DeVon Franklin is a well-known Hollywood producer, author, and motivational speaker who has made a name for himself by using his faith and values to guide his work. In a recent interview, Franklin shared insights about his latest project Flamin’ Hot, his views on the entertainment industry, and how he stays true to his beliefs in a challenging industry. From producing faith-based movies to navigating the complexities of Hollywood, Franklin’s unique perspective sheds light on the intersection of faith and entertainment in today’s culture.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): Why was it essential for you to tell this story?
DeVon Franklin (DF): It was important for me because I found it motivational and inspirational. My main thesis in Hollywood and what I’m passionate about is telling authentic stories that can be uplifting and inspiring. When Richard Montañez told me his story about seven years ago, I said “Wow, you know, this is motivating me and it’s inspiring me.” I feel like if it did that for me, it would do that for others.
DDF: You have given a lot of great motivational speeches and written a lot of books. I’ve read some of them and have seen Richard use the “learn to serve” practice. Are there other practices Richard used that you talk about?
DF: Yeah. You know, it starts with service, you gotta serve your way to the top. You have to carry a crown before you wear one. Richard certainly exemplified that. Also, not allowing his job title to dictate his destiny, that was critical. He could have thought “Oh, well I’m just a janitor”, but he didn’t think that way. He’s like, “Well, I might be a janitor today, but tomorrow I could be CEO”. For him to see a vision for himself, that is when he realized his work was essential to his success. That’s one of the things that people may not realize, it’s there in the film in Richard’s journey.
Also, Richard was a joy to be around. We portrayed it in the film that he became an employee of the month once, but he was employee of the month for years because he was working the hardest. He was there for his colleagues and his coworkers. He was there for his factory. My uncle used to say, “Our attitude determines our altitude”. I think people are going to see that in Richard’s story. He had the right attitude.
Another thing is support. He had the support of his wife, Judy, the support of his family, and the support of mentors like Clarence at the plant as well as the CEO, Roger Enrico. That support was essential for him to succeed in the ways that he did.
DDF: What are some of the challenges you faced bringing this film to fruition, and how were you able to overcome them?
DF: You know, listen, making a movie is hard. I had a lot of challenges. One of them was getting the story right. Getting the script right where it needed to be and getting a studio ready to make the film was a challenge.
It took a long time, working on the budget and trying to figure out how we could make the movie that we wanted to make for the money that we were being given to make it. One of the most significant challenges in production was the factory. We had to recreate a Frito-Lay factory that was functional to produce chips, Doritos, Fritos, and Lays. It had to all work.
So it took a lot of engineering on our part from production designers and our art department and our director. That was the hardest thing that we had to do: to recreate an actual factory to the degree that it was functional and it looked believable on film.
DDF: Flamin’ Hot touches on the themes of immigrant identity, hard work, and innovation. How do you hope audiences will receive these messages, and what impact could the film have on viewers?
DF: You know, I hope the audience receives these messages. Well, I hope they receive these messages with enthusiasm and an open heart and an open mind. I do believe this movie is going to have an impact. We’ve tested the film in Los Angeles and Miami. We won the Audience award at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Those things are just indicators that this is a film that is connecting a strong chord with people. I think any of us can see ourselves in Richard; we all, at times, feel like an underdog. We all feel like we are underrepresented and overlooked. Yet, if we don’t let that be an excuse, then we can do great things. So my hope is the audience will take that away and that they, too, will become like Richard.
DDF: What was it like witnessing the chemistry between Jesse, who plays Richard, and Dennis, who plays Clarence, on set?
DF: Oh, it was great. It was great, man. I mean I’ve worked with Dennis Haysbert before on my last film, and he’s a legend. I’ve enjoyed working with him. So when it came to casting, the part of Clarence was top of the list. It was great that he said “Okay, for DeVon, I’ll do it… usually I may not do it, but for you I’ll do it”. And so to see him and Jesse have such chemistry and for them to work together so well, to be able to bring the heart to the movie (and also some humor at times), that dynamic and that relationship was fantastic. It was [based] upon a real relationship that the real Richard had with a black mentor who worked in the factory. That character is inspired in part by real dynamics and a real story with Richard. So it was great to see Jesse and Dennis bring those characters to life.
DDF: This film was directed by the fabulous Eva Longoria. What was your reaction to the finished project, and where do you think her directing career will go after this?
DF: My reaction was one of joy, one of amazement. Having worked on this film for so long, having a meeting with Richard and Judy, hearing their story, to be on set and to produce it, and then to see the final cut, it was unbelievable.
Eva is a phenomenal director. She will be one of the best and is honestly already one of the top directors in Hollywood. It’s just a matter of her continuing to have opportunities to show that. I’ve worked with a lot of filmmakers over my time as a producer. Also, I used to be an executive for Columbia Pictures, and so I’ve had experience with a lot of directors, and she is one of the best I’ve ever worked with. So I think that as far as her career goes, the sky is the limit. I feel like she’s going to only get more prominent as a filmmaker from here.
DDF: What was your funniest memory on set?
DF: Eva would bring her son to set. I think, at the time, he may have been two or three, and there was one time when he wanted to get in one of the boxes at the factory and go down the conveyor belt. So she put him up in the box and he went down the conveyor belt. It was just the cutest thing.
DDF: What is your earliest memory of experiencing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos?
DF: Well, before developing the script and hearing Richard’s story, I had never had a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto. It wasn’t until we started working and started developing the script that I said, “I better try this product that I’m about to make a movie about”. I tried them, and I was like, wow! I understand the hype. They are highly addictive. I had to ration myself and say, “I’m only gonna eat these once in a while because if I make it a habit, it’s not gonna go too well.
DDF: What was your favorite snack growing up since it wasn’t Flamin’ Hot Cheetos?
DF: Man, listen, Cool Ranch Doritos, Twinkies, Zingers, and that kind of stuff that I don’t eat right now. There used to be these apple pies, I can’t remember the name. Mother’s Oatmeal Cookies. I love those, man! So, yeah, those are some of the snacks I used to eat religiously, but what does Maya Angelou say? “When you know better, you do better”. So I had to move up off of some of that.
Check out Flamin’ Hot streaming on Hulu and Disney+ Friday, June 9th.