In January 2015, the lives of the Smith family changed forever. 14-year-old John Smith was playing with his friends on a frozen lake when the ice gave way causing the boys to plunge into the icy water. John spent a full 15-minutes submerged; too long to survive. When he was recovered and pulled from the lake, he had no pulse. He was rushed to the hospital where the staff continued to do everything in their power to revive the boy; however, after 45-minutes, nothing had worked. It was then that his mother, Joyce Smith, entered the ER for a moment alone to say goodbye to her son. Strong-willed and refusing to let him go, she stood over his lifeless body and prayed for his soul to return. Miraculously, the machines began to register his pulse.
This is the remarkable true story on which the new film Breakthrough is based. As the film’s synopsis says, Breakthrough tells, “the incredible story of one mother’s unfaltering love in the face of impossible odds.” Chrissy Metz (This Is Us) leads a phenomenal cast including Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Mike Colter, Marcel Ruiz, Sam Trammell, and Dennis Haysbert in this emotional must-see film.
Roxann Dawson (The Americans) directs with the script penned by Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds). Award-winning film and TV producer, best-selling author, renowned preacher and spiritual success coach DeVon Franklin (Miracles From Heaven) produced the film. We recently had the incredible opportunity to screen the Breakthrough and speak with Franklin ahead of the film’s upcoming release.
Denise Caputo: Thanks so much for speaking with me today. I had the opportunity to screen the film over the weekend, and it was honestly just fantastic. The fact that is it’s all based on a true story about this young boy being brought back to life through the power of faith – that’s just remarkable. Talk to me a little bit about the real-life family behind this film. Have you met them and how did this story become a film?
DeVon Franklin: It’s my pleasure! Yes, I met the family while I was promoting my last live-action film which was called Miracles from Heaven starring Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah. It was amazing. I was on this program promoting that film, and there was Joyce Smith, John Smith, and Pastor Jason Noble appearing on the same program. They were there telling their story. When I heard their story, I said, “this is unbelievable.”
Joyce was talking about how she prayed her 14-year-old son John back from the dead after he fell through a frozen lake. That story was so amazing to me that I just knew that I had to bring it to the big screen. From that moment, I went to the family, met them after the program was over, and we talk. I told them that if they were interested, I would love to help them tell their story in the form of a book and a movie. They were interested, and I helped them get a book deal and then I also help them produce the film. From the moment I met them and to this day, their story completely resonates with me, and I believe it’s going to resonate with audiences all around the world.
DC: I believe that as well. The film is incredible, but I can’t imagine it was an easy task to tell the traumatic true life story of this very real family. What were some of the challenges you faced making this film?
DeVon Franklin: Every film that gets produced is truly a miracle. Let me tell you; it’s so difficult. Every single film and this film was no exception. Every film has its challenges. For this particular film, one of the biggest challenges was shooting on a frozen lake and needing to shoot that sequence before the ice melted. That presented a major challenge of how to do that and how to recreate John falling through the ice. We needed to shoot on an actual frozen lake.
We also had to do some tank work where we shot in underwater tanks. One of the tanks we shot in was a big very deep tank, one was a shallow tank, and we had to mix in visual effects. That was truly one of the most difficult parts of making this film. We wanted to get it to look authentic. Also, we had to make the film in about 30 days, so we had a little bit of time.
It was one of those things we just went on faith. It was amazing that we got the incredible cast that we got and our amazing director. Then, we were able to successfully shoot on the frozen lake before it melted. I think that is what adds a lot to the production value of the film.
DC: Did you say you shot the entire film in 30 days or just the scenes that were on the ice and in the tanks?
DeVon Franklin: No, the entire film
DC: Really? Wow. That’s crazy, but that scene looks so authentic. Even though I knew that was coming, it was still such a shocking moment, and the entire audience gasped at that moment. Kudos on that scene.
DeVon Franklin: Oh, good. We worked hard on that. I love it. I absolutely love it. That’s fantastic. We worked really hard to get that reaction through sound and the cut of the film. So, I’m glad to hear that it got you out of your seat.
DC: It did! In addition to that amazing scene work, let’s talk about the cast. First, it was like Chrissy Metz was born basically to play this role of Joyce. She did such a fantastic job. Then, on top of that, Topher Grace was phenomenal as Pastor Jason, bringing some humor into balance the drama and emotions. The film also stars other phenomenal actors like Josh Lucas and Mike Colter to name a couple. Tell me how that cast came together. Was Chrissy the person who you envisioned in that role?
