Film executive, author and preacher Devon Franklin has made his mark on Hollywood over the last few years, working on blockbuster films ranging from Will Smith’s Pursuit of Happiness and Seven Pounds to Pink Panther 2.
After releasing his book, Produced By Faith, he appeared on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday Lifeclass and has continued to gain notoriety for his disarming and genuine way of talking to people about God, faith and purpose. Devon wants the world to know that embracing your faith is the key—not an obstacle—to living your dreams.
Last June, Devon’s nuptials with Meagan Good, a popular actress and fellow believer, made headlines. The two had pledged to be celibate before they met and when news of their commitment to wait until marriage for sex hit the press, all eyes were watching. Devon later said that he had been celibate for more than 10 years prior to marriage! As a minister of the gospel, he said that it was important for him to live by the same principles he taught.
Now, he and his wife are one of Hollywood’s “IT” couples and rising Hollywood stars. She was recently the star of the NBC drama, Deception and Devon is hard at work on summer movie releases. Check out this intimate talk we had with Devon. His insights on ambition, success and finding your purpose are timely, insightful and refreshing. We also hit some controversial topics such as how “Christian” a movie produced by Christians has to be.
GT: What types of things do you do in your role as film executive?
Devon: In a nutshell, I look for movies to make that the audience wants to go see.
My job is to find scripts and books that will make great movies and then to develop those scripts and books to the place where they are ready to get produced. Then, I oversee them in production all the way through marketing and distribution.
Part of the task is having a good sense of what the market wants and then the other part is to have the skill to be able to develop movies that can actually be good enough to get made.
GT: That’s interesting. What is your back story? You’re originally from the San Francisco bay area. How did you discover this journey for yourself?
Devon: To a degree, it was discovered for me. I always wanted to make films.
From a young age I was just enamored with The Cosby Show and always liked Back to the Future and Rocky. I used to think, “How are they able to do that? How are they able to create images that provoke such emotion?” I was so compelled by what I saw that I had a desire to be part of it, but I didn’t know about how to get into film.
No one in my family was in film and I had no friends in film, so I just knew that I had to get to L.A. I ended up going to school in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California and started interning during my freshman year.
When you’re getting started, it’s about being in the business and interning and starting from the ground up; working long hours for no pay. It began to give me an understanding of what the business was and then it gave me the confidence to know that I could pursue it. As I pursued business opportunities, I really began to see even more the necessity for God and the more success I’ve had, the more I understood that it’s because of Him.
There have been instances, I talk about them in my book, that, but for God, would not have happened.
GT: Devon, so many people are trying to discover their own passion and to figure out how their skill and their passion can connect for them to embark on a certain career path. What have you learned about connecting passion, skills and what you do every day to make a living?
Devon: That it is one of the reasons I wrote this book. I learned that if you can converge all of those aspects of your life, that’s when you find true power, peace and purpose. But, sometimes we don’t believe we can actually connect to a career that’s going to be fulfilling. Sometimes, out of necessity we take a situation that is about making ends meet. There’s nothing wrong with taking that job to make ends meet, but don’t lose sight of where you’re going. Don’t lose sight of where you want God to take you.
My number one goal has been to operate in my purpose and to help people. So, no matter what I do, everything that I’m doing is to service that one goal which is why I was created—to help people. By having that singular goal and focusing on it, it helps me harness everything that I am and everything that I do. So, whether it’s a book or a sermon or a movie—they all have that DNA because that’s what God called me to do.
GT: I can imagine that along the journey from growing up to being an intern to where you are today, there have been seasons of time where you didn’t feel like you were exactly in your purpose or, like you were saying, you were working here but still had your eye on where you were going. Talk us through what some of those times were like and what’s the mental conversation we need to have with ourselves when we are in those seasons.
Devon: Part of the mental clarity and the mental point of view that you have to have in those seasons is that you just have to realize that when we go through difficult times, it’s only temporary. You have to say, “Okay, I may not be where I want to be. But that doesn’t mean that where I want to be isn’t coming.”
There have been some serious moments where I’m just like, “Who am I? What am I doing? I’m going down the wrong path in life. I don’t see it happening.” There have been moments that were so intense but what helped get me through was to just get perspective: it’s only for a moment. You know what I mean?
In the moment, we have to ask, “What am I going to take out of this experience? Why is this situation coming to me? What do I need to learn? How is this moment here to prepare me?”
There was a time where I really wanted a promotion and I wasn’t promoted at that time. I thought I should be and I was angry about it and I just felt like, “Oh man, I’m not where I’m supposed to be. I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do.”
