'Heaven Is for Real' Producer DeVon Franklin: Faith-Based Films Bigger than Anyone Anticipated

It’s only been a week since Heaven Is for Real hit theaters, but one of the film’s producers says the faith-based drama is changing the dynamic in Hollywood.

"The success of the film has the industry talking,” says DeVon Franklin, Sr. VP Production Columbia Pictures. “I’m getting calls and emails from everyone in town.”

Heaven Is for Real scored a robust $21.5 million in its opening weekend, good for third place on the competitive box office charts. As of Tuesday, the film is the country's number one box office attraction. Heaven's “A” CinemaScore is likely boosting ticket sales.

“Everyone is realizing there’s a vibrant market out there [for faith-based fare],” the devout film producer says. “It says, ‘yes, we are here. We want more movies like this.'"

“What it really indicates is that it’s touching people’s lives,” he continues. “It’s not like a superhero action movie, it’s not a big CGI spectacle. Our currency is being able to touch people.”

Faith-based dramas like Courageous and Fireproof previously proved profitable despite tiny budgets and modest marketing campaigns. Heaven, starring Greg Kinnear, Thomas Haden Church and Emmy winner Margo Martindale, leverages bigger stars and a $12 million budget for a film that looks every bit as polished as its competition.

The story follows a pastor (Kinnear) whose beliefs are put to the test when his young son claims he saw heaven during a near-death experience. The film is unusual by Hollywood standards for its portrayal of a couple (Kinnear, Kelly Reilly) whose strong faith is an organic part of their lives.

“It was so important to take away the stigma associated with churches and pastors," he says. “We’re all people, regular people, who go through the same issues as everyone else. There's far more that unites us than divides us."

Heaven is gaining box office strength heading into its second weekend. Another film with a strong faith angle, Noah, found its numbers slipping after its opening weekend.

Franklin says it's unfair to compare an intimate drama like Heaven with an action spectacle like Noah, but the latter's international success is "significant" for faith-based filmmaking's future.

The rest of 2014's film lineup includes other films of faith, including next month's comedy Mom's Night Out and director Ridley Scott's Exodus. Franklin is eager to produce more films that touch on faith beyond 2014.

"I want to keep growing, keep expanding, keep telling great stories that can uplift, inspire and change the world," he says. "Hollywood is getting the message and the memo ... [faith-based films] are much bigger than anyone anticipated."

Hearty word of mouth is magic to the ears of any film producer, but Franklin has another audience in mind when he goes to work each week.

"I want to make stories that God will be proud of. That's very important to me," he says.


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