Friday, August 31, 2012

by Janet Lawler
August 31, 2012

DeVon Franklin, VP of Production Columbia Pictures
In early August, I had the opportunity to chat with DeVon Franklin on the phone.  DeVon is an inspiration.  He has done so much for such a young professional.

DeVon started his film career as an intern for Will Smith's film company.  He worked on films like "The Karate Kid" and "The Pursuit of Happyness".  He climbed the studio ranks as an executive to his current position of VP of Production at Columbia Pictures. 

He also just released a new book "Produced by Faith".  It advises how to look at your life like a movie and to be true to your own voice.  I have read it and recommend it.

DeVon is also a Christian minister and motivational speaker.  How does he have time to do all this and do it all so successfully?  Let's find out.  The last person I watched interview DeVon Franklin was Oprah Winfrey.  Wow.  I'm honored to interview DeVon here.

Janet:   Hi, DeVon.  I really appreciate you doing this interview for The NY Screenwriting Life.

DeVon:  I appreciate you doing it.

Janet:  I saw you recently on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah on the OWN network.  I watched your interview with Oprah twice.  It was so inspiring.

DeVon:  Wow.  You watched it twice?

Janet:  I did.  What is the reaction since you sat down with Oprah?

DeVon:   It's been good.  Definitely.  A lot more people are finding the book, getting the message.  We've had a lot more interaction.  It's been really, really good.  Everything that has come out of it has been incredibly positive.

Janet:  I bet.  I see Super Soul Sunday is doing well too.  So it was a good match for you.

DeVon:  Oh yeah.  The show is really finding its footing.  The audience is finding it.  So it is good, it's really good.

Janet:   Terrific.

DeVon:  I was just blessed to be on it.  To be honest.

Janet:  Oprah's one of my  heroes.  I love what she does.

DeVon:  Me too.  For me to be able to meet her was just unbelievable.

Janet:  So your book deals with faith and overcoming obstacles.  How can a writer stay positive in the face of rejection, since that's such a big part of writing and creativity?

DeVon: Once you understand that rejection is a part of the process, it becomes easier to deal with.  When you understand that as writer not everyone is going to get this point of view that I have.  Maybe not even necessarily get it, they might not want the story.  They might not want the story that I have to tell.  That's okay. There is the right audience, the right person out there who will be responsive to your story.  I think the way to have hope is to work on your craft, to continue to perfect your story.  I mean, one of my favorite books is How To Write Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge.  Another one is The Moral Premise by Dr. Stanley Williams.  When you look at these books, you see that we can always fine tune our work.  Sometimes when we get rejection it can be a good thing because it highlights something in your work that you might have otherwise not known.  It can give you ideas on areas to change or to make your story better.  So my encouragement is that you have to keep going.  Rejection is part of it.  Don't fear it.  You need feedback.  No successful movie ever happens in a vacuum. 

Janet:  Rejection gives us a chance to grow.

DeVon:  Absolutely.  And that growth is key because that growth will help you to become a professional, working screenwriter.  It will help you do what you want to do, which is write and sell screenplays.

Janet: In your book you talk a lot about conflict, especially growing up in your early years.  Your father died when you were young.  I related to that because my father died when I was 14. So I know a little bit about what you went through in dealing with loss.  But our love for movies can lift us and inspire us through tough times. 

DeVon:  Yeah.

Janet:  You work in Hollywood yet keep your faith a priority.  Do you find a writer can use his or her work as, say, a service?  Even a service to God?

DeVon:  Oh absolutely!  I would say God is the master storyteller.  Now when you look at the Bible it is filled with incredible stories and incredible characters, who go through tremendous conflict, and yet somehow against the odds, are able to succeed in most cases.  So the idea that God, through His word, would encourage us through stories... we absolutely respond through stories.  We can relate to them.  Yes, so the idea of being able to use the craft of screenwriting as a service to Him is absolutely necessary and possible.  When you look at stories in the Bible, a lot times people think those stories are totally sanitized -- they're not.  There is murder, espionage, bertrayal, adultery... all of these things that go into making the story more compelling.  Like the story of David.  Here is a man who was after God's heart yet was very flawed, but you had to understand his flaw in order to root for his redemption.  I think if you look in the Bible that way, in that context as a screenwriter, it's an incredible opportunity to use your faith to help you craft incredible stories that will change the world, essentially.