I’ll never forget—I was 30 years old [Devon is now 34] having this conversation with my boss, who was President of Production. He told me, “Man, when I was your age, I was in a dead end job. If you’d have told me where I would be today, I would not have believed it.” He told me, “Dude, stop being so hard on yourself. You’re great. You have a lot of talent. Just relax.”
There I was, talking to my boss, President of Production of one of the major studios and his words gave me perspective. I was getting angry and upset with myself because I had put a time limit on myself that no one else had put on me. It really helped me get the right perspective. I said, “Alright, this is just for a moment. Let me focus on what I can and let me do the things we need to do now and trust and have faith that God is at work on my behalf and that there are things that are coming which will bring me something that I need.”
GT: You graduated in the top 1% of your college class. That’s an amazing accomplishment. You talk about your drive and ambition a little bit in your book. As Christians go, drive and ambition are qualities that we look at with a little bit of suspicion because we’ve seen people run towards things that don’t honor God or ignore what God wants to get what they want.
When should we use ambition to run towards a vision or passion that we have for our lives and when should we rest in the providence of God?
Devon: Let me try to answer that right. Here’s the thing, there is nothing wrong with ambition, okay? We serve an ambitious God! God was so ambitious about his children that He sent Jesus to die on the cross so that as His children we might have an opportunity to gain eternal life. That’s an ambitious God!
When Jesus came, He was ambitious about reaching people, ambitious about meeting people’s needs. If He wasn’t ambitious, then He would have spared His own life but He didn’t. He went out to the lost and preached to the lonely. He preached the gospel to those who others thought were not worthy of it. He healed people as others said, “Oh, you can’t do that!” Jesus went because he was ambitious, right? He was ambitious about His purpose because He knew what He was called to do. He knew that he was there for only a short period of time and He wanted to reach as many people as He could.
So you figure, if He started the ministry at 30 and went to the cross at 33, He really only had three years to impact the world. But, because of what He did in those three years, we’re still talking about Him today. Jesus was ambitious about doing His Father’s business.
So, number one, it’s okay for me to be ambitious—but what I have to do is really allow God to show me what am I being ambitious for. What are my ambitions bringing me? The Bible says, by their fruits you will know them so when you are ambitious about your own thing and you have selfish ambition, that isn’t the right kind of ambition. But, when you are ambitious about being what God called you to be and you know what He called you to do, then there’s an urgency to your purpose and that is the best of all worlds!
What I had to discover for myself and come to peace with myself about is that I’m an ambitious guy. I wake up in the morning and there’s a lot that I want to do. There are a lot of things that I want to accomplish. What was happening was that before I wasn’t praying about it; before I wasn’t asking God where He fits in it. For a very long time I was in the movie business and I didn’t know why. I knew that I wanted to make movies to help people but I never asked God, “Well God, is this what you want me to do? Do you need this project? Is this a project that’s going to bring you glory?” I wasn’t asking these kinds of questions.
So as much as my heart may have been right, you know my intention was messed up because I wasn’t really checking my ambition with Him to make sure that what I was pursuing was in line with His will. Once I began to get clarity about what His will was for my life, it gave me more confidence to understand my ambition and to know what my ambition was about.
Now I see that I’m not just doing it for me but I’m doing it because I know there are people to be reached on His behalf and part of my purpose is to reach those people. I’m ambitious about reaching as many people as I can to help inspire and help make their lives better and to help people who don’t know that faith works and that God is real. I want people to know Jesus, and I’m ambitious about delivering that message.
GT: So, you end up in the top 1% of your class. Your boss tells you that you’ve got lots of talent and that you’re doing a great job. I also hear an echo of excellence that you’re committed to. A lot of times Christians have lofty goals and we want to make an impact, but what have you learned about how—like the story of Joseph—sometimes just doing a great job grants us influence?
Devon: Yes! This is a fantastic question. It is where I think so many Christians miss it. Yes, you have to pray. Yes, you have to read the Word. Yes, you have to believe in God but, like James said, faith without works is dead. Part of your works to find real success is that you have to be excellent in your work.
Look at Daniel—he’s a brilliant example. He was basically given an internship in Babylon but he said look we can’t do it the way that everybody else does it: we have to eat differently. But we’re going to show you that us eating differently will show that we can do our work with excellence and better than anyone else in the kingdom. So they applied their spiritual life to make their work that much more excellent and it was because their work was excellent that they were able to excel in the most secular of environments.
