The Root 100 Close-Up: DeVon Franklin

This movie executive uses faith and inspirational stories to achieve success in life and at the box office.

Courtesy of the Daily Local
Courtesy of the Daily Local

All right, let’s get the really big question out of the way: Those movie stars that DeVon Franklin associates with on a daily basis — Will and Jada and Vivica and Angela and the rest — what are they really like?

Franklin, Columbia Pictures’ 33-year-old wunderkind vice president of production and a 2011 The Root 100 honoree, digs into a seemingly vast store of patience. “They’re all people,” he says matter-of-factly. “Everyone is different.” No hot tips here about this one’s insecurity or that one’s problems with women. “They’re different personalities, with different approaches,” Franklin says in a measured tone.

This leads somehow to a little instructional exposition on relating to movie stars. Do not try to put on an act to get over, he says. “Just be yourself. They respond to that. Lots of times, people try to be something they think they need to be in order to get someone in power to take notice. Be authentic to who you are.”

You could say that those are words by which Franklin lives his life.

In a business known for big, bristly egos, Franklin is generally regarded as one of the good guys — an up-from-the-ranks studio executive who isn’t necessarily in it just for himself or the money and who talks unembarrassedly about his Christian faith. You’re an aspiring filmmaker or a wannabe cinema idol? Franklin’s there for you (if you can catch him during a lull in a very busy schedule), offering advice on “navigating the system.”

And talking about God. In a tough, unsentimental culture, Franklin is usually the one who mentions that he was “blessed” in one way or another or that God meant for certain things to happen. He even observes the Sabbath (“My phone gets turned off on Friday evening”).

Moviemaking is his primary focus, of course. Above all, he wants to help Columbia Pictures put more butts in more seats and make bigger profits, and he has the record to show for it. The three projects he has said he’s most proud of — The Pursuit of Happyness, Karate Kid II and Jumping the Broom — have racked up a combined gross of better than $700 million. Throw in Hancock, the idiosyncratic 2008 superhero film starring Will Smith, and Franklin projects top $1.3 billion. His next big project: A film adaptation of Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent’s runaway best-seller Heaven Is for Real.

That would be enough for most execs. But Franklin approaches his job — and life — with a higher purpose. He wants to make movies that are not just box office powerhouses but are also vehicles of inspiration.