'Miracles In Heaven' Producer Hopes His Faith Sells Films
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The new movie, "Miracles From Heaven," is one the industry calls a faith-based film. "Risen" and "War Room" are others. Christianity does seem to be doing pretty well at the box office. And producer DeVon Franklin is making the most of a faithful audience. But as NPR's Andrew Limbong reports, Franklin doesn't need movies to be preachy.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: He's got that already covered with his side gig.
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DEVON FRANKLIN: Why is it important to celebrate your God?
LIMBONG: This is Franklin preaching at one church in Los Angeles.
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FRANKLIN: Because you've been going through hell all week long.
The same year my father died was the same year that my uncle, Dr. D.J. Williams, started our local church, an independent ministry called Wings of Love. And that was the church that I really grew up in and really got more exposure to the gifts that I had, the talents.
LIMBONG: Like preaching. And he says the church taught him other things, too - discipline, accountability, dressing well. These are things he brought with him to the movie biz - that and faith. Quick story - at 23, he had a good job as an assistant at a production company called Overbrook Entertainment. Overbrook was co-founded by Will Smith, the actor. He worked his way up from an intern trying to climb up that ladder to be a producer, but he got stuck. There was no more up to go.
FRANKLIN: And I quit. I put in my two-week notice. And they were, like - what are you doing? Where are you going? I'm like, well, look. I said I can't tell you faith works if I'm afraid to try it.
LIMBONG: The first day of unemployment, he got a job offer from Sony as an executive. Since then, he's had a hand in movies like "The Karate Kid" remake, "Annie," "Heaven Is For Real." That last one is a faith-based movie starring Greg Kinnear. It came out in 2014.
PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: 2014 was the so-called year of the Bible in film.
LIMBONG: This is Paul Dergarabedian. He's the senior media analyst for comScore. That's a company that keeps track of the media market. He says 2014 is when we started seeing a bunch of faith-based movies pop up, a trend that's been growing.
DERGARABEDIAN: The movie industry is actually getting behind the idea of creating content for a vastly underserved audience, which is the faith-based audience. And most recently, we've seen it with "Miracles From Heaven," which is doing quite well at the box office. It's a very profitable movie.
LIMBONG: "Miracles From Heaven," which opened about a week ago, is about a little girl with an intestinal disorder. The doctors don't know what's wrong. But her mom, played by Jennifer Garner, doesn't take no for an answer.
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JENNIFER GARNER: (As Christy Beam) She's not lactose intolerant. There's - there's something wrong with our little girl.
ZACH SALE: (As Dr. Todd Blythe) Mrs. Beam, you need to calm down.
GARNER: (As Christy Beam) No, you calm down. You find me another doctor. You run some more tests. I'm not leaving this hospital until I know what's wrong with my daughter.
LIMBONG: Both Franklin and Dergarabedian agree. Just because there's faith and religion in a movie doesn't mean it's going to do well.
FRANKLIN: People go to the movie theater for entertainment. And if they can come out inspired and motivated 'cause there's an entertaining story that can do that, fantastic. People go to church for preaching and faith. If you go and you treat a movie and your whole agenda is to preach, usually, you're only going to get a certain segment of people.
LIMBONG: Speaking of certain segments of people, Franklin's a black man making movies at a time when race is a big issue in filmmaking. Despite all the talk, he sees little change in his side of the business.
FRANKLIN: I don't see it changing. No, I don't - you mean, like, right now do I witness change? No. No, I think it's the status quo. It's been that way, unfortunately, for as a long as I've been in the business.
LIMBONG: Franklin says he's doing what he can to change that, like hiring Mexican director Patricia Riggen for "Miracles." Everything Franklin does, he does to try to get a wide appeal. His preaching, his movies. He's got a book out, too, that promotes waiting until marriage for sex. It got media love from Christian and mainstream outlets. Franklin says his key to making it is just a bit of self-awareness.
FRANKLIN: Be OK with not fitting in any box and just being who we're created to be and two, being authentic in those spaces. And you can't be authentic unless you own who you are.
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