Shawn S. Lealos

He is the man behind I Know What You Need Dollar Baby Film.

SKSM: Could you start with telling me a bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?

Shawn S. Lealos: Well, to start with, my name is Shawn Lealos. I live in Oklahoma and I am a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. My degree is in Professional Fiction Writing from the Gaylord School of Journalism. I started writing when I was in my early twenties, writing short stories and I also started a novel at the time, which remains unfinished. I started college when I was 25, working towards a business degree. With the encouragement of one of my professors, I decided to pursue my writing instead. I began my writing career as a journalist covering Oklahoma sports, and worked as a sports reporter for 4 years, winning a number of National awards in the process. I started another novel (it also remains unfinished) and was about to graduate when I discovered screenwriting, thanks to a book I read by screenwriter William Goldman (Adventures in the Screen Trade). I tried my hand at a screenplay and finished it. That is when I realized that I enjoyed writing movies much more than writing anything else. So I began my attempts to become a screenwriter.

SKSM: How did you find out that King sold the movie rights to some of his stories for just $1? Was it just a wild guess or did you know it before you sent him the check?

Shawn S. Lealos: I had finished my first screenplay and felt pretty happy with it. I was doing a lot of reading of books over writing as well as screenplays themselves. I probably bought close to 6 or 7 screenwriting books every month and read them all. One of these books was the screenplay adaptation of Stephen King’s “Shawshank Redemption.” Before the screenplay, there was a forward by screenwriter Frank Darabont. Darabont spoke about how he had secured the rights for a early short film based on the Stephen King short story “The Woman in the Room.” He detailed how he had bought the rights for the movie for one dollar and that was a deal that Mr. King offered students in exchange for festival only rights to make a short film based on a short story. I decided I wanted to try it, and began to look for ways to go about asking for the rights. I sent an e-mail to Michelle Revelle, who ran the Stephen King e-mail site SKEMERs. She sent me the address to contact Mr. King, and I sent off a professional letter asking for the rights for the story.

SKSM: How come you picked I Know What You Need to develop into a movie? What is it in the story that you like so much?

Shawn S. Lealos: I was working as a sports reporter and was covering the Big 12 football championship in Kansas City. It was a long road trip I was making by myself, so I decided to buy a book on tape to listen to on the trip. I didn’t really want a regular book since the listening would be broke up quite a bit on the trip so I instead chose the short story collection for “Night Shift.” While I listened to it, I decided I would try to find a story to adapt. My favorite story in the collection is “Last Rung on the Ladder.” I decided there was no way I could do that story justice at this time in my new career, so I kept listening for more. There were a few things that would effect my choice in story. First, it had to have a limited number of characters. Second, it would have to have a limited number of places and they had to be places that were accessible to me. Third, it could not have much, if any, in the way of special effects. I did not know how to do them. I would be paying for the movie out of my pocket (working as a bartender), so it would need to be something I could afford to do. I Know What You Need had a limited number of characters (3 main ones and a couple of secondary ones). It had locations that were accessible to me (the university town). It had no special effects and looked to be something I could afford to do. It was also a really good story, so I chose it.

SKSM: When did you make I Know What You Need? Can you tell me a little about the production? How much did it cost? How long did it take to film it?

Shawn S. Lealos: It took almost a year to hear back from Stephen King. In the meantime, we decided to shoot a short film based on one of my earlier short stories. We cast the roles with local actors and started shooting. That movie remains incomplete and I view it as just a learning experience. We were thinking of attempting the same movie again, when I got the response from Mr. King in the form of contracts.

We hired local actors once again, all working for free. We got an experienced cinematographer in the area and set out to make the movie in 2001. That version of the movie was never completed. Chalk it up to more learning experiences, as well as differences in philosophy between me and my cinematographer. It did not work.

We shot a few more short films, each one better than the last. I finally bought my own camera to shoot with. We got a quality shotgun microphone. I improved more and more with my editing. Finally in 2004, we decided we were ready to try again. We wanted the King movie to be our calling card and we wanted it done right.

I rewrote the script and actually moved away from the story slightly. The first time we shot it, there was simply a lot of talking and no action and it was very boring. I added a character not in the King story, a private detective. In the story, Alice has her father look into Ed’s past and we only get it in exposition. To make it more visual, I had a detective look into it for her and showed more. It also gave me a chance to show what Edward was really doing – why he was such a bad guy.

