Palos Park native Steve Desmond in front of a marquee banner advertising the movie "A Knock at the Cabin," which he co-wrote. (Supplied photos)

Palos Park native Steve Desmond in front of a marquee banner advertising the movie "A Knock at the Cabin," which he co-wrote. (Supplied photos)

Palos Park native helps write screenplay for ‘Knock at the Cabin’

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Screenwriting partners Michael Sherman (left) and Steve Desmond are joined by Dave Bautista, a star of their movie “A Knock at the Cabin.”

By Dermot Connolly

Palos Park native Steve Desmond, 40, has been thinking about making movies for most of his life, and now one he co-wrote can be found in a theater near you.

Desmond and his screenwriting partner, Michael Sherman, share writing credits with director M. Night Shyamalan for the screenplay for “Knock at the Cabin,” a mystery thriller based on the novel “The Cabin at the End of the World,” by Paul G. Tremblay.

This is the first movie the partners, with their production company Dreaming Ants, have seen come to the big screen. But Desmond has been thinking of writing and directing movies for most of his life.

For a second-grade career fair at Palos East Elementary School in Palos Heights, Desmond dressed up as a movie director.

“Everyone else was dressed like a police officer or fireman. Here I come looking like Cecil B. DeMille, modeled after a picture I found in the encyclopedia,” said Desmond with a laugh during a recent phone conversation from his home in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife, Rachel Burrows.

“It started when I was even younger than that,” he added. “When I was 5, I had a babysitter named Kim who helped me make a movie with my toy dinosaurs. I was able to make a little story, and when my parents (Steve and Maria Desmond) came home, I was making a movie poster for it, because I knew they went up in theaters.”

“The idea of making a career of it wasn’t tangible to me yet. It was just an empowering experience, showing me I could do it,” said Desmond.

“I always joke that my parents missed their calling as PR agents—they are my biggest promoters.”

Their own successful life stories inspired him as well. His mother emigrated from Italy at age 8, and his father was orphaned when his parents died when he was a teenager.

“Growing up, I used to make (movies) with neighborhood friends. This was not high art, but it was a lot of fun at time,” he said.

Desmond went on to Palos South Middle School in Palos Park and then Sandburg High School in Orland Park.

His first interview with this newspaper occurred after his 2001 graduation, when he was heading off to film school at the University of Southern California—one of seven schools that had accepted him.

“I had made a bunch of high school films. I guess it was rare, a novelty that someone from around here was going to California like that,” he said.

He said then that seeing “Star Wars” for the first time at age 5 set him on the movie-making path. He had already won awards for two short films he made at Sandburg and expressed his hope to become a film director for a major studio.

Desmond earned a degree in film and television production and has lived and worked in LA ever since. But he visits Palos Park as often as possible and has not forgotten the grounding he got in high school.

“I love Sandburg. It was a defining period of my life. We didn’t have film-making classes then, but as soon as I showed an interest, my teachers allowed me to turn my class reports into movies. I was constantly making short films for English, for history.”

“I played football but I also was on the speech team and theater. (Sandburg) was all about being yourself and finding your voice,” said Desmond.

“Even now, I constantly have to pitch movie ideas, which is all public speaking. Every time, I still do the Sandburg Speech team warm-ups,” he noted.

As a junior in high school, he said a college counselor—Bob Kindmark—”drilled into me how hard getting into the movie industry would be.”  But getting to talk to comedian Tom Dreesen, who made it from Harvey to Hollywood, gave him the encouragement to try.

“My dad is good friends with his brother,” he explained. “We met when I was 16, and he was so positive and so encouraging. We still talk.”

“I always thought cinematography was so cool,” he said, recalling how lucky he felt to get college credit for setting up crash scenes in his own movies.

After graduating from USC, he and Michael Sherman decided to form their own company. Dreaming Ants, “because I felt we had similar sensibilities,” said Desmond. They typically share screenwriting duties while Desmond directs and Sherman produces their projects.

“We came up with the name because we felt like ants dreaming,” he added.

“My jobs (in LA) were always in the entertainment industry, I worked as a reality television editor, and as a commercial treatment writer,” he said. “It wasn’t until five years ago that I could do this full time.”

“We have been working on ‘A Knock at the Cabin’ for that long, but it was another script that made it possible,” he explained.

He said working with Shyamalan, known as an expert in the mystery genre since directing “The Sixth Sense,” was another dream come true.

“In high school, when ‘The Sixth Sense’ came out, we kept trying to get in to see it at the Marcus theater (in Orland Park) but it was always sold out. It took us three times,” he said.

“When Michael and I got hired to adapt this novel, it was just this little indy film. But the scope of it went bigger than I ever expected,” he said.

“The words I would use would be surreal and validating. It is crazy to see your name on billboards. It means that the struggle and the journey was worth it.”

“After a lot of years of constant rejection, to keep going and be able to say I have been a professional writer for the past five years. It is pretty cool to be able to share something with an audience.”

When the movie came out, he returned to USC for a Q&A session moderated by film critic Leonard Maltin in one of the 300-seat lecture halls he sat in as a student.

“I try to be an inspiration. I feel very lucky to get to tell stories for a living, it took a lot of years and a lot of day jobs. But it has been extremely gratifying.”

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Palos Park native Steve Desmond and his wife, Rachel Burrows, at the LA opening of “A Knock at the Cabin,” which he co-wrote (Photo by Evan Agostini of Invision).

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