Janet: We see examples of how film and television impact our daily lives.  People often say when they've been down and out, sick, or unemployed... and they turn to TV or movies to lift their spirit or take them out of their daily problems, their world.  It can spark somebody to keep going forward.

DeVon:  Absolutely.

Janet: You started as an intern with Will Smith's film company.  He always says his work ethic is really what drives his success in all areas of the entertainment business:  music, TV and films.  Did you see a lot of examples of that on a daily basis being around Will Smith in the office?

DeVon:  Oh yes, oh yeah.  He's just tireless.  He's fearless.  I mean, especially when we were working on scripts.  Will can start in the morning and go all night.  He certainly sets the standard that we're all trying to reach.

Janet:   Right, and working hard every day obviously to reach goals.

DeVon:  That's right.  Every.  Single.  Day. (laughs)

Janet: Is there a market for faith-based scripts in Hollywood?  Is there an appeal for those today?

DeVon: Oh yeah, definitely.  There is always an appetite to find films that work for an under served audience.   Movies that are inspirational or that bring hope, there is an appetite for those kinds of movies.

Janet: Good to hear.  As an author and as a studio exec, do you recommend screenwriters take advantage of social media to promote themselves and their work?  Besides a Facebook page?

DeVon: Yes, social media is key.  Spread the word.  Get the word out there.  Getting feedback, yes.  Social media is incredibly important.  I would find various online screenwriting communities to join.  I know Dr. Stanley Williams... Through the Moral Premise Blog  has one.  I think Michael Hauge has one  I would advise becoming a part of really good educational screenwriting blogs and networks online because you're only as strong as your resources, you know.

Janet:  Sure. 

DeVon:  And as a screenwriter, it's important to use all of your resources available to you to help you tell better stories.

Janet:  Right, and it's a great way to reach out to new people.  Because through social media and online communities, you can get in touch with just about anybody these days -- to help your career.

DeVon:  Yes, absolutely.  I find it to be important.

Janet: Your new movie is Sparkle -- to be released this summer. 

DeVon:  Yes, I'm excited about it.

Janet:  How's the feedback and the tracking been?

DeVon:  It's been good.  So far so good.  We're in a really good place and still have a long way to go. 

Janet:  A lot of people want to support the film for a lot of different reasons, but also to see Whitney Houston, as this movie is her final work.

DeVon:   Right.  It is.  When people see it, they're really going to be amazed.  She is so incredible in the movie.  And what I love about the film is that it's her legacy.  It's a part of her legacy.  This is really what her life was about.  This is what she spent her last time with us doing -- which is to help produce and star in a movie about hope and faith... and using your gift in the right way.  So it's exciting to be able to put that out there.  So that the world can see it.

Janet:  I'm sure people will enjoy it.

DeVon:  I hope so.  Storm the box-office.  (laughs)

Janet: (laughs)  I hope it's a big hit.  DeVon, again thank you, for doing this.  For taking my questions for the blog.  It will be a big inspiration to writers everywhere across all formats to keep working hard and to keep the faith. 

DeVon:  It's a blessing to do it. 

Janet:  Thank you.

DeVon:  Thank you and God bless.

Janet:  God bless you.  Take care.

                                                             SUMMER SIDE NOTES...

I hope you've all had a great summer and got some writing done between visits to the beach and backyard BBQs.  I'm working on a new script and finishing a play. 

Update on The Page International Screenwriting Awards:  my writing partner, Chris Keller, and I placed in the Quarter Finals.  We didn't advance to the semi finals, but it's okay... we got super feedback and high scores.  Now we begin marketing Hark and Harold, The Christmas Movie.  It's a fun family holiday comedy.  International appeal.  So onward and upward.

Farewell, summer 2012.  Here's to an awesome Fall 2012!

Until next time.