We cast the movie again and got a great cast this time. The only holdover from the first shoot was the character of Edward, played by the wonderful Kevin Real. We got a couple of actors that were actually on IMDb – Adam Hale and Kyle Dickinson, who were both great. My production partner, Rob McIlrath played the detective. We got a couple of local actresses, Valerie Jobe and Megan Harwick to play Alice and Elizabeth and we were ready to go.

I hired another cinematographer to help me name Boots Kennedye. Where my first cinematographer told me things he couldn’t do, Boots simply came in every day and did everything that was asked of him. He was the best I could have asked for. I also got a production manager named Tony Moyer who was the glue that held the production together. Without either of those guys, I don’t know how it would have turned out.

We shot most of the movie in August of 2004. I worked on editing for awhile and was never really satisfied with it. I could not put my finger on it. Then I figured out that nothing really happened through much of the movie, just a lot of talking. I hired another actor to play Elizabeth’s boyfriend Tony and wrote a new scene where Tony and Ed meet. The actor, Colin Warde, is slightly connected to Stephen King’s filmography, as he has worked on two separate occasions with Fritz Kiersch, the director of “Children of the Corn.” He was also the third actor in the movie to be already listed on IMDb.

I finally secured all the music for the movie from five local bands as well as one from Maine called Now is Now. I put the movie together and sent it to the Dollar Baby Film Festival to be seen for the first time. Thanks to some advice from James Renner, the organizer of the festival, I am working on some re-editing to tighten the movie some before entering it in any future festivals.

From the beginning in 1991 through the current time, we have been working on this movie for over four years now. This second filming cost me just over a thousand dollars to make. Cheap compared to what you would think a 30-40 minute movie would cost. This is thanks to a cast and crew that worked for free. Without them, I would not have been able to come close to affording this task.

SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when you made the movie that you would like to tell me about?

Shawn S. Lealos: I think the greatest feeling was when I received the contracts in the mail. I was non-stop running from one place to the next telling everyone who would listen that I had received permission to make a Stephen King movie. I also felt great when I finally saw my name on IMDb for the first time. That was all thanks to James Renner allowing me to show my film in his festival.

SKSM: How does it feel that all the King fans out there can’t see your movie? Do you think that will change in the future? Maybe a video/dvd release would be possible?

Shawn S. Lealos: I don’t know. I want everyone who can see it to see it. Any Stephen King fan can hit a film festival near their homes and see any film showing there they want to. Sure, you can’t see it now and if you wait until it has hit all the festivals that it can, you may not be able to see it again. But if a filmmaker really wants his movie to be seen, he will publicize every showing it will have, and if a fan really wants to see it, he will make sure he gets there to see it when it is in his area.

It would be cool to have a video or DVD release with a number of dollar babies on it, but that would be all up to Mr. King. Our contracts do not allow us to make a profit from the movie, so to see a video would require someone to set up a new deal with Mr. King. I would be all for it though.

SKSM: Did you have any personal contact with King during the making of the movie? Has he seen it (and if so, what did he think about it)?

Shawn S. Lealos: I have received no contact from Mr. King other than the contracts. Part of the contract requirements is for me to send him a copy when it is completely done, so he will see it, but I don’t expect to hear from him about it.

SKSM: Do you have any plans for making more movies based on Stephen King’s stories? If you could pick – at least – one story to shoot, which one would it be and why?

Shawn S. Lealos: I have no plans to shoot anything else by Mr. King at this time. I don’t know what I would like to make. Maybe a film based on his Bachman book “Rage.”

SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything else you want to say to the fans that read this interview?

Shawn S. Lealos: I just want to thank everyone who helped me in the promotion of this movie. If not for Lilja’s Library and Bernd Lautenslager here at few people would even know I had shot this. If not for James Renner and the Dollar Baby Film Festival, I would have not been able to get our movie onto If not for Michelle Revelle at SKEMERs, I would not have gotten the address to ask for permission. Also, a call out to fellow dollar baby makers who have contacted me including James Cole and Peter Sullivan – I knew I was not alone in all this. My business partner, and fellow producer of this movie, Rob McIlrath, who I would not have been able to make this without.

As for the fans, I hope you all continue to support everyone who has the guts to stand up and try to make a movie based on something they love. It is hard and it is a lot of work. I hope that if you see my movie, you will see all the hard work, all the devotion as well as all my love for the source material. I hope you will be entertained at the same time.

None of this would have been possible without the gracious permission of Mr. Stephen King. What I want more than anything is for him to watch it and be satisfied with what I have created.

Thank You Mr. King.

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