Exclusive: Producer DeVon Franklin Talks Gathering Star Studded Talent For ‘The Star’

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Exclusive: Producer DeVon Franklin Talks Gathering Star Studded Talent For ‘The Star’
Posted by Wilson Morales

November 20, 2017

Currently in theaters from Sony Pictures Animation is their anticipated faith-and-family film The Star, which tells the story of the first Christmas through the eyes of the animals who witnessed it.

The voice cast has an impressive star-studded list that includes Gina Rodriguez (Mary), Zachary Levi (Joseph) and Oprah Winfrey (Deborah) and Tyler Perry (Cyrus) and Tracy Morgan (Felix) as the three camels, Steven Yeun (Bo the donkey), Kelly Clarkson (Leah the horse), Aidy Bryant (Ruth the sheep), Keegan-Michael Key (Dave the dove), Kristin Chenoweth (Mouse), Anthony Anderson (Zach the goat), Gabriel Iglesias (Rufus the dog), Ving Rhames (Thaddeus the dog), national radio personality Delilah Rene (Elizabeth), Patricia Heaton (Edith the cow), Kris Kristofferson (Old Donkey), and Christopher Plummer (King Herod)

A small but brave donkey named Bo (The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yeun) yearns for a life beyond his daily grind at the village mill. One day he finds the courage to break free and finally goes on the adventure of his dreams. On his journey, he teams up with Ruth (Aidy Bryant), a lovable sheep who has lost her flock and Dave, a dove with lofty aspirations. Along with three wisecracking camels and some eccentric stable animals, Bo and his new friends follow the Star and become accidental heroes in the greatest story ever told – the first Christmas.

Directed by Timothy Reckart, the screenplay is by Carlos Kotkin, with a story by Simon Mooreand Carlos Kotkin. The film is executive produced by DeVon Franklin, Brian Henson, and Lisa Henson, and produced by Jennifer Magee-Cook.

For Franklin, this is his first animated film that he’s producing. Having worked as a studio executive at Sony’s Columbia Tristar Pictures for years, some of the projects that he worked included The Karate Kid, The Pursuit of Happiness, Jumping The Broom and most notably, the sleeper hit Heaven Is For Real.

Through the company, DeVon most recently produced the hit inspirational film Miracles For Heaven. Starring Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah, the film was made for just $13 million and has earned over $73 million to date. Franklin is also a New York Times bestselling author and just released his 3rd book The Hollywood Commandments.

Blackfilm.com recently spoke exclusively with Franklin as he talked about finally getting The Star made and getting some big names for the film.

Can you talk about putting together this film?

DeVon Franklin: This is one of those projects that’s been in the works for a long time. I’ve been passionate about doing an animated film based on a Bible story but we had another project that we had set up with Sony Animation. Once we got that project to where we wanted it to be, we couldn’t get the script there, so we put it on the shelf and tried to figure out how can we still move forward in this area? Years ago, when I started as an executive at Sony in 2005 we were developing the script for The Star. So, myself and Kristine Belson, who at the time was running Jim Henson’s company and is now the head of Sony Animation, remembered the script for The Star. We thought about going back to that script. It was a great opportunity to bring to life a project that we held very dear and now was the right timing to bring it to the world.

Is it difficult putting together an animated film and selling it to producers?

DeVon Franklin: As the producer of the movie, it’s not hard. It’s just a tedious process. When you’re looking at doing animation, we have been working on this project in some form for a couple of years. It’s one of those things where you have to stay in it everyday. Overall, it’s a very collaborative process because you have the storyboard artist, the writer of the script, the director, the studio executives and it truly is a village to bring these movies to life. That’s why when you see animated films and there are so successful at the box office is because there is a community feel. Animation brings people together and that same process that bring people together, the theater, is mirrored behind the scene.

What was more of a challenge, getting the voice actors or structuring the story so that all ages can understand it?

DeVon Franklin: It’s a slow process when you talk about these films. One of the ways you want to bring it to life is the cast. We put a lot of time and energy to try to find the right cast. The first person we got on board and I was so grateful was Gina Rodriguez. She’s a friend of mine and I asked her, “Hey, we’re making you an offer for the role of Mary. We hope that doesn’t feel like typecasting because of ‘Jane the Virgin.'” She laughed and thought it sounded great and read the script and was immediately in. That really helped up put the rest of the movie together. We got Steven Yuen as Bo the donkey, Zachary Levi as Joseph. He just actually landed the lead part in the big superhero film Shazam that Warner Bros. and DC Comics are doing.

