Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Good Heavens! Miracles from Heaven (which I reviewed here yesterday) opened yesterday in 3,o47 theaters nationwide and drew in a healthy $1.9 million at the box office. The film, based on a true story of miracles that include a child’s cure from a devastating illness) and the extraordinary acts of kindness by ordinary, also earned a top-notch of A+ from moviegoers polled by CinemaScore. (More box office info at Deadline)

I recently had the opportunity to talk about the film with DeVon Franklin, a former senior production exec at Columbia who now, as CEO of his own company, enjoys a first-look deal with his former employer. He is among Hollywood’s most powerful African-American producers. He also happens to be openly Christian and an author whose books include the bestselling book Produced by Faith and the newly-released The Wait (written with his now-wife actress Meagan Good).

JWK: How did his story find its way to you?

DEVON FRANKLIN: It came right when the book was being sold to a book publisher…I read it and was like “Wow! This has the bones of not only an incredible story but an amazing film.” I immediately got with my other producers — T.D. Jakes and Joe Roth — and we all evaluated it and we liked it. We took it into Sony. We made a bid to get (the rights to the film) and were successful…We spoke to Christy Beam and the Beam family about whether they were comfortable to with us and with us telling their story. We were the same guys that were involved with Heaven is for Real and so we were looking for another incredible true story to tell. When this came about, it just really seemed that this was (a great choice)

JWK: Obviously, there’s a bit of dramatic license in every movie — but when you’re telling a story about real people , particularly regarding their encounters with God — do you feel a special responsibility to do right by it.

DF: Absolutely, because at the end of the day, I’m going to go on to produce other films and live my life. But this is a movie that will always be a legacy of the family. So, it’s very important to think about ten years from now will they look back on the film and be proud that made the decision to give Hollywood the chance tell their story or will they regret it. And so, for me personally as a producer, I live with that emotion and that emotion is what drives me to make sure — even when we’re taking creative license — that we get the integrity and the fiber of their story correct because it’s their life. While it might be our movie, it’s their life. It’s very important to make sure that their life is rendered with authenticity, integrity and truth.

When you’re living life you don’t think “I’m living a movie.” You’re just doing what you can do to make it from one day until the next.

JWK: I actually spoke with Christy Beam (in an interview I plan to post tomorrow) and she seems very happy with what you’ve done. I understand being in this film has caused her to be more open about her own faith.

DF: She was raised in the church so faith has always been part of her foundation, her growing up…Growing up in the church in West Virginia, faith is always there. It’s part of the fabric of the culture that she came from. So, doing this story was really about her connecting to Christy and connecting to what Christy went through. Coming out of that, she’s been talking about how her children referenced that they hadn’t been to church. And so, she was like “Wait! I gotta fix that!” And so her and her family have been in church every weekend since the wrapping of the movie.

JWK: Being a mother herself, probably also helped her relate to Christy. She really portrayed the emotion of a mother fighting for the life of her child,

DF: Oh, yeah. I think it’s the most…riveting performance of her career.

JWK: Kylie Rogers was also amazing has her daughter who was suffering with illness, going through depression while maintaining her faith.

DF: She’s awesome. You’ve got to watch Kylie…She is so talented. In every scene you saw in the film where she had to deliver the dramatic weight of what was going on, that was her. She was always so in touch with what Anna was going through and what she was experiencing. In between takes though, she’d go from crying to laughing (and asking) “Where’s craft services?! I want more of this and that!” I’d say “Kylie, where’d the tears come from?” She’s like “That’s my secret. You’ll never know.” So, for her to have that kind of talent at this age (she’s now 12), you see it on the screen. It comes through. And she and Jen really had like a mother-daughter bond on set. To this day, Kylie and Jen have a special, unique bond.

JWK: The actor who played her was also really good.

DF: Dr. Nurko was played by Eugenio Derbez. Eugenio, believe it or not, is one of the biggest Latino stars in the world. He wanted to do something different…He’s usually is known for doing comedies. This was kinda the first time he’s don’t something a little more dramatic. To be able to get him in this film was a coup. We really are super-excited about his involvement and what he brings to that part.The real Dr. Nurko is very much like he’s portrayed in the film. He does a lot to make sure the kids feel warn and invited.

JWK: One thing I liked about the film is the way it conveyed the kindness of ordinary people. Even the TV reporter who was covering Anna’s accident seemed to really care. You could see it in the actor’s eyes and how he chose not to grab the mother for an interview when she was going through such an intensely emotional time.

Then there was the ticket agent at the airport who played a fast and loose to make it possible for the family to fly to Boston when there was a problem with a credit card. We don’t know if he was a Christian or whatever but we know that the love of God was at work through him. While the movie is about an amazing miracle, it’s also about the basic decency of ordinary.

