DeVon Franklin (born April 13, 1978) is an American Hollywood producer, best-selling author, renowned preacher and motivational speaker. Franklin is a recognized authority on spirituality, faith and the entertainment business. He is best known for the films Miracles from Heaven (film), Heaven Is for Real (film), and New York Times best-seller book The Wait, which he co-wrote with wife Meagan Good. Beliefnet calls him one of the “Most Influential Christians Under 40,” Variety Magazine named him one of the “Top 10 Producers to Watch,” and Ebony Magazine has named him one of the “Top 100 Influential African-Americans in America.”
Franklin was raised in Oakland, CA, the son of Donald Ray Franklin I and Paulette Franklin. Franklin has two brothers, Donald Ray and David Brandon. The couple would ultimately separate, and Paulette would move with her 3 young boys into their grandparents’ home. A few years later, Franklin’s father passed away at the age of 36 after suffering a heart attack. Along with his mother, his grandmother and her seven sisters would form what Franklin has called a “coalition” of strong women that guided him and his brothers in the absence of their father.
In a 2016 Mother’s Day essay Franklin wrote of his upbringing: “while she did make sure we had strong males in our life, like my grandfather and my pastor (who was also my uncle), my mother wanted to give us something more than that. My mother’s answer was to bring together a coalition of women, the same women who she was raised with….They were always an integral part of her life and naturally became an integral part of our life too, even more so after my father passed away. These nine women (My mother, Grandmother, Aunt Nuna, Aunt Jayne, Aunt Ida, Aunt Enis, Aunt Chrystal, Aunt Donna & Aunt Sondra) were not only the village that would raise us, but also formed the foundation of who we would become as men.”
Following his father’s death, Franklin threw himself into academics and activities as means of coping with the loss. This would ultimately lead to his interest in theater and his passion for movies and television. As a teenager, he would study different movies and television shows to figure out how stories and scenes were put together in hopes of understanding how to move and inspire people through entertainment, the way The Cosby Show and The Color Purple inspired him. Additionally, during this time, he began helping out at his uncle’s church and preached his first sermon at the age of 15.
Franklin began his career during his time as a student at the University of Southern California as an intern at Overbrook Entertainment, working for Will Smith and James Lassiter. Following graduation from USC, Franklin accepted a full-time position at Overbrook. Following his time at Overbrook, Franklin worked under Tracey Edmonds’ company Edmonds Entertainment as a junior executive.
Franklin made the transition into Hollywood’s studio system in 2003 with a creative executive position at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In his book, Produced by Faith, Franklin describes his time at MGM as critical in reaffirming his passion for filmmaking thanks to the creative input his new role allotted him in helping contribute to projects like John Travolta’s 2005 crime-comedy, “Be Cool”. “Following my policy of trying to add value and contribute wherever possible, I managed to make an impact despite being the lowest man on the corporate ladder”.
His time at MGM, however, would be short-lived. In 2005, following months of rumors, Sony Pictures Entertainment would buy out MGM. Following the sale, Franklin was offered a position and brought on as a Director of Development at Sony’s Columbia Pictures.
In his new role at Columbia, Franklin would oversee a number of the studio’s hit films, like The Pursuit of Happyness, Hancock and Seven Pounds. Not only would his work on these projects lead to his eventual promotion to VP at Columbia, but they would also be a full circle moment of sorts for Franklin, who would collaborate with his former boss and mentor from Overbrook Entertainment, Will Smith, in making these movies.
In an interview with Millennial Magazine, Franklin discussed how The Pursuit of Happyness would show him what was possible for his work within Hollywood and driving him to make films that trigger audiences to go after something—He explained: “I want people’s hearts to be touched, their lives to be touched, and I want the evidence of that to show up at the box office.”
During his time at Columbia Pictures as VP, DeVon supervised a variety of films. He helped produce The Pink Panther 2, faith-based film Not Easily Broken, The Ugly Truth, and Whitney Houston’s Sparkle (2012 film). Not only did DeVon champion box-office hits like The Karate Kid and Jumping the Broom, but he was also recognized as one of the youngest and most influential executives under 35 years of age by The Hollywood Reporter. He was also given the title of a Top 10 Industry Impact Player by the NAACP.
