One of my favorite films from this past year is The Perks of Being a Wallflower, written (novel and screenplay) and directed by the ultra-talented Stephen Chbosky. The movie was filmed in Pittsburgh, with a few scenes shot in Upper St. Clair, a prestigious neighborhood where Mr. Chbosky used to live with his parents.
I love everything about this film, from its story, its perfect cast, to its memorable Pittsburgh settings. The Steel City stands firmly on its own as one of the unforgettable characters of the movie. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is set in Pittsburgh during the early 1990’s, a nostalgic time period in which mixtapes and VCRs had a huge impact in a teenager’s life (the equivalence of our current days’ iPods, DVRs, Twitter and Facebook).
The Perks of Being a Wallflower features a group of young, talented actors including Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Mae Whitman, and Ezra Miller. For most of these actors, as experienced as they already are in their craft, Perks is probably the launching pad for one of their most breakout and memorable roles to date.
Perks centers around a tender, heartwarming friendship between Charlie, an introvert, troubled freshman trying to navigate through his first year in high school, and two seniors Sam and Patric who, in return, find a kindred spirit in their new friend Charlie. Throughout the movie, we learn about the internal struggles and dilemma these characters face and whether they can overcome their own deeply-rooted issues.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, adapted from Mr. Chbosky’s novel of the same name published in 1999, is loosely based on the author’s younger years growing up in blue-collar Pittsburgh. The story is fiercely and affectionately tied to the city as its setting. In the Director’s Commentary section of the DVD, Mr. Chbosky repeatedly refers to the city as “my beloved Pittsburgh.” The director’s love for his hometown shines through in the affectionate yet subtle ways he features the various Pittsburgh locations in the movie.
“There was nowhere else I could have made this movie, with the authenticity and the magic that Pittsburgh has,” said Mr. Chbosky, who now resides in Los Angeles with his family.
The main reason why Perks was able to film in Pittsburgh was due to the availability of Pennsylvania’s tax credit for film and TV productions. If not, the production would have spent only a week in Pittsburgh and the rest of the filming period regretfully trying to recreate Pittsburgh elsewhere.
Perks was filmed in and around Peters Township, a suburb of Pittsburgh with an urban-rural feel much coveted today. The director, a 1988 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School, hand-picked each location for his movie. Many of them are real life locations where he used to hang out as a kid or teen. Some of the locations featured in the movie include the famous Fort Pitt Tunnel, the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, Kings Family Restaurant in Upper St. Clair, and Peters Township High School (where most of the movie takes place).
“I’m very, very proud to be from this township and school. It’s the dream of my life to write this book and film it at home,” shared Mr. Chobsky with the Upper St. Clair High School students during his visit at the school last year. “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.”
Last December, I bribed my friend - with promises of all the good Pittsburgh meals we’re going to have - to take a road trip to the Steel City with me. Being a huge fan of the movie, I wanted to personally scout out the filming locations of Perks. We mapped out the route based on the geography of each location on our list. If you’re ever in Pittsburgh and want to revisit the filming locations of Perks, just follow the order presented below. Make sure you watch the movie before the trip at least once or twice. Then - I promise - you’ll have a magical time!
1. West End Overlook
We began our scouting adventures with a nice long stop at the West End Overlook, where a few scenes in Perks were shot. The West End Overlook is a small municipal park with a view of the city so beautiful and unexpected, it literally took my breath away. Even though it’s Pittsburgh’s lesser-known overlook (the other is the more famous Mount Washington), the view from there is no less spectacular (see photo below).
The park also has a series of small landscaped gardens and a winding walkway from which we can stroll through and be in awe of the sweeping, panoramic views of downtown Pittsburgh and the three rivers below.
It is here at the West End Overlook that Charlie, Emma and Patrick sometimes hang out after school.
The West End Overlook
599 Fairview Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15220
2. Fort Pitt Tunnel / Fort Pitt Bridge
If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll probably always remember “the Tunnel scenes.” The tunnel sequences were filmed on location at Fort Pitt Tunnel and Fort Pitt Bridge. The tunnel travels beneath Mount Washington, with its northern ramps leading directly to the double-deck Fort Pitt Bridge. Having seen the movie, I couldn’t wait to ride through the tunnel in our rental car. With my friend driving, I was free to take pictures to share with you here.
“The Tunnel scenes” in Perks have created quite a bit of sensation with the audience. To put all worries to rest, the director promised that much precaution and many safety wires were involved during the filming of those scenes.