Then we wondered how can we continue to build this momentum and thought about who can get to play the camels that carry the wisemen to Bethlehem in the film. What about getting Tyler (Perry) and Oprah (Winfrey)? I was so blessed that they would allow me to be their associates. So I reach out to Tyler and said, “Hey man, I have this animated film and it’s the story of the first Christmas but from the animals point of view. Would you be interested?” He thought the concept was awesome and said, “I’m in. No problem.” Then I went to Oprah and said, “Oprah, this is my first animated movie. This is what it is. Would you play a camel?” She hit me back and was like, “Ok DeVon, for you I’ll be a camel.” She did a phenomenal job and we were looking at how to round it out and Tracy Morgan said, “You have Oprah and Tyler, and I’ll be the third camel.”When you see them in the film, they are just fantastic. Then we got Anthony Anderson to play Zach the goat, one of the stable animals with Patricia Heaton and Kelly Clarkson. Putting together a film with the voices is one of the significant things of doing an animated film.

What is so important is that all of these stars have come together and when you talk about Mariah Carey, who wrote a song for the movie. She wrote it with Marc Shaiman and they are just brilliant. They both came together because of their passion for the story. When you hear Mariah sing the song, it’s one of the most inspirational songs that you will hear. When you look at what she did and Kirk Franklin coming on board to do a remix of “We Three Kings” and Yolanda Adams doing a new interpretation of “Oh Holy Night,” it’s just everyone lending their talent to do an original song for the movie. Every year, there is a conversation about Christmas being more commercialized and I do believe that The Star is the origin story of Christmas. It really put the real reason back into the season. It really focuses on the birth of Jesus but from a different point of view and I think that was the opportunity that so many of these stars wanted to be a part of.

Why do you think we have seen more success come out some faith based films, regardless of who’s in the cast?

DeVon Franklin: I think there is a desire for uplifting entertainment or inspirational entertainment and entertainment that you can bring the entire family to. I also think that the people that are going out to the films want hope. In watching certain TV shows like This Is Us and the power of that show, it’s all about hope and family and inspiration. It’s about fighting through hard times and making it through. When you see entertainment and the success of these films, it’s just confirmation that there are millions of people that want more content like this. My commitment as a producer is to help provide it as often as I possibly can.

Congrats on your third book The Hollywood Commandments: A Spiritual Guide to Secular Success.

DeVon Franklin: Thanks, The Hollywood Commandments: A Spiritual Guide to Secular Success is basically the top ten lessons I learned from working in Hollywood from a 20 year career that can help anybody in any walk of life become successful. I really wanted to write that book as the manual for how to and here’s you do it. A lot of people want to talk about the what and why of success but very few people want to teach the how to do it. I wrote these ten commandment for success to help anybody to realize here’s the path to success that many people are dreaming of and have the desire but don’t necessarily have the tools to do it. This book would provide the necessary tools.

How do you find the time to relax when you are producing movies and writing books?

DeVon Franklin: This is myself. We all have a moment to maximize in this life and I’m just trying to maximize mine. In between talking about the book and prepping my next film or working on my TV shows, I just spend time with my wife, I work out do the matrix on Melrose by Don Matrix. He’s an awesome trainer. He also trains the Kardashians and Kanye West. I spend time with my family. We do Sabbath dinner. I do find time in between the madness and the hustle to make sure I’m staying connected and rejuvenating myself. I feel compelled to put some positivity and light in the world as much as I can.

With so much competition at the box office and on TV, what’s good reason for folks to come out and see The Star?

DeVon Franklin: The Star is all about what the holiday season is all about. It puts the real reason back in the season. This is a movie you can see with your youngest all the way to your oldest of your family. The way that the audience has responded is with clapping and cheering. I do believe The Star is the inspirational event of the holiday season and I have no doubt that every family that goes out to see it will enjoy it and will be inspired.

Official Trailer

Vignette – Meet the Stable Animals

Vignette – Meet Mary & Joseph

The Music From THE STAR

Clip – Charades

Clip – Chew Him Free

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