It appears a growing trend in the entertainment business. Faith based films are being produced not only by your smaller Christian based production companies but now more established Hollywood movie studios are also taking the leap of faith. In the last 6 months films like Son Of God, God is Not Dead, Noah and now Heaven is for Real, have racked millions at the box office – capturing a more broader audience. To what do we owe the growing trend? In a recent interview DeVon Franklin, Sr. VP of Production at Columbia Pictures and Executive producer of Heaven is For Real (which grossed a robust $21.5 million in just it’s opening weekend) shares his thoughts on a growing trend.
Lingk2us: There seems to be a new trend favoring faith based films on a much broader scale (meaning beyond the church folk). What do you think is the attributing factors to this movement and increased interest toward the genre?
DeVon Franklin: When you look at this year, what I love about it is that it just so happened that all of these various [film] distributors where distributing faith-based content during this year. Mind you, is not like everyone got together and said OK! It’s 2014, let’s make it the year of the Bible. But the scheduling worked out that way and it has been great! Another defining point here is – it’s one thing to put product out there, but is another thing when that product is supported. It is so rewarding to see these films made available and people showing up. It speaks to the audience wanting more uplifting and inspirational material. Material that tackles the issues of faith and aligns itself with their spiritual beliefs. It is indicative of where we are as a country and what people want more of, as it relates to entertainment.
L2U: What does it all mean when films like Heaven is for Real do well in terms of box office success?
DF: There’s no question that the success of the film is making a difference and will continue to make a difference. The number of emails and messages I’ve received to congratulate the success of the film has also prompted questions like “can we do more?” “How does the audience work”?… Is exciting. So yes! The influence is certainly growing and change is certainly happening with each success that comes out in the market place.
L2U: For many Christians a film like Noah was a very hard sell because although it carried a beautiful redemptive message, there where many discrepancies from the actual biblical text. With more of an interest from Hollywood to create faith based fare, should we expect some of the uniqueness of the christian message to be lost in translation?
DF: To contextualize your question, let’s say if for the equivalent of a superhero movie a filmmaker chose to adapt the story in a certain way, as a result, you can’t extrapolate that from that every film maker is going to do the same. It’s a personal choice. That’s how he saw the material. No one knows what the future holds, so we all continue to support this space as we wait to see how everything evolves and develops. As more Biblical epics make their way to the screen we will see how each filmmaker chooses to adapt that for the screen. It all goes back to the Filmmaker, Writers, Producers, their creative approach and ultimately the Studio making that particular film. Its near impossible to know how it’s all going to play out.
L2U: You are clearly a Hollywood decision maker. What is your thought process in deciding what projects you will take on?
DF: I want to make movies that inspire, uplift, and empower. That’s what I love to do. I love to motivate people, so I want to make movies that do just that, whether it’s a comedy, superhero film or a faith based movie. That’s the goal for me. To do material that helps people see themselves on the screen in the same way that the characters in the film are finding hope and empowerment is always my objective.
L2U: You are obviously a man of faith. How does this factor help shape your choices when considering a new project?
DF: One good thing about being a Studio Executive is that once you identify your taste, you begin to champion and make material based on what’s important to you. For me is really about finding material that I really do believe in and material that in my heart of hearts I know has a chance to succeed because I connect to it. Doing what God is calling me too do is also a very important part of my decision making process, and truly is the barometer I use. I believe that if you are touching lives that’s going to show up at the box office. Often times, people go see a movie, over and over again because it touches them in some way. So to champion material that can touch and improve peoples lives is at the end of the day good for business and good for the box office, because when someone is affected they are going to tell other people… ” You have gotta come and see this movie” similarly to what happened with Heaven is for Real.
L2U: So much has happened since the release of your first book, Produced By Faith. In your minds-eye did you imagine all the success you have incurred?
DF: No! (laughs), Writing Produced by Faith was certainly an endeavor of faith. And similarly to the book, I do look at my life as a movie, that is continuing to unfold. At the time i don’t have any idea what scenes God has planned for me. So as the story continues to unfold it continues to surprise me too.
L2U: Are there any new or upcoming projects that we should look for in 2014?
DF: Yes, Sony/Affirm Pictures is releasing another faith based film for Mother’s Day called, Moms’ Night Out, starring Patricia Heaton which is getting a lot of buzz. A really great film. And also at the end of the Summer in August, Stage6/TriStar and Sonny are releasing another faith based film called When The Game Stands Tall. It is a true and really powerful inspirational sports movie about a high school out of the Bay area who went
on the become the team who went on to garner the most consecutive wins in the sports franchise history and that’s another film to look forward to and support. And finally, I also have a remake of Annie coming out right before Christmas.
L2U: Looking forward to all of these! Continued much success and thanks so much for your time DeVon.
DF: No, Thank You.