One of the most highly anticipated films of the 2014 holiday season is a new remake of Annie, starring Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhane Wallis. DeVon Franklin, CEO of Franklin Entertainment and former Senior Vice President of Columbia/TriStar Pictures, is one of the main creative executives who worked behind the scenes to help bring this movie to fruition, and he spoke with UF’s Jelani Greenidge about how doing what he does ties into his calling.
JG: Before we talk about “Annie” itself, would you talk for a moment about what your role is like as a producer, for those readers unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the entertainment business?
DF: Yes. The role of the producer is to find content, whether it’s a book or a script or what have you, to sell that content to a studio, and then help develop that idea into a script that a studio wants to make, then to help put that movie together with a director, with actors, and then once that movie is greenlit into production, the producer is there onset every day to make sure that the shots are coming out well, then in post-production the producer works with the director to make sure the movie is coming together the right way, and then in marketing, the producer is also out there helping to publicize the film. So the role of the producer is essential, and the majority of movies that you see at the box office are there because a producer is working behind the scenes putting things together.
JG: That seems like a pretty hands-on process. Is that pretty standard for the role, or are you particularly a hands-on type of manager?
DF: No, producers are traditionally very hands-on, because when you think about all the different roles involved, movie-making is a very collaborative effort, so yes, that’s pretty standard.
JG: So let’s talk about “Annie,” then. I’m excited for the film, and I know that you are, too. Specifically, I saw in a recent interview, you were speaking so highly of the film that you said you wouldn’t be surprised if people left the multiplex feeling good, then turned around and went right back in to see it again. That got my attention, for sure. I was thinking, “This is a man who stands behind his product.”
DF: (laughing) Hey man, it’s true.
JG: But it got me wondering, why remake this film now? Was there something specific about the way it came together in this season as opposed to in years past?
DF: Well you know in filmmaking, timing is everything. Movies sort of have their own time tables, and a lot of times, you might want to make a movie, but the script’s not ready or the talent’s not ready, and you can’t do it right when you want to. So the way this came together felt really organic, the timing of it. The story had been in development for a couple years, but for the script to come in when it did, Will Gluck came in, and he’s such a phenomenal storyteller, then Quvenzhané and Jamie became available, so all of those things just sort of came into alignment to bring this story to life.
It’s also a good time for this kind of a movie to come out, because the themes in the story are just as relevant today for this generation as they were for previous generations.
JG: Was there any one inciting moment that caused you to want to be involved or that sparked the idea? Like, I heard an internet rumor that this movie happened because the Jay-Z “Hard Knock Life” remake was such a big hit, so “they just decided to keep the remake going and do the whole movie.” Was there anything like that?
DF: No, no… that wasn’t the motivating factor. I mean, sure, Jay-Z being involved, Will Smith and James Lassiter, sure, that helped maybe put it over the line, but ultimately, the reason to do it came down to the story, the script. Originally Willow Smith was going to do it, but then she decided there was some other things she wanted to do at the time, so then once Will Gluck came in with a fantastic rewrite, and once everyone read the script, that was the deciding factor in making the film.
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