DF: That’s right. It think that is what is on display. The quote, unquote, “ordinary person, ordinary family” which actually isn’t ordinary at all. These are extraordinary people. Keeping your family together is an extraordinary feat — especially in the face of great conflict. I think that this film does an extraordinary job of showing that. And. to your point about the reporter, it was a small moment but you felt it. In that character, he’s done a million stories. He gets to the crime scene, he reports. It’s just what he does (but) for a moment he remembers and he’s like “Wait! This isn’t a story. This is her life! Her daughter’s trapped in a tree!” And it completely changes how he handles the end of that segment.

JWK: And he doesn’t try to interview the mother, even though it would make great television. The movie good at getting the small details of life — and of moments of human kindness – right.

DF: Thank you.

JWK: What do you hope theater-goers take from this movie?

DF: I hope theater-goers take from this movie hope, optimism, joy, faith, knowing that they’re not alone, that God is with them and that miracles are real. They’re not just biblical stories. They are real and they are with us every day. We just have to open up our eyes and see them. I hope people will walk out of the theater with their eyes open — and their hearts open too.

JWK: I like that line when Christy says “God is forgiveness.”

DF: Yeah, isn’t that powerful! Very resonant.

JWK: All you’re films seem to focus on bringing out the positive. You don’t leave audiences in the dark or feeling depressed.

DF: I try not to.

JWK: Why is it important to films to give people hope?

DF: Because I feel like you only need one moment of inspiration to turn your life around. And movies and television, these stories (are) such powerful (mediums) because they impact our lives…No matter what you watch, it has an impact. So, why not use this medium to bring great stories to millions of people around the world with the goal of not only entertaining them but inspiring them. That’s what motivates me. That’s why I get up every day. That’s what drives me. That’s my purpose. That’s why I produce. I’ve dreamed about producing since I was a kid.

I was an executive at Columbia Pictures for ten years. I was doing great. My career was on the upswing. But, right then, was when I said I gotta quit. I gotta start my own company. I gotta be on the other side of it because I felt the strong call on my life — to tell stories that, on the face of it, might not look like a commercial movie. On the face of it, how to you get a wide audience to come and see the film? But because it’s my calling, my purpose, I can look at something that others (might not) and I can see the value in it. I can make that film a film that everybody wants to see.

JWK: It’s interesting. From the beginning of the film, because we know something about the true story, we know where the movie is going — but it’s the getting there that holds us.

DF: That’s right. It’s the journey. Isn’t that life? You go through something and you don’t know why…and then when you get through it and you look back you can say “Oh, wow! As much as I didn’t like that I had to go through it, sometimes we have an appreciation of what we went through because of the lesson that it gave us.

JWK: Any thought of doing television?DF: Actually, I’m doing TV in front of and behind the camera. We actually just set up Heaven is for Real as a TV show with NBC. So, we’re working on developing that.

JWK: Has that been picked up as a pilot?

DF: It has not been picked up as a pilot. So, we’re in the process of figuring out how to get that done. We do believe that is a huge television show waiting to happen.  We’re very excited about that.And then I’m doings something in front of the camera. We just shot a pilot for my own TV show that I’m doing. ((t’s a talk show) to help young couples in their lives. I just wrote a book called The Wait with my wife. It’s a New York Times bestseller. I try to use all aspects of media and my gifting and calling to help as many people as I can.

JWK: What’s next?

DF: I have an animated film called The Star. It’s the greatest story never told. It’s about the donkey that took Mary and Joseph to the manger. He was the Nativity’s unsung hero and that will be out next Christmas. So, I’m working on that.I’m also producing — alongside Tom Black and David Blumenthal  — the reboot, or remake or reimagining of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe franchise.

JWK: Are you introducing any sort of spiritual element into that?

DF: I think inherently, when you really look past the cheesiness of the cartoon and the toy, he says “I have the power.” That’s a very spiritual idea — that we are looking and searching for power but if you don’t believe you’re powerful to begin with you’ll never be able to achieve power. So, the notion that we were born all with this innate power and that…the key is to embrace the power within. It’s already there. So, when you see the movie, you’re definitely going to see that explained.

JWK: Finally, what movies inspired you?

DF: Rocky inspired me. The Color Purple inspired me. And Back to the Future. Those are like three films…that really inspire me.

Growing up as the middle child of three boys, I never really felt like I fit and movies like Rocky really inspire me — because here’s a guy who felt like he was a bum and all he was looking for was validation…He was willing to put himself in grave danger in order to achieve that validation. Things like that really spoke to me.The Color Purple (showed) how the power of love could bring two sisters that had been separated for generations back together. Those films really spoke to me, motivated me and inspired me. I think (they) were the seeds that got me excited and interested and wanting to be in Hollywood to begin with.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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