In 2012, following these sweeping successes, DeVon continued to rise in the ranks at Columbia becoming Senior Vice President of Production, making him one of the youngest people in the industry to hold such a position. In this role as Senior Vice President, DeVon developed and supervised production of new commercial material, and honed his focus for urban and faith-based markets with films like the diversified remake of Annie and the sleeper hit Heaven Is For Real.
One of DeVon’s first projects as Senior VP was adapting the New York Times Bestseller, Heaven is for Real, into a feature-length film. Reading the book in one sitting, DeVon was immediately engrossed by the material and the message, helping develop the script and oversee the entire project. “[I wanted the movie to be] a message of peace to those who have lost loved ones and who may be wondering what happens”, DeVon stated. Losing his own father at a very young age, DeVon wanted audience members who could relate to the Burpo family to walk away with a sense of hope, peace and inspiration. Produced on a modest $12 million budget, Heaven is for Real outpaced all industry estimates and grossed more than $100 million at the box office, making it one of the highest-grossing faith-based hits of all time.
One of Franklin’s final projects during his time as a studio executive was the reimagining of the classic story “Annie.” Franklin served as an executive on the project alongside Sony’s Ange Giannetti, who Franklin has since called a mentor in his time at the studio. In his role as an executive on the film, he developed the script, put the movie together, oversaw production, and even helped promote the film when it was being released.
In promoting the film, Franklin noted that what made the film unique is that “for the first time, we’re doing “Annie” with a diverse cast, and capturing modern-day New York with a different flavor. When you see the story, the whole idea of “Annie” believing that one day she will find her parents, and ultimately finding her family in a way that she never anticipated. I think that story is very resonant for today, as it has been for previous generations. Because “Annie” is one of those classic stories that throughout generations has always been a phenomenal story about faith, about the power of connection and community, and about family. This reimagining of the classic tale is going to be as relevant for this generation as it has been for previous generations.”
Franklin started Franklin Entertainment in July 2014, with a first-look production deal at Sony Pictures Entertainment. Franklin Entertainment is a dynamic multimedia entertainment company where Franklin currently serves as President and CEO. In 2016, the company signed a new multi-year first-look production deal with 20th Century Fox, where it is now based.
In 2016 Franklin produced the hit film Miracles from Heaven, based on the book Miracles from Heaven by Christy Beam. This American Christian drama film stars Jennifer Garner, Queen Latifah, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson, John Carroll Lynch, and Eugenio Derbez. The movie recounts the true story of Beam’s daughter who had a rare, incurable disease, but after a freak accident is miraculously cured. The movie was made for $13 million and although having mixed reviews from critics grossed $73 million at the world-wide box office. The film was nominated for People’s Choice Awards for Favorite Dramatic Movie, Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie: Actress, and won Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie for Drama.
He is also exec-producing the animated film The Star, for Sony Pictures Animation. The Star is directed by Oscar nominee Timothy Reckart. This faith-based film inspired by the Nativity Story will focus on a donkey and his friends on an adventure as they follow The Star and become accidental heroes. The Star is set to be released November 2017 and will feature the voice of Kelly Clarkson as Leah the Horse, Oprah Winfrey as Deborah, Tyler Perry as Cyrus, Steven Yeun as Bo the donkey, Aidy Bryant as Ruth the sheep, Keegan-Michael Key, Kristen Chenoweth, Anthony Anderson, Gabriel Iglesias, Ving Rhames, Deliah Rene, Kris Kristofferson, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Christopher Plummer, and Tracy Morgan.
Franklin also has several film projects in the works including The Impossible, for 20th Century Fox, which tells the true story of John Smith who at 14 drowned in Lake St. Louis and was dead for nearly an hour. Smith’s mother entered the room praying loudly and suddenly Smith had a pulse. He is also producing the film adaptation of the recently released memoir from Cathy Byrd ‘The Boy Who Knew Too Much.’ Franklin is also at work on the reboot of He-Man and the Masters Of The Universe franchise with Columbia Pictures, and the remake of the film Cooley High with Common at MGM. On the TV side, Franklin is producing a re-imagining of Foxy Brown at Hulu starring Meagan Good.
He began preaching at the age of 15, and his combination of ministry and entertainment has helped him develop a rare perspective on faith, love and success. He is a regular on The Dr. Oz Show, offering his guidance on a range of topics including faith, relationships and spiritual wellness. He’s also made appearances on Dr. Phil, CBS This Morning, Entertainment Tonight, Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.
Photo: The Hollywood Reporter