service, a collaboration of Point Park University and Trib Total Media.