Interview with Film Executive, DEVON FRANKLIN
AimerAmour: You spoke at Mega Fest about this generation lacking commitment and wanting things too easily. How can young professionals become more focused if we’re still trying to figure out what we do best?
DeVon Franklin:This generation is being taught that people in the media ‘made it over night’. There are news reports [that say] if you don’t have a job when you graduate college, you’re at a disadvantage. And that’s just not true. With any career that’s going to have a lasting impact, it’s going to take time to build. You just have to be a little more patient and understand that everything will happen at the right time. Have a plan for where you ultimately want to be, but you have to stay flexible. If I wasn’t flexible in my life and my career I wouldn’t be here now. I never said I wanted to work for a studio.
When I graduated college, working for a studio was the furtherest thing from me. It took my commitment to the process of success and continuing to be diligent about what God had called me to do. As that happened, the opportunity to work for a studio presented itself and it felt like the right thing to do. So I would tell this generation that it’s not about over night [success]. You’re going to be just fine, relax, and stay the course. Start working and even if you get a job that’s not right in your field, that’s ok, it will all work together. It will help you get to where you ultimately want to be. If you study the people you admire, you’d be shocked to learn where they started. Very few people that are affecting the world right now started in the place where you thought they would end up. So part of it is being flexible, committed and knowing that it is going to happen.
AA: In addition to standing firm on keeping the Sabbath holy, what have been some difficult and rewarding decisions you’ve had to make in your career and as an executive?
DF: Rewarding decisions… I’m happy when I look back on the films I’ve made the decision to support. Whether it’s Heaven Is For Real, The Karate Kid, Sparkle or Jumping the Broom, those are all decisions that I’m very proud of. It’s not easy to get a film made, it’s very difficult. Any movie that I’m passionate about, at the end of the day is hopefully a tool to inspire people and bring people hope. I’m believing every decision with that goal in mind, has been successful.
AA: For those unfamiliar with the title “Senior Vice President”, can you describe what your role entails from the pre-production process through a film’s release? Does your job also include the marketing and promotion strategy for a film?
DF: My job as Senior VP of Production is to find great material that will make great movies and to develop that material to the point where it’s ready to be made into a film. I oversee production, post production and all the way through distribution. It’s definitely a kind of all encompassing job. I don’t come up with the marketing plan. There’s a marketing and a publicity team that does that. However, I am involved with the execution of the marketing plan by giving insight and a point of view on what should be done. With my new movie, Heaven Is For Real we talk about how it should be marketed. What do the television spots look like? What does the trailer look like? So I’m definitely involved all the way through.
AA: Can you tell me more about the film Heaven Is For Real?
DF: Heaven Is For Real is an adaptation of the New York Times best selling book of the same name. It’s sold over one million copies. It’s been translated into over thirty languages. It’s the true story of Colton Burpo who during an operation for his ruptured appendix had a near death experience. When he regained consciousness, he was miraculously healed. He also had an in-depth account of his trip to heaven. The whole [skepticism] was whether or not he really went to heaven. He spoke about meeting Jesus, his great grandfather, [who had passed before he was born] and other family members. It was one of those stories that brought hope to millions of people around the world.
AA: When should we expect another book from you and what topics will you cover?
DF:I’m hoping to get a book out by the end of next year, if not the first quarter of 2015. I’ll be writing my next book with my wife, Meagan. We’re going to be tackling how to deal with the waiting periods in life. Waiting to get a job, waiting to get married, waiting on a relationship etc. That’s really and truly one of the most difficult periods ever and we tend to lose faith and give up on our dreams. We really want to write a book that will give people hope as well as tips and tools on those waiting periods.
AA: You’ve attributed a lot of your success to the opportunities that were presented to you in college. Would you still advise young black men attend college to have a career in entertainment?
DF:Yes, I absolutely would. What people sometimes don’t understand about college is that it’s not so much about the degree as it is about the learning experience and the life experience that college gives you. I think it’s really, really important, no matter what field you want to go into, entertainment included, that you still consider a four year institution or at least the college experience. The college experience helps prepare you for life. It helps you build your network and it shows you how to deal with other people. No matter how talented you are, those are life skills that you can apply to any field. There were a number of times where I was given the opportunity to drop out of college and work full time. I said no because I knew that if the opportunities were available to me then they would be available to me upon graduation and they were. I’m so thankful that I have my degree. It’s one of the best experiences that I had in my life. In terms of your career, so many times you just want to get there and you over look some of the most vital and important experiences in life, which includes college. I would recommend the college experience because it will absolute enrich your life.
AA: You speak very highly about your experiences as an intern for Handprint Entertainment (Benny Medina) and Overbrook Entertainment (Will Smith). What kept you humble and hungry during your experiences as an intern?
DF: You don’t have anything! (laughs) As an intern, the only thing you have is a hope and a dream. If you can’t be humble as an intern, you’ve got a long way to go in this business. I didn’t know anything but I really wanted to grow and become great in this business. I was given these phenomenal opportunities to get my career started so my one goal was to do everything I could, to not only learn, but to be helpful in the process. I couldn’t think of any other way to do it. Because of where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do in this industry, the only choice was to stay humble and focused.
AA: How would you advise young scriptwriters to get the attention of studios and distributors? In addition to working with Overbrook, where do you go to find scripts that have great film potential?
DF: A lot of times executives like myself rely upon producers, agents and managers to bring us material and make us aware of who the new voices are. That’s usually where we find out who are the new writers and filmmakers. They come from our relationships with agents, directors, producers and managers. If you’re a young writer, the goal should be to get yourself on the radar of a literary manager, an agent or a producer who can help become a cheerleader for you in the business.
AA: From when you initially started at Columbia Tristar Pictures, how has the movie industry evolved? What are some trends that you are seeing in your industry?
DF: Here’s my feeling, at the end of the day if you’re referring to a writer or a director and asking what it is that they need to know, I think trends are irrelevant. I think what’s most important is finding your voice as a writer, director or producer and letting your voice be heard. There are movies that people write and get made and it doesn’t subscribe to the current trend at the box office. You’d never think it would work but it does. Then there are other movies that follow exactly what the trends are doing and they don’t work. So I try to encourage people to follow their passion. Write and direct the movies that are consistent with who you are and how you want to be perceived. Trust and believe that the better you become at your job, the more successful you’re going to be regardless of the trends.
DF: I think if I had to do it all over again, I probably would have taken more literature courses. Studying classic literature and knowing what really great stories are made of is so important. I think getting a degree in literature and Liberal Arts and having a really good foundation on the art of story telling is essential. If I had the chance to do my education over again, I would have taken classes that would have given me a little more of that knowledge. It’s important to writers, directors, producers and even executives to have that language because so many decisions that we make about the films that will be made are often based on stories that come from classic literature. So being well read and knowledgeable of those types of stories is a huge asset to anyone’s career in this business.
WAIT! There’s more DeVon Franklin! Read Part 2 of our interview at ZonDAmour.com
*Special Thanks to Laura and The Front Page Firm for coordinating!*