With a career that spans from author to film producer and motivational speaker, DeVon Franklin is laying the foundation for carving out an unmatched legacy for himself in Hollywood. Making it clear that his Christian faith and determination to succeed is what took him from an intern under Will Smith’s production company to an executive at Columbia Pictures and CEO of his own company, Franklin continues to prove that he understands the responsibility of success in Hollywood.
In an exclusive interview with BlackEnterprise.com, the University of Southern California graduate dishes on remaking the classic film Annie, the importance of social activism in Hollywood and why he’s always conscious about the content he produces.
BlackEnterprise.com: How did the remake of Annie come about?
DeVon Franklin: It was Overbrook, which is Will Smith and James Lassiter’s company, who came up with the idea to do Annie and do it with Willow. As the script was being developed, Willow decided this wasn’t something she wanted to do, so we were trying to figure out what to do and how we could keep the project alive. While we were figuring that out, Quvenzhané Wallis had just got nominated for the Academy Award for Beast in the Southern Wild. We ended up meeting with her and during the meeting everyone said “this is Annie.” [We] said, “You know what, we have to make the movie because she really embodies exactly who Annie is.”
How selective are you in the projects that you decide to work on and what qualities do you look for before you say “yes?”
I’m very selective in the projects that I choose to work on. There is a Frank Capra quote where he talks about people wanting spiritual and moral reassurance when they go to movies and I really believe in that. I really believe that film is a powerful medium, as is television, and content can really shape the way we view the world, the way we view each other and the way we view ourselves. So I’m always looking for content that can do that and I’m looking to hopefully make more movies that can fall in that box where people can walk away feeling better than they were before they watched that content.
You’ve been in the business for years, what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received and who did it come from?
I’ve been in entertainment for over 18 years. I started when I was 18-years-old. I’ve gotten tremendous advice from so many great people, but I will never forget that time during college when I got a chance to interview Quincy Jones. One of the things I was asking him was how do you become well known for what you do and how do you make progress in your purpose and your passion and the thing he said to me is “Do the thing out of your thing and they will come to you.” And what he meant was, so many times we’re focused on the publicity around what we do and not focused enough on what we do. If you become great at what you do and an expert at what you do, people will know about it and they will come to you to keep doing the thing that only you know how to do. That’s advice that I took to heart and I began to see it really take shape over the past few years. As I focus on the work in front of me and try to be of service and make a contribution, people come to me and say “Hey DeVon, can you do this? Can you do that?” And I don’t even talk about it, I just do the work.
Check out Franklin’s career advice and opinion about social activism in Hollywood on the next page.