Shawn Lealos is a journalist and film critic, as well as the director of the dollar baby, “I know what you need.” He will also be writing a book about Dollar Babies as well as a novel– he’s very energetic!
Shawn’s website notes:
Shawn S. Lealos has been a professional writer for over 15 years, with articles published in national magazines, newspapers and websites. He has published movie criticism and news, sports articles and entertainment based content for websites as Yahoo! Movies, Yahoo! Sports, OMG.COM, Examiner.com, 411mania.com, Chud.com and The Huffington Post. He has also sold articles to magazines such as Inside Sports, Vox Magazine, Loud Magazine and The Red Zone.
Shawn has also written a handful of short stories and screenplays and has written, produced and directed six short films, including the Stephen King dollar baby, “I Know What You Need.” He is currently writing a book based on the Stephen King dollar babies, telling the stories of filmmakers from all over the world who used this program to get their foot in the door and further their careers.
Talk Stephen King: Hi Shawn! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Tell me a little about yourself.
Shawn Lealos: I am a graduate of the University of Oklahoma where I received by Bachelor’s degree in Journalism with an emphasis on professional writing. I studied mostly novel writing but also got my feet wet with journalism, mostly sports stuff. In my last year before graduating, I read a book about movies called “Adventures in the Screen Trade” by William Goldman and decided I wanted to try to write a screenplay. I liked it and stayed in school for two more years, taking film history classes.
Since then, I have worked as a journalist and film critic while also making short films.
I have written and directed eight short films so far but have neglected by original career plans to be a novel writer. I am changing that now with my non-fiction book about the Stephen King dollar babies as well as a fiction horror novel based on one of my short screenplays.
I am also working on getting my personal website going strong at shawnlealos.net and will keep it updated as I work on the dollar baby book and other future projects.
TSK: As a writer and movie maker, what are some non-King influences on your life?
Shawn Lealos: As a screenwriter, I am really influenced by William Goldman, who wrote the book that made me start studying film. He also wrote the script for Stephen King’s “Misery.” I am also influenced by PT Anderson, the filmmaker who made “There Will be Blood” and “Magnolia.” I read the script for “Magnolia” at least once a year because I feel it is the perfect screenplay.
For novels, I was always a big fan of Dean Koontz but have not read anything by him in years. I also love the work of fantasy author Neil Gaiman, mystery writer John Sandford and I will read just about any comic book there is.
TSK: You worked for several years as a sports reporter for University of Oklahoma – is it safe to assume you have a deep love for sports? (Any favorite teams? , or are sports reporters supposed to be neutral on such things?)
Shawn Lealos: Next to movies, football is my biggest passion. I love the Dallas Cowboys and have since the ‘70s when Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett played for them. One of my high school graduation gifts was getting to go to the Cowboys’ practice facility to meet quarterback Danny White in 1988. I am also a huge fan of the Oklahoma Sooners and loved them since I was a kid. Going to OU was a dream come true and a lot of it comes from my love for their athletic program. One of my best memories ever was standing on the sidelines, as a reporter, when OU beat Florida State for the National Championship in 2000. In baseball, I am a Texas Rangers fan and in basketball I have become an Oklahoma City Thunder fan since they moved to the state.
TSK: It looks like you also had a big part in the short film, "Les chansons." Was it difficult to act in a movie you’d written? It seems like it would be frustrating to see things not translating to film the way you imagined them!
Shawn Lealos: It was actually a pretty small role and I hated my performance in it. I really don’t like anything I have done on film and my only memorable performance was in “Happy Holidays,” which I also wrote and directed (YouTube). That was for my film capstone class at OU. For “Les Chansons,” there was an actress named Anne Haider, who worked with us on an unfinished short film we were shooting. We thought it would be nice to produce some films by some of our cast and crew and she was the first, and only one, that we did. She wrote the script and directed it. I edited it, created the visual effects and commissioned two musicians to create the soundtrack. I am happy with the final result of the movie, especially the music (YouTube).
TSK: You’re obviously very familiar with Stephen King and his work. What has King written that’s most inspired you?
Shawn Lealos: The book that made me a lifelong fan was the unabridged version of “The Stand.” That remains my favorite book of all time, by any author. It just blew my mind and I would recommend anyone who has not read it to do so. I also love his short story, “The Last Rung on the Ladder.” I considered directing that as my Dollar Baby but felt I could not do it justice. Other than that, other favorites include “It” and “Pet Sematary.”
TSK: You directed the 2005 Dollar Baby, "I Know What You Need." What was that like?