DeVon Franklin: Yeah. She was the first choice from day one. We knew she embodied the power, the vulnerability, and the empathy that was required for that particular part. It was truly amazing when she decided to sign onto the film, and she is just amazing. When I was talking with the studio before making the film, they were very clear with me. They said, “if you get Chrissy Metz, you have a movie. But if you don’t, you don’t.”
I agreed, so it was truly a blessing that she agreed to do it, and when you see her in the film, as you have, she is just so powerful, and transformative. It was amazing how her preparation time, and being on the show [This Is Us] completely aligned with us in making this movie. Her timing and our timing just perfectly collided and I do believe audiences are going to be blown away by her performance.
DC: Absolutely. The first scene with her in the hospital praying over the son’s body; oh my goodness! She was just phenomenal. That scene was so impactful and tremendously emotional.
DeVon Franklin: Yes! I agree. When we shot that scene, it was truly a powerful moment for everybody. I mean seriously. It was unbelievable seeing what Chrissy did on set that day. She was so vulnerable, so open and just went for it. I don’t know that I have seen an actor do that in a very long time; Being that open and that vulnerable to make that moment as real as it is.
DC: Right! I think the performance of the cast is part of what raises this film to the next level in the faith-based genre. I found myself reflecting upon recent trauma in my own life while watching. It’s one of those films where the audience can find some way to connect on a personal level with the characters regardless of their beliefs and their faith. In addition to telling the real story, what were some of the hopes you had on how this film would be received by audiences and what message did you want to send?
DeVon Franklin: Wow. The true story already had the message in it. Through doing the movie, it was an opportunity to amplify the messages that were already present, and there are so many messages. The big message is that love wins. I believe that movies have the ability to inspire and change our life. I think that films like Breakthrough can be transformative because, so often, while we are going through the day-to-day, we’re frustrated, depressed, angry; things aren’t working out the way we would like, and we all need hope. We all need to be inspired. Joyce and John’s story will inspire people to have hope again; to believe again; to remember that there is power in love, and power in prayer.
Whether you are of faith or not, at the end of the day, this true story will unite everybody and bring people into a revelation that they matter and that even if we have differences, we can still be with one another. I think the movie does a great job of reminding us of all those things.
DC: I agree 100%. Now, in addition to being in the film industry, you are also an accomplished author among other things. You have a new book out recently called The Truth About Men. Tell me a little bit about it and what prompted you to write a book like this?
DeVon Franklin: What prompted me to write the book is that I just wanted to do something to help. I see that there is so much pain out there especially in the lives of women because of us as men not doing our work and sometimes saying one thing and doing another. I just really wanted to write a book that would inspire and motivate men and to show how we can lead in love, and how we can become the men we were called to be. I wanted to give women information along the way too. I don’t think it is possible for anyone to be successful with something they don’t understand. I believe this book gives women an understanding of who we are so they can better navigate their feelings with us [men]. For men, I think it absolutely gives us a path on how to operate in love, lead in love and live in love.
DC: Awesome. Here at Fan Fest News, we celebrate all the things that we love as fans in today’s pop culture world, whether it’s music, film, television, books, anything like that. What are some things that you love about today’s pop culture, or what are some things that you love as a fan?
DeVon Franklin: I like to go to Rumble Boxing. It’s a boxing gym that a that they have out here in L.A., and also in New York, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. I love to do that. That is a good stress reliever and a lot of fun. I love to go to the movies. My favorite movies are Back to the Future, Rocky, and The Color Purple. I could watch the whole Rocky series back-to-back; every single installment of that incredible franchise.
DC: Okay cool. Lastly, is there anything else you want our readers to know about Breakthrough or do you have any other upcoming projects that you would like to share with our readers?
DeVon Franklin: Yes, I want your reader so to go see it! (laughs) The film opens Wednesday, April 17th, just in time for Easter. I have no doubt that it is going to blow them away and that they’re going to be inspired. We have been screening the film as part of our grassroots campaign. I have been screening it since last summer all through fall and now spring. Let me tell you; audiences respond to this film like no other that I have been a part of. I can not wait for more audiences to see this movie. They are going to have to bring their kleenex. This is a kleenex and a popcorn film for sure.
Yes, bring the kleenex indeed! Thank you, DeVon Franklin, for speaking with us about this unique true story and incredible film. Breakthrough will have you feeling all the feels, and believing that nothing is impossible. The film opens in theaters on April 17th.