“I would like to formally ask the forgiveness of my beloved hometown and to thank them for being so patient,” said Mr. Chbosky. “But I think that when everyone sees Emma Watson flying out of the tunnel—standing up on a pickup truck—I think they’ll agree that it was worth it.”
The beloved director recalls those sequences as “a particular dream come true for me, in a whole series of dreams come true, which is what this movie is. I’ve had those images of the kids flying through the tunnel in my head for about 18 years now, and to finally have actually filmed it on Wednesday feels pretty fantastic.”
Ms. Watson said that filming the Tunnel scene was an “out-of-body experience” and “very symbolic” for her personally. It was as if she “was entering a new phase of [her] life, into something new.” Ms. Watson said she felt very connected to that moment personally. “Those of us from Pittsburgh, we understand how beautiful it is,” said Mr. Chbosky after hearing about Ms. Watson’s comments, “but to hear it from an outsider was very special.”
Pittsburgh is known as “The City of Bridges.” With three major rivers running through the city (the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio), Pittsburgh has at least 446 bridges in and around the city (according to the last official Wiki count in 2006).
3. The Hollywood Theater in Dormont
After riding through Fort Pitt Tunnel and Fort Pitt Bridge, our next stop was the Hollywood Theater, located in a small, quaint town outside of Pittsburgh called Dormont. This theater has always meant a lot to Mr. Chbosky. He spent many days of his childhood here.
The Hollywood Theater states on its website that it was originally opened in 1924 as Murray’s Bowling and Billiards. Sometime in the 1940s, Warner Bros purchased the theater from the Murray family and turned it into a theater with a seating capacity of about 650 downstairs and 250 in the balcony. The theater had its hey day throughout the 1950s and 1960s. After that period, the Hollywood Theater experienced many ups and downs, with various cycles of closings and reopenings. In 2010, the theater had to shut down again because of its lack of financial support. And then came along The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
“It’s so moving to me. It’s an art cinema that was closed down and because we went back to shoot there, it helped them with their fundraising drive,” shared Mr. Chbosky in the Director’s Commentary of the DVD. “And they were able to reopen because we went back and and shot Perks there.”
The theater holds a special place in the director’s heart. It was here that Mr. Chbosky saw his first Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s a full circle when he went back to the Hollywood Theater to film his first movie there.
The Hollywood Theater
1449 Potomac Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
4. Peters Township High School
Even though geographically the school should be next on our list, I can’t recall why it was actually the last location we visited. Most likely because we got hungry and decided to make a stop at Kings Family Restaurant instead. By the time we got to Peters Township High School, one of the main filming locations of the movie, the sun was setting and the school’s parking lot was empty.
It was at Peters Township High School that most of the school scenes were filmed, including the classroom scenes, cafeteria scenes, and the library scene.
In this screenshot, Sam, Charlie and Patrick are hang out in the library with their friends. This was filmed at Peters Township High School.
I was glad it was still light enough so that I could photograph the school’s bleachers by the football field. It was a key location for the football game sequences, the bleacher scenes, and the graduation scenes.
Toward the beginning of the movie at a school’s football game, Charlie met his new friends Patrick and Sam. The football game was filmed at Peters Township High School’s very own football field.
And here’s Charlie walking toward his friends to congratulate them on their graduation day. You can see the eye-catching candy-striped bleachers behind him.
I love this shot of the group of friends hanging out on the bleachers on their graduation day. The composition is beautiful and meaningful. The vast sky beyond them seems to signify an exciting, unknown future for Charlie and his friends.
The only school scenes that weren’t filmed at Peters Township High School were the dance sequences which were shot at Peters Township Middle School instead. The reason the production decided to use this alternate location was because the size of the gymnasium at the middle school fit the needs of the production better.
Below is a dance scene filmed at Peters Township Middle School.
And here’s the funny, talented Mae Whitman playing Mary Elizabeth in Perks. You may recognize her from Parenthood, one of my current favorite TV series.
Peters Township High School
264 E McMurray Rd
Canonsburg, PA 15317
5. Bethel Presbyterian Church
Looking at the Bethel Presbyterian Church from the outside, you would never think it was ever used as a movie location for a featured film. The church looks ordinary - just like any other small town churches in America. I had to doublecheck the address to make sure we were at the right place.
