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DeVon Franklin: Being Adventist Makes Career Sense in Hollywood

“Is there anything else you’d like to share?” asks the job interviewer. A college-age DeVon Franklin makes a quick, silent plea to God: “I’ll tell her about the Sabbath—after I get the internship.” But then something makes him relent. He states his commitment to not work between sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, because of his Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. In response, he hears the relief-giving words: “We can work around it.” 

“This laid the foundation for everything. Since then, [the Sabbath] has never been a problem,” says Franklin, now in his thirties. He is the vice president of production for Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, so “everything” encompasses a lot. As his website shows, Franklin has participated in making films such as The Karate Kid, The Pursuit of Happyness, and Jumping the Broom. He has worked with Will Smith, Angela Bassett, and T.D. Jakes. Franklin also helped produce Whitney Houston’s last movie, Sparkle.

“Growing up, I thought we were ‘can’t-ventists,’ ” Franklin relates. But he later learned that “integrity sets you and me apart.” Franklin was raised in Oakland, Calif., where working for the non-profit Oakland Citizens Committee for Urban Renewal (OCCUR) led to his career-changing internship. “You have no idea that what you’re doing now sets you up for your future,” Franklin says. Against the well-meant advice of church members, Franklin followed God’s path for him: the streets of Hollywood. Franklin attended the University of Southern California, earning a bachelor of arts in business administration, and a minor in cinema-television. During his junior year, word of Franklin’s work at OCCUR eventually earned him a new job: intern for Will Smith and James Lasstier, which began his film career.

“My faith gives me a competitive advantage to really help people,” Franklin says. For some, the “evils” of the film industry seem incompatible with a Christian lifestyle. Franklin thinks that’s wrong. “I would go to church and be taught ‘faith and works’ and then hear that I can’t go into the film industry and be who God wants me be.” He wondered, “Am I supposed to be faithful or fearful?” The now-studio executive stepped forward in faith, and found that “faith works, but you have to embrace it.”

An Adventist advantage applies in Hollywood, too. “Being brought up as Seventh-day Adventist has brought me more opportunities,” says Franklin. “People respect the power and the courage to take a stand.” The studio executive tells about a Sabbath showdown while filming The Karate Kid in China. “It was the first movie I oversaw by myself. We were in Beijing, China, and we hadn’t finished shooting by sunset.” Franklin was the only Sony representative on the site. “If I compromise [my beliefs] now, where does it stop?” he asked himself. “I love Sony, but I love God more.” Franklin called it a day. “The movie didn’t blow up—but it did at the box office,” he says. That Sabbath, he was reading the Bible in the Olympic Village, when he got the idea for a new project: a book, Produced by Faith.

“You are the star of your own story,” believes Franklin. According to his website, “Produced by Faith uses the process of making a movie to encourage you to fight for your dreams and to never give up on your faith.” Franklin leads readers from “The Big Idea,” through “Development Hell,” and “God’s Green Light” to a successful, Christ-centered life. “God has a plan to direct a hit out of your life, when you let him produce your life,” Franklin says. In addition to his work in film production, he is also a preacher and a motivational speaker.

“My life ain’t sanitized. Because it was hard, this makes the victory even greater,” says Franklin. When he chooses movies to produce, he doesn’t limit himself to a rating. “I focus on content, on virtuous material,” the producer says. He makes sure that questionable content is “not gratuitous, not over-the-top, and serves the story.” “Integrity sets us apart [from others],” says Franklin, who teaches others how to use their integrity to best advantage—in this world and the next.

He quotes Methodist evangelist D.T. Niles, “I’m just one beggar trying to tell other beggars where to find bread.” But Franklin is using a megaphone and his own life.

Franklin is not the only Seventh-day Adventist working in a mainly secular industry, of course. For example, Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt, a Spectrum contributor, attracts notice for his refusal to rehearse between sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. He does conduct concerts on Sabbath, in part because he considers performances to be expressions of his commitment to God.

True—doing something as “irrational” as not working one day a week, in a 24/7-work-week culture, draws attention. But it also makes career sense: it shows commitment to spiritual values in an industry that values profit more. What aspects of Adventism would best show integrity? There are 28 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventism. What would it look like to live out other sacred values in the public eye of the secular world?

Taking a stand may mean taking the Sabbath day off. For DeVon Franklin, it specifically means turning off his BlackBerry and calling it a wrap. Despite his success in the spotlight, he’s still waiting for the ultimate hit. “In heaven, with a premiere in eternity, I want others to look at the screen of life, and I don’t want to say a word,” says Franklin. “I just want to point at the screen, which will say, Produced by Faith.” And that’s his successful take.

DeVon Franklin spoke to the Pacific Union College community on Thursday, February 26, 2012.

—Midori Yoshimura is an English and Spanish double major and Honors student at Pacific Union College.

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