A Conversation with Breakthrough Producer DeVon Franklin

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At Plugged In, we spend a lot of time talking about the themes and content in the movies we review. But occasionally, we also get a peek behind the curtain at what goes into making some of those films, too.

Today we’re talking to producer, author and motivational speaker DeVon Franklin about the latest film he’s produced. It’s called Breakthrough, and I’m going to let DeVon tell us a bit more about the story for those of you who may not be familiar with it.

Adam Holz: Good morning DeVon. Thanks for carving out some time for us today. Your latest film, Breakthrough, rolls out in theaters nationwide on April 17. Tell us about this dramatic movie’s plot.

DeVon Franklin

DeVon Franklin: Sure. It’s a true story of a mother who prays her son back to life after he died falling through a frozen lake. The story just happened a few years ago. John Smith was 14 years old and went out on a frozen lake, the ice began to crack, and he fell through the ice. He was trapped underneath the ice for 15 minutes with no oxygen. And when they pulled him up, he was dead. They took him to the emergency room, and they tried to revive him for another 45 minutes. They could not do it.

They go to his mother. And what was amazing is that when they asked her to come into the emergency room to say goodbye, she said, “I’m not going to do that.” So, she goes over to her son’s feet, and at that time he was dead, his feet were cold. And she puts her hands on his feet and says, “Holy Spirit, bring back my son!” And next thing you know, John Smith, her son, got his heartbeat back. That was the beginning of an incredible, incredible miracle and miraculous recovery.

Holz: Wow. DeVon, sometimes when I watch movies based on true stories, I’ll have a response something like, “Well, that seems real, but I’ll bet they took some dramatic liberties.” Does this film depict what happened pretty accurately, would you say?

Franklin: Yeah, it’s definitely a true story. Not inspired by, but based on. So what you see in the film, and how it happened, is definitely how it happened in real life. And what’s amazing is that the real family has seen the film, and they think we did a great job portraying the accuracy. The real doctors have seen the film, the nurses, the hospital staff, everyone, the firefighters—we’ve screened this film for all of the real people involved in this movie, and it’s amazing to see how accurate they think that we got it.

Holz: There are some pretty big names involved with this film, both in front of and behind the camera. One name our Plugged In audience may be familiar with is Chrissy Metz of NBC’s hit drama This Is Us, who plays John Smith’s mother. Tell us about how she got involved with the film.

Franklin: You know, Chrissy … was the only choice for the movie. The studio was very clear with me, that either we got Chrissy Metz, or I didn’t have a movie. She was just the perfect choice of somebody whose star is rising, she’s so talented. She’s never done a movie before, and the role of Joyce Smith just seemed perfectly suited for her talent. I met with her, and we had a good meeting in terms of [talking about] the script. And after reading the script, she said she wanted to do it. We were all blown away. And when you see her performance in this film, oh my goodness, she’s just a revelation.   

Holz: Yeah, she’s remarkable to watch. You know, another big name involved with this film is Golden State Warriors basketball superstar Stephen Curry. Tell us about Stephen’s involvement and what role he played here.  

Franklin: You know, Steph is a good buddy of mine, and he wanted to get into film. And we met before starting production on Breakthrough. He told me that he really wanted to do a movie that had faith, family and sports. I was like, “Hey, you know what? Read [the script for] Breakthrough. John Smith is a basketball player, there’s a family dynamic, and it has faith. And if you’re interested, I’ll make you an executive producer.” So he read the script within 24 hours, and it was amazing that he came back and said, “I’m in.” I made him an executive producer. And it’s just been a blessing to bring him onboard the Breakthrough team. In the same way he has an all-star team with the Warriors, I wanted an all-star team with Breakthrough to get this message out.

Holz: DeVon, you’ve been involved with a number of other successful Christian movies in the last few years, including Miracles From Heaven, Heaven Is for Real and The Star. Tell us a bit about what your role as a producer entails in helping bring stories like these to the big screen.

Franklin: As the producer, I kind of liken my role to a good host. I’m just trying to put the party together. And once you’ve got the right people in place, then the party kind of takes a life of its own. And so with this particular film—not even this film, all films—my role is finding the idea, putting it together with the right writer, putting it together with the right director, and really trying to do a good job of stewarding the story, and of making the right choices that are going to bring the story to life in the best possible way. As a producer, that’s really my goal on the front end.

Then on the back end, my goal is to go out there like I’m doing on Breakthrough and be a good ambassador for the movie, to beat the drum for the movie, to spread the word about the movie, and to hopefully [encourage] the Church to come out and support it.   

Holz: What would you say is the biggest challenge in the process of making and marketing a faith-based film?

Franklin: So many people have a preconceived notion about a film, you know, coming from this particular genre before they actually see the movie. So one of the biggest challenges—you have a huge [hurdle to] overcome to get people specifically oriented with the story that you’re telling, and not allowing them to say, “Oh, that’s a movie from that genre, I know what that story is.” And so that requires a lot of early screening, it requires a lot of social media, it requires a lot of outreach to different influencers in this space. We put it in front of as many people as we can so that people in the space start to see the film and say, “Oh, I got it. This is different.” And so the more that we do that, especially when you have a film that people connect to, the more you’re able to break down people’s preconceived notions of what they think a movie from this genre will be.

Holz: So it sounds like there’s really a process of overcoming stereotypes in some ways.

Franklin: Right. Without a doubt. Even from people of faith, as well.

Holz: If our readers are interested in seeing Breakthrough, why is it important that they try to get to the theater on the first weekend if at all possible?

Franklin: Because the first weekend is everything. The first weekend determines the eventual success of a movie. And not our movie, every movie. The ultimate success of a film at the box office is calculated based upon the strength of opening weekend. So it’s very important to go out and see Breakthrough starting Wednesday. That’s because when we do that, we let the Hollywood know that we want more films like this, that these are the type of movies we want to see, we also lay the foundation to basically have a vote in the culture.

Anything that we see, anything we stream, anything that we buy is a vote for what we want to see more of. People come to me all across the country and say that they want more uplifting content, they want more inspirational content. Well, the only way to get it is to vote for it. And it’s very important to vote for Breakthrough when the movie comes out Easter weekend. Don’t wait. Go Easter weekend, then go again. And even if you can’t go, buy a ticket. Let your voice be known through supporting this film.

Holz: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our Plugged In audience today with regard to Breakthrough?

Franklin: That it’s a powerful film. It is incredible, inspirational entertainment. It’s a true story that will really transform you. I’ve been screening the film for months, seeing the response by people as they watched this film, and people had breathroughs as they watched the movie. So I’m excited for people see this film, and I believe that it’s going to be a positive experience in your life.

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