Nicole Franklin: Renaissance Woman of the Media Arts
Public Speaker, Filmmaker, Educator, Writer & Web Host
About Nicole Franklin
When you look at Nicole Franklin's breadth of professional work, it is clear why she is a renaissance woman of the media arts.
As an award-winning filmmaker, television director, stage manager, editor, educator, public speaker, web series host, as well as a contributing writer to The Good Men Project, Toronto publication, By Blacks (www.byblacks.com), and the online news service from NBC with a focus on African American news events, NBCBLK (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk), Nicole is on top of her career in the media capital of the world, New York City.
Franklin's company, EPIPHANY Inc., has been producing independent films for numerous cable networks including Showtime, BET, IFC, Nickelodeon, Sundance Channel, The Documentary Channel and now FUBU TV for several years.
Her credits include The Double Dutch Divas!, Journeys In Black: the Jamie Foxx Biography, Kids Around the World, NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, Black Enterprise Business Report, and CBS News. And her current educational films include, Gershwin & Bess: A Dialogue with Anne Brown.
Nicole's award winning 10-chapter film series, Little Brother, is distributed by Third World Newsreel, and airs on FUBU TV. The series is a recipient of the Foundation to Promote Open Society/Campaign for Black Male Achievement Award, fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, and is co-produced and directed along with colleague, JAi TIGGETT.
Her affiliations include, Directors Guild of America (DGA), Producers Guild of America (PGA East), IBEW, The Black Documentary Collective (BDC), DV Republic, New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) and she is founder of the Producing EPIPHANY Club and The PINK Media Club.
Most filmmakers will tell you that making a film is a labor of love because of the amount of time one spends with the project. A film can take years to make. One of Nicole's next film projects is one that is near and dear to her heart, and is inspired by her documentary, Gershwin & Bess: A Dialogue with Anne Brown.
The screenplay is titled BESS, and follows the life and times of Anne Brown. Nicole spent time with Ms. Brown in Norway getting to know about the lady who inspired Gershwin. Nicole grew fond of this very independent trailblazing woman who led a fascinating life.
Anne Brown possessed a pure soprano voice, and literally put the Bess in Porgy and Bess by inspiring George Gershwin to expand the character’s part in a folk opera that was originally to be called Porgy.
Brown, who shunned life in America because of the racial divide that made life so dismal for people of color, moved to Oslo, Norway in 1948 after a European tour.
She would later say in an interview,“If I had been born even 20 years later I might have sung at the Metropolitan Opera,” she mused. “I might have marched for civil rights. I would have been here [America] for that. I would certainly not have lived in Norway, and my life would have been very different. Of course, I would not have met Mr. Gershwin, and that would have been a shame.”
Perhaps it was Nicole seeing a little of Anne Brown's spirit in herself, and likewise, Anne seeing the same in Nicole, that made for a great chemistry in getting the story to film.
Nicole says of Brown, "Anne has touched my life as a filmmaker immensely. I was a young woman who from the start was set on showing the world how unpredictable and unstoppable we are."
Another aspect of Nicole's work is with her EPIPHANY Inc., the co-parent company of Midnight Media Capture, LLC, a web event channel for the independent storyteller. She hosts a weekly web forum, An EPIPHANY Conversation, a global discussion among the inspiring people behind incredible stories.
With her growing professional accomplishments, Nicole is also a sought after public speaker at colleges, professional conferences, and corporate events.
Her expertise in the media arts allows her to share insights about developing productions, and target marketing for success.
This is what Cynthia Primus, CEO of the Institute for the Development of Education in the Arts (IDEA), has to say about Nicole,
"As a grassroots arts education nonprofit the importance of utilizing social media to extend the reach of our brand message is the difference between staying in the game and becoming obsolete. Nicole Franklin has been a guiding force in helping IDEA effectively navigate the true benefit of our social media platforms.
Her expertise and insightful guidance, along with her sincere and genuine desire to direct us toward success, has given us the tools to stay the course in this uncertain economy."
Nicole Franklin has accomplished much with a career that seems to have no boundaries.
Q&A with Nicole
Q: You have such a varied professional life as a news editor for a popular network morning show; an award winning filmmaker; stage manager; television director; educator; public speaker; and as a web event host. Which came first for you, and was it just a natural progression for the work in each medium? Did one thing just lead to the other?
A: Yes, Jacquelyn of all trades and master of...??? Actually I grew up wanting to produce stories that reflected the Black people I knew. I enjoyed The Jeffersons and Good Times, sure (I grew up in the '70s and actually loved '70s television). I tip my hat to the Norman Lear era of dare-to-go-there sitcoms. But I thought, maybe we could have a drama once in a while and storylines where our settings and stories didn't have to be so extreme. We still have yet to have a successful Black drama on network--not cable--television. And now that we've jumped into the age of multicultural casting, we may not have that chance. I feel it’s amazing and awesome to witness more of who we are as a melting pot reflected on screen. But I digress. If I wasn't going to succeed in being a performer (my original dream since dancing and piano lessons started at the age of three), storytelling involving a broader scope of African American life, through the small and large screen, was my goal.
I grew up in St. Louis, MO and went to the state school in Chicago, IL for college. While there, I was told by my advisor, "Nicole, if you want to be a producer, you need to write, write, write." So I wrote for the school newspaper, which led to a group of us starting our own newspaper and me co-authoring a column with my best friend. I wrote for corporate communications and marketing departments and any other opportunities the University of Illinois (UIC) offered.
For my senior-year internship, I was placed in an ABC-affiliate in the middle of the state of Illinois to learn all aspects of news production. I figured I’d take it. My father is a retired print journalist and I did want to get into television any way possible. The news seemed like a viable option at the time. While on the internship and hanging out in the promo department, the young woman who worked there and later became a good friend offered, “Should I teach you how to edit?” I said, “Sure! Why not?” And, that was it. I found a skill as a television news editor that would allow me a freelance lifestyle and support my dreams—literally. I was able to purchase a home because of news television networks keeping me employed. I am extremely grateful. I’ve worked for a couple of national news networks, actually, and all who were in my department supported my dream of being an independent filmmaker/television and content producer/director. So I am able to take a hiatus every once in a while to work on a film and come back to a work shift since the news is 24/7. Editing news, which means assembling footage for a story decidedly and very quickly, taught me everything about filmmaking. Story is the key. Through my work as a freelance news editor, I get a chance to practice story structure and select climactic moments and the build up to those moments, every day. And within the places where I’ve been fortunate to work, I’ve learned from the best.
Q: Was there a natural progression?
A: Sure thing. My career is a product of music and dance lessons early in life, and a supportive family who encouraged the pursuit of my passion: Producing art that balances out the cultural landscape of on-screen images and stories. The subjects I work on could only be developed outside of the Hollywood system, it seems. So do I have to be versatile with all of the roles I’ve taken on? You bet.
Q: How did your career as a news editor come about? Are there many females and African Americans working in that field? How has doing that work enriched your professional career?
A: I’m surprised that not too many African American women are editing news, but when I meet editors in other areas of post-production who are talented and cool under pressure I definitely suggest they consider the option. News production is not for everyone, but I can say once you feel comfortable in getting news on the air you’re a very strong member of a team of some of the most talented people you’ll ever meet. We do not always have optimal conditions and the news is not always pretty. But you have each other and one hand cannot work without the other. The bonds you make in these particular workplaces may last a lifetime. They have for me and I am grateful for every one.
Q: Who were some of your influences in deciding to become the person you are today professionally?
A: My influences were people who do not have big names, but they’re large personalities to me. Family members including the late Pelagie Green Wren, my talented cousin who was my dance teacher and the go-to dance instructor of Black ballerinas and jazz/tap artists in the 70s and 80s in St. Louis, MO. She had an interesting story of discrimination of her own—death threats while a young chorus line dancer herself, but she was so fair-skinned, those who wished her harm could not even tell where she was in the lineup. I also have cousins in Harlem I spend time with today who grew up in classical music, with careers in opera. To hang out with them and their talented colleagues who sing in spite of decades of opera houses not providing a healthy amount of lead roles for soloists of color just inspires me to do more.
Q: You host a weekly web forum series called, An EPIPHANY Conversation, a talk show that I find quite fascinating. How did that series come about?
A: An EPIPHANY Conversation, or #EConvo (Playlist available at www.YouTube.com/NicoleFilms) across social media, is a reflection of my curiosity. And the Google Hangout platform makes it possible. There are subjects I like to talk about and people who I want to hear from—on both sides of the pond, as they say. These are international conversations. Our world is too small if we only focus on what’s going on between the East and West coasts. Africa is an entire continent, and more than just kidnappings and safaris. What can we learn from each other? How does the casting process of an actor in Denmark resemble the repertory-style work ethic of independent artists who bypass the cattle calls and form communities to commit to each other’s success here? What is considered welfare in the UK compared to subsidies for single parents no matter what the circumstances here in the U.S.? Social conundrums and how we address these and heal as advised from voices around the globe are my teaching tool of choice. And, through the #EConvo series I selfishly get to explore new stories and perspectives while expanding the audience for my media offerings as well. #EConvo’s are a win for everyone, I hope.
Q: You are the Executive Producer of an award winning documentary series, Little Brother. What award(s) have the series won, and what's the series about?
A: The Little Brother documentary series is a very special one. We launched in Camden, NJ as a 10-chapter anthology of young Black men and their thoughts on love. Our first chapter is titled Little Brother: Things Fall Apart. My company EPIPHANY Inc. is the executive producer with myself and J. Tiggett as producers, who set out on a whim to see if filming Black boys in a different light during that crucial age of middle school would break the stereotype of young men being background players, thugs-in-the-making and void of the ability to love another human being. The format of ten chapters in 10 different areas of the U.S. gives a broad perspective, for sure. And I knew when I asked J. to come on board that I would need help from the beginning as well as strong writing skills for our marketing materials, grant applications and the basics of the treatment that we would make revisions on from time to time as well (there’s a lot that goes into film making aside from picking up the camera and a microphone). These chapters take a lot of planning, thinking on our feet and outreach when they’re complete. We filmed our first chapter in 2010, and we have since stuck to our goal of producing one chapter per year. Our most recent installment is our fifth chapter, Little Brother: Manchild in the Promised Land, set in Tucson, AZ. We began that one with a recreation scene by members of Arizona Heritage Tours, informing the boys present and all who are watching that in some parts of this country, some of our cities and municipalities are the product of migrating soldiers and conquistadors. Thus the full story needs to be told alongside the slave history that is often told or told incorrectly.
We have five more chapters to film and have some celebrities with whom we’re in discussions to direct some of the remaining films. It’s an exciting time. And we’re honored to have received such awards as the Brooklyn City Council Citation for “outstanding citizens” who give “exemplary service to their communities” (two years in a row), the African American Leadership Initiative’s Community Service Award from the United Way in Union, NJ, and a nice infusion of financial support for our outreach work from Foundation to Promote Open Society/Campaign for Black Male Achievement. Educational distributor Third World Newsreel (www.TWN.org) distributes our series and we are currently airing on the newly launched FUBU TV (www.FUBU.com). There is no excuse to not have the voices of our Little Brothers somewhere in a viewing audience’s media library. Little Brother is “a conversation that will save a generation” and we mean that. We have incredible community screenings, town halls, and educational events where the films and public discussions lead to welcome discoveries. Who knows what’s next?
Q: You have a biopic film project that is very special to you about the life of Anne Brown, Bess from Porgy and Bess, and the voice of the iconic song, Summertime.
Why is this film project so special to you?
A: BESS is currently the screenplay I am in the beginning stages of casting and developing, all the while inspired as this work is a tribute to my friend, Anne Brown. This talented soprano from Baltimore, Maryland had a major role behind-the-scenes and on stage in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, one of the most performed operas of all time. Porgy and Bess is an American opera focused on Black life, which, after its debut in 1935, is still rare even until today. There is the historical angle that that makes Anne’s story one I have to tell. There is also the engaging tale of a woman in love, but always a singer first, that provides the internal struggle familiar to anyone who seizes the opportunity to live to their fullest potential. The reason this project is special to me is because of the request from Dr. Samuel Floyd and The Center for Black Music Research to interview Anne and get her story on record, which resulted in the documentary film Gershwin & Bess: A Dialogue with Anne Brown. Also, there was a commitment without any idea how we would pull off a feature film by producers Barbara Meyer and Hanna Hemila who loved the idea of Anne’s story so much they made filming in Oslo, Norway, Anne's adopted home, possible. And they were essential in helping to formulate a long-range vision for this film. The talented artistry of director of photography Henry Adebonojo, the generosity and expertise of our Norwegian crew led by Anne’s best friend Barbara Lee-Odegaard and Beate DeCoste who was the production manager I only knew because her husband happened to be my friend who happened to live in Norway. I mean so much inexplicable magic happened from the first shoot, not to mention the generosity of associate producer Dina Daoud coming on board to make it possible for my return for a second and third shoot. So many gifts surrounded the documentation of Anne’s life, that there was no way I could not tell Anne’s story. I’m all in. When you hear her personal journey you’ll see that she was all in as well. There’s no half-stepping here. From my new Norwegian family of Finn Sæthre, Barbara Kay and Per-Erik Holmquist and the audiences here, particularly the Black audiences, who raise the roof in applause and appreciation from just watching a trailer of what our final narrative feature could be…Anne has touched my life as a filmmaker immensely. I was a young woman who from the start was set on showing the world how unpredictable and unstoppable we are. It started with my first film The Double Dutch Divas! I am honored and humbled that I continue this mission through my work on BESS.
Q: With the recent commercial success of African American films like Selma, 12 Years A Slave, The Butler, and Django: Unchained, do you see more of an opportunity as a filmmaker to get the stories you would like to see made being financed and backed now, or is this just a current "Hollywood" trend?
I say continue the trend. Yay for the trend of financing more Black films. But when the commercial screenplays get more layered, edgy and nuanced and audiences continue to fill the seats (no bootlegging—this is business!), then I’ll pay more attention. Right now, I have stories in me to tell. I have already been at this a number of years so I may have 15 more years in me to get out a few features, direct some plays and get some use out of my DGA membership and direct some episodic television here and there hopefully? (smile) I think Hollywood is going to be catching up with the media makers of color and the audiences we are building out organically. It’s a natural progression.
Q: What's your favorite film of all time; and, what movie has caught your eye most recently, and why?
A: This is a tough question. I can tell you my love for cinema expands from old Hollywood musicals where we did or did not appear (Singin’ in the Rain being one of my favorites in that category), to more dysfunctional character portraits rooted in love like Little Miss Sunshine, even commercial comedies like Bridesmaids, to so many independent filmmakers of color whose raw and unspoiled storytelling is celebrated in the film festivals focusing on “urban” fare that we are fortunate to have in existence. My list of African American cinema that is memorable and must-see is dominated by the documentary films my friends and colleagