Is it possible to tell the story of the Nativity in a way that engages the whole family without watering down the Biblical truth? Many films have tried and failed. Not so with "The Star." This animated film combines a star-studded voice cast—including "Tangled" star Zachary Levi as Joseph, Gina Rodriguez as Mary, Oprah, Kelly Clarkson, Christopher Plummer, and more—with a unique point-of-view.
"The Star" focuses on a small but brave donkey named Bo, who yearns for a life beyond his daily grind at the village mill in Nazareth. One day, he breaks free and goes on the adventure of his dreams. That journey doesn't go as planned, but it leads him to Mary and Joseph. Along the way, he and the animal friends he makes become the accidental heroes in the greatest story ever told - the first Christmas.
Even though it's a Christmas story, the entertainment value of "The Star" remains year-round. It's a charming animated film in the vein of "Prince of Egypt," and parents and children alike will enjoy themselves even if it's February instead of December.
Faith Family America spoke to "The Star" producer, Devon Franklin—a renowned preacher and motivational speaker—about the movie, his future plans, Christian filmmaking, and being Christian in Hollywood.
How did you feel about the reception of The Star?
I feel great about it. I was excited and grateful that people saw it and enjoyed it. I just ran into a couple earlier this week in the elevator, and they were like “Oh my goodness, we love "The Star." It was the first movie we took our little one to.” It was fantastic, and it was a great opportunity to be able to make the movie.
Do you think you’ll make more animated movies?
Oh yeah, definitely. I already have one in the works.
Why is it important for Christians to support wholesome films?
I think it’s important because, at the end of the day, what you decide to watch–what you vote for—is literally what Hollywood does more of. So I think that if there’s a real desire, on the part of Christians, to see more content that they can take the family to, it’s important for them to support the content that is [already] out there.
Why is it important for there to be Christians in Hollywood?
I absolutely believe that it’s so important because entertainment is one of the most influential mediums in the world. I do believe that when we’re part of it, we can actually make change for the better. What better way to influence culture and help shape hearts and minds than being part of the entertainment industry.
What’s it like being Christian in Hollywood? How do you maintain a virtuous life in the midst of the Hollywood lifestyle?
I don’t believe that Hollywood presents any greater challenges than any other industry. We can only be tempted by what we want, so all of us experience temptation because there are certain things that we may want from whatever industry that we’re in. If we don't have those things, we may be tempted to take shortcuts or do things against our integrity to achieve what we want. I don’t believe that me working in Hollywood is any different than that. My focus is to stay clear on why I’m here—clear on my intentions— by praying, seeking God’s will, and putting in excellence. That means doing my best to be excellent, study the craft, learn the craft, be a great partner, and try to take advantage of the great opportunities that God has brought me.
You and your wife wrote a book called “The Wait.” Why do you think being chaste is important?
We wrote "The Wait" based on our experience of waiting until marriage. It was a blessing that created a foundation for our marriage. So we really wanted to put something out there that could help singles and couples. We get so many people coming to us, asking for advice on how to navigate the dating space, and it’s so difficult. So we wanted to write "The Wait" as a way to share our story and hopefully help people. We’re so grateful for all of the testimonies that we’ve gotten from around the world as to how much the book has helped people.
Were you surprised by all of the sexual harassment allegations that have come out since Weinstein in October?
Oh yeah, definitely. It surprised so many people. Every day more stories come out. I think it’s deeper than [failing to stay chaste]. My next book I’m going to be dealing with this issue. I think yes practicing the wait is apart of it, but I think it’s deeper. I think there’s a lot of soul-searching that men have to do to really get to the root of this issue and what can be done to resolve it.
Do you have any advice for other Christian movie makers out there who are trying to get a secular audience interested in a Christian message without making the Christian message too vague or watered-down?
Look at it differently. You got to go back to the Bible. The Bible is the foundation of our faith, and it’s the foundation of our storytelling. The Bible pulls no punches. I would instruct any filmmaker of faith to go back to the Word and look at the Word. The stories in the Bible have stood the test of time because they’re so visceral, and they’re so real. I think that it’s important for any content that we make to be as compelling narratively and emotionally as the Bible. Sometimes, I think, when it comes to faith-based films, there is this idea that we need to kind of make it “safe” or sand down the edges. I don’t believe that. I think that anyone aspiring to make an impact in culture has to tell the stories that God has instructed them and do it to the very best of their ability.
A lot of Christian films fall flat. Why do you think that is and how can you avoid that?
You got to get back to good storytelling. You have to create great characters that people can relate to; you have to give them great conflict, and you have to earn the resolution that ultimately the characters experience. I do think that sometimes people look at movie making and think “Oh that’s easy. I can do that,” but I believe it’s so important to put ourselves in the situation where we don’t take that for granted. I’ve been in Hollywood for a decade, and I’m still learning to be a better filmmaker. I’ve had a lot of training—a lot of hours upon hours of script development and notes. That ultimately helps me become a better producer. I think it’s important for any filmmaker of faith–whether you’re a writer, producer, or director—to invest time in the craft. Work at being the very, very best that you can be. I think that will help elevate the quality of the content we are able to create.
Can you tell me about your next project "The Impossible"?
It’s a true story; a miraculous true story about a mother named Joyce Smith who prays her dead son back to life. Chrissy Metz, one of the stars of "This is Us," is going to star as Joyce. We’re starting production in Winnipeg at the end of March, and we’ll be shooting there in the cold. This is my live action follow up to "Miracles from Heaven," and if you liked "Heaven is Real" and "Miracles from Heaven," I guarantee you’re going to love "The Impossible."
Why should families go see "The Star"?
The themes and the entertainment value in "The Star" are evergreen. I think that if you’re looking for a great movie to see with your family, I would encourage you to get the digital copy or get the DVD. I’ve seen the movie play with so many different families all over the country, and I’ve heard families tell me it’s the first time they’ve been able to watch a movie with their entire family. Your kids will laugh; you’ll cry. It is fantastic. I would definitely encourage you to get it. The digital is out now, and the DVD comes out the end of the month.
"The Star" comes out on DVD on February 20th.