This is critical. I run across so many people who grew up in the church and some of them don’t have a clue about having a strong work ethic, making your work excellent, researching, becoming fantastic at what you do.
If you say you want to do something, learn as much as you can about it: interview people, soak it up, become an expert so that by the time an opportunity is presented you’re ready to take advantage of it like it’s your job. You’ve got to approach your job with excellence. You’ve got to get in early. You’ve got to know what the needs of your boss are. You have to become an expert at anticipating what your boss needs and meeting it before it even happens. When you are excellent at your work and then you put the spiritual overlay on top of that then you’re unstoppable.
GT: What is a quick example of how that principle has worked in your life?
Devon: One that comes to mind is back during my internship. Some of the things that I did as an intern included going for coffee, remembering people’s coffee orders, copying scripts and making sure no pages were missing. Doing the files, then re-doing files! Going to people’s desks and saying “Hey, what can I file for you today?” or saying, “I’m going to Starbucks. Can I get you a coffee?” When people let me help with their projects, I approached each of those projects saying, “Okay, I’m going to the utmost to make sure the project is done with integrity and excellence.”
I had done all that work right and then one night I lost my boss’ car keys. He drove a drop top Mercedes Benz and I had driven him out to one of the awards show. When he came back to get in the car and go home I couldn’t find the keys! I never did find the car keys; he had to get a spare key. I felt sure I was going to lose my job. He didn’t even want to talk to me. I was thinking my whole career was over.
I wasn’t sure whether I should go back to the office or not, but no one called me, so I decided to show up. Months later, I was talking to one of the assistants and they were saying that after all that had happened, that my name came up and he said, “Didn’t I fire Devon?” She went, “You wouldn’t have fired Devon. You love Devon! He does great work!” He answered, “Yeah, you’re right.” In the end, what happened was that because the work was where the work was supposed to be, the work spoke for itself.
There was a time when he was going overseas and we were helping him get ready and the Holy Spirit impressed upon me to pray for him so I just said, “Do you mind if we pray with you before you leave?” He said, “No problem.” So we got in a circle and we prayed, and he went on and we found out later on that very few people had ever prayed for him in his life. The work laid the foundation for everything else.
A lot of times we want more out of our careers and more out of our lives, but we have to be willing to work for it. If you are not meeting the need of whomever you work for then they are going to be less inclined to help meet your need. If you’re ambitious and you want that promotion, you want your boss to help you, but if you’re not doing your job to help them to do their job, they aren’t going to help you. It’s just not going to work.
That to me is a small example of something that came to mind that might help articulate that point.
GT: When the Lord does allow you a certain platform—a certain level of success and influence—what are you supposed to do with that platform?
Devon: You’re supposed to model integrity, to help people navigate their life, to help people understand what it really takes to find success and true peace. Everybody picks their platform and uses it in various ways, but for me the platform that I stand on is about helping people. It’s about being real and being transparent and it’s really about showing that there is a way that you can live life where you can have peace, find success and excel. You can do it without it consuming who you are or without losing who you are in the process.
I try to use my platform to reach a generation that is searching for answers and guidance. I want to help point people in the right direction. I don’t know it all and I am still walking my walk and learning every single day, but I’m happy to share what I have learned to date because I believe that it works. So for me and my wife, our platform is fundamentally about helping and inspiring people, modeling real success and showing people how they can attain it in their own lives.
GT: That’s great man. Have you seen how sometimes success, money, influence, and being popular or famous begin to drive people and change who they are? If so, what kind of things do you do to combat that influence on your own heart?
Devon: Man, it’s about maintaining perspective. It’s really one of the reasons why I wrote my book, Produced by Faith. If nothing else, when the reader reads it, I want them to take away:
- That faith works.
- That God is real.
- To give them a perspective through which they can view their own life.
For me, it’s all about perspective. It’s all about putting on a servant mindset. God has allowed me to serve, and with every success, and with every increase in the platform, or when I get connected with new people or get new opportunities, it’s like, “Okay, Lord, I know you didn’t give me this just for monetary gain or for fame.”
What is fame? Fame is nothing unless it is attached to purpose right? So I really try to stay focused and saying “This is priority. Here is what it’s about. This is why I’m here. Here is the purpose behind it.”
When there are opportunities that come up but don’t line up with my purpose, I don’t it. Part of it is just to have the discernment and the wisdom and the discipline to know that as you start to become more successful and people start bringing you more things, that just because they bring it to you doesn’t mean that you have to do it.