Shawn Lealos: That was definitely a good experience. I asked for the rights in 1999, way before the dollar babies really broke out. At that time, there were probably under 20 dollar babies. I learned about it from the introduction to Frank Darabont’s “Shawshank Redemption” screenplay, since his dollar baby, “The Woman in the Room,” was the first ever made. Well, I got the contracts in the mail in 2000 and at that time there was no time frame on them (I heard there is a two-year limit now). Well, we tried to shoot it in 2001 and failed miserably. We worked on two more short films and then decided to try it again in 2005. We brought back the same actor we used as Edward and re-cast all the other roles. I also added a character that was not actually in the story to show things happening that were only mentioned in the short story. We hired an experienced director of photography and then I hit up about a half dozen local bands to let us use their music for free. It was definitely a learning experience.
TSK: Were you pleased with the finished results of "I Know What You Need"?
Shawn Lealos: The movie, when finished, was 40 minutes long. I have seen more dollar babies that is about that length (or longer!) but that is way too long. Film festivals book blocks of short films and long films are rejected a lot, no matter how good they are, because they don’t fit into the blocks. We shortened it to 30 minutes and I left it at that. I still think it is too long. I also feel the acting is subpar, to put it nicely. Lilja’s Library reviewed it and said as much. Since we have no time limit to making this film, we have considered remaking it a third time, keeping it around 15 minutes, and hitting the festival circuit again.
TSK: Where can we see the film?
Shawn Lealos: The problem with dollar babies and fans is that we aren’t allowed to show it to anyone outside of festivals. However, there is a film festival coming up on Memorial Day in 2013 at Comicpalooza in Houston, Texas, and Stephen King dollar baby filmmakers are invited to enter their films in that festival. There is expected to be over 25,000 people in attendance at Comicpalooza because a lot of the Battlestar Galactica cast members will be there as well. “I Know What You Need” will screen at Comicpalooza in 2013, whether it is the old version or a remade one, along with hopefully a total of four hours of other Stephen King dollar babies.
TSK: I see you plan to write a book about Stephen King dollar babies. Tell me more about this! Obviously you have some firsthand experiences with this kind of work, what kind of a book do you envision?
Shawn Lealos: I studied novel writing extensively in college but have not put that knowledge to use since I graduated because I have been so busy writing quick journalism for money. However, I decided it was time to get off my butt and write something. The book will be formatted to allow each chapter to focus on a specific filmmaker. While I cannot see their movies (unless I already saw them at a film festival), I am interviewing each filmmaker about making their movies and will tell their stories, including what the dollar baby led to in their careers.
I’ll also be talking to Bernd Lautenslager, who runs stephenkingshortmovies.com and maybe one or two other people outside of the regular filmmakers. This is not a book so much about the movies as it is about the fans who made them. I hope to give regular fans who never got a chance to see a dollar baby a chance to see inside the making of them. While I cannot ask to see the movies, Mr. King’s attorneys have let me know they don’t mind the book written in this format.
TSK: The dollar babies are certainly some of the lesser known trails of the Stephen King universe. Do you have a favorite? (Other than I Know What You Need – of course!)
Shawn Lealos: My favorite that I have seen is “Umney’s Last Case” by Rodney Altman. Here is how good it is. There was a TV show called “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” which was a series that featured Stephen King short stories turned into films. These were not dollar babies but were big budget TV episodes. “Umney’s Last Case” was one of the episodes and it starred the wonderful William Macey. I saw that and Altman’s dollar baby and the dollar baby is the better version of the story out of the two. That movie will also screen at Comicpalooza and I am working on getting Altman to attend and join me for a question and answer panel for the fans.
A couple of other great dollar babies include “Paranoid” by Jay Holben (2000) and “The Last Rung on the Ladder” by James Cole and Dan Thron (1987). I am hoping both of those screen at Comicpalooza as well.
TSK: I really enjoyed your posts about the importance of a well developed villain to the overall strength of a novel. Of course, Stephen King is well known for creating all out scary villains. Who are some of your favorite Stephen King bad guys?
Shawn Lealos: I’d say my favorite is Randall Flagg from “The Stand.” That character has been in so many different King stories under different names as well. He was in “Eyes of the Dragon” and was The Man in Black in “The Dark Tower” series. He was also Leland Gaunt in “Needful Things.” The guy is just the ultimate evil. Of course, there is also Pennywise, one of the scariest clowns in history.
For minor characters, I loved Trashcan Man in “The Stand.”
TSK: So, tell me – what’s next? What projects do you have coming up?
Shawn Lealos: There is the Dollar Baby book as well as my first horror novel, “The Devil’s Playground.” I am self publishing both books because I just don’t want to deal with publishing houses and agents. However, I guarantee they will be the best they can be and I won’t spare expenses when it comes to copyeditors and designers.
After that, we are looking at remaking “I Know What You Need.” My next book after the Dollar Baby book is about the history of comic book movies and then I will be at Comicpalooza in 2013 in Houston, Texas, if anyone wants to come out, see my movie, check out my books and talk to me about Stephen King, comics or anything else really.
TSK: Thank you so much for taking time to do this! I really look forward your novel
Shawn Lealos: Thanks for the interview, David.