Very few scenes in Perks (blink and you may miss them) were filmed here at the Bethel Presbyterian Church. This shot below features Mr. Chbosky’s mom (on the right) and his cousin Tammy (on the left) as extras:
Bethel Presbyterian Church
2999 Bethel Church Rd
Bethel Park, PA 15102
6. Kings Family Restaurant
After our stop at the Bethel Presbyterian Church, we were pretty hungry and even a bit tired. So ... Kings Family Restaurant (a restaurant chain in Pennsylvania) was bumped up the list as our next stop. This particular Kings where Perks was filmed is located on McMurray Road, close to Upper St. Clair High School where Mr. Chbosky went to school.
There’s a reason why Mr. Chbosky chose this Kings location (instead of any other Kings in the chain). Again, it’s a sentimental, heartfelt decision. “My parents still go to this particular Kings,” shared the director. “I shot this in my hometown. They go to breakfast here three times a week. I love shooting here. They were so nice to us and they let us turn it back into what it would have felt like in the early 90s.”
In this shot which was filmed at Kings, Charlie helps Sam study for her SAT:
In the movie, Kings was a popular hangout for the high school crowd. There were many scenes filmed there. This scene below came after a high school football game. It features Mr. Chbosky’s friend Eileen who makes an appearance in the movie as a waitress at Kings:
“Eileen, who is a waitress in Kings Family Restaurant, waited on my parents for years and years and years,” shared the director. “And she’s such a sweet lady that I had to put her in the movie as a waitress. She serves a mean egg.”
Mr. Chbosky adamantly wanted to film Perks at Kings. No other restaurants would do. He shared his thoughts on why Kings had to be one of the locations in Perks:
“We just fell in love with Kings’ old-fashion decor, and they were the nicest people to us. On this particular movie, that’s been a real premium for production. We’re trying to make a nice movie, and we really appreciate nice people. ... It’s been a real delight introducing the cast to the Frownie Brownie and fried ice cream and Kings apple pie.”
Even though I felt a little geeky to ask, I requested anyway if we could sit at one of the tables where they shot Perks. The waitress was so nice and accommodated us immediately. So there we were, sitting at the same exact table that Sam, Patrick and Charlie were sitting before they took their drive through the tunnel at the end of the movie (see the screenshot below this image).
Here are Sam, Patrick and Charlie ... sitting at the same table in one of the last scenes in the movie:
We even finished our delicious dinner at Kings with a serving of Frownie Brownie, just the way Mr. Chbosky recommended. It was a magical and scrumptious experience!
Kings Family Restaurant
155 McMurray Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15241
Filming in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is no stranger to us film buffs and Hollywood. You may not realize this but many of the recent films you’ve seen were shot in Pittsburgh. This list includes even the blockbuster movies such as Jack Reacher, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Abduction, and One For The Money.
Yes, Pittsburgh’s unique cinematic beauty is one of the main reasons the city is the backdrop of so many movies. But another major reason that filmmakers can’t overlook is the state’s generous 25% film tax credits. This financial incentive is for productions that spend at least 60% of their total budget in the Commonwealth. This list includes feature films, television films, television talk or game show series, commercials, television pilots, etc.
Another reason deserving a mention is Pittsburgh’s talented local crew base. The talent pool is deep enough to accommodate multiple productions filming in the city at the same time. “The bottom line here is that Pittsburgh crews and cast are fantastic,” said Mr. Chbosky.
In addition to the above practical reasons, Pittsburgh, with its industrial neighborhoods, historical buildings, and gorgeous rivers and overlooks, is one good looking, atmospheric city, especially in a cinematic way. The city has also ranked consistently as one of America’s most livable towns since the 1980’s. USA Weekend stated in its 2003 Annual Travel Report:
“In a nation with a wealth of stunning cities full of compelling stories, ranking Pittsburgh as the No. 2 beauty spot is perhaps our most surprising choice. But the Steel City’s aesthetic appeal is undeniable, as is its very American capacity for renewal.”
Pittsburgh Film Office
Whether you’re a filmmaker, producer, actor, technician, resident of the region, or just a film buff, if you’re interested in learning more about filming in Pittsburgh, you must visit the Pittsburgh Film Office’s website. The site has a chockful of information that will help answer any questions you may have, from Pittsburgh locations to local crew directory to film incentives.
The Pittsburgh Film Office’s mission is to market the greater southwestern Pennsylvania region as a great location for movie, television and commercial productions. Founded in 1990, the Pittsburgh Film Office has assisted more than 116 feature films and television productions filming in southwestern Pennsylvania. These projects in turn have generated an economic impact of more than $660 million for Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas. Impressive indeed!
The Pittsburgh Film Office
The Century Building
130 7th Street, Suite 202
Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (888) 744-3456
Browse Pittsburgh’s film locations.