GT: You’ve got a lot of years in front of you but I’m sure you’ve thought some about the legacy you’d like to leave once you put it all down. Once you walk away from the Hollywood game, what are you striving to leave as your legacy, your imprint?
Devon: I’m really striving to leave a model of the divine power of faith. I really want my legacy to be that when people look at me they can say, “Wow, faith really works. God is real.” At the end of the day that is where I want my testimony to be and my hope and my prayer is that I can just live in such a way where that is a reality. I pray that as opportunities come and as projects get produced and books get written and sermons get preached, that the collective body of work will leave a rich legacy where generations to come will still be able to feel the power of it.
GT: Let’s talk about Hollywood and faith. When we see different movies being produced, say Sparkle, which I know you had a hand in and other inspirational movies—not as a Hollywood guy—but as a Christian critic of film and culture, what do you think Christians ought to take from those theater experiences?
Do you think that we should support it because it’s moral or do you think that we should just treat them like any other movie? Is there any reason why we ought to get behind those kinds of things any more than let’s just say Tom Cruises’ next movie?
Devon: I would say yes! It’s about purpose right? So, if you’re on the same team and your team is playing, you are going to go to the theatre or you’re going to tune in because you want to support your team. So I believe when you see movies or shows and things like that that line up with what the team is about then we can all support it, absolutely! I believe that wholeheartedly. The more that there is support, the more quality, the more frequency of projects will be produced.
GT: When you go to see a movie like Fireproof you know you are going to hear the Gospel message in that movie. Some Christians go to see inspirational movies like Jumping the Broom or Sparkle thinking, “Wow, I’m going to hear the Gospel presented in this movie,” because Bishop Jakes did this movie. I’m curious to hear your perspective on that.
Devon: Take Jumping the Broom for example. You can choose to make a movie that’s going to “preach to the choir” or you can try to make a movie that can still represent the songs of the choir but instead the voice of the choir reaches others who may have never gone to hear the choir.
So, in a movie like Jumping the Broom, the main character had a dilemma. She had a problem and a behavior in her life that she was trying to correct. She kept finding herself in the same predicament so she decided, “I’ve got to get God’s help on this.”
So, she turned to her faith to help her overcome behavior that was destructive. In the movie, God answers and sends her the man that she wants to be with. During the course of that movie they both are faced with conflicting issues and forced to answer, “how much are they really going to fight for love?”
Late in the movie when Laz’s character, Jason, makes a mistake and when he couldn’t find his fiancée Sabrina, he says, “I have to turn to God.” So what did he do? He prayed and God answered.
So while there may not be an altar call in the movie, when you actually step back and you look at it, it is very much an affirmation of faith and it very much points people to things they can do in their own lives to get some help they need.
I absolutely believe that it’s something and the type of movie and the type of movies that the audiences should support and do it with all enthusiasm. Again, the more support that there is, the more that will be made and the broader the variety of films that will be able to be produced about faith. Similar to what the Bible says, the gospel is supposed to go out to the world. So, having the opportunity and the ability to produce projects that can echo the gospel is important.
GT: What things do you see churches doing or Christians doing with media that are exciting and encouraging to you? What kind of things are coming down the pipeline that are exciting?
Devon: I see, especially in film, a lot more people getting into Bible stories that technically are great that are going to be some of the biggest movies in the future. I see that happening.
On TV, Mark Burnett’s mini-series on the Bible was fantastic. The GSN network is doing the American Bible Challenge game show, which is really great.
We have big movies like The Blind Side or The Pursuit of Happyness being produced at the highest level with the biggest stars. The greatest filmmakers are doing films that are uplifting and inspiring. So, I see an increase in not just Bible-based material but movies that have inspirational content.
With all that’s going on in the world and the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis, providing more entertainment options that are inspirational in as much as they are escapist, is important.
GT: You preach. You are a minister. You write. As you look forward at your life and the many different things that you enjoy doing, what sort of things are ahead for you?
Devon: Right now it’s all about continuing to grow and expand and build. God has truly blessed me and given me the opportunity to build this message that He’s put in me and the audience that He intended it for. So, my goal is to continue to grow and scale the message and influence.
I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I definitely want to continue to make films, to write, to preach. I just want to continue to move closer and closer to my purpose, why I was created and to have the greatest impact I can on this culture.
We’re in difficult times but this is the time for faith and hope to help as many people as we can.
Let’s do what we can do to help speak into this generation. Let’s use our platforms as a way to help people find a healthy productive path in life.
This article was originally printed in our Spring 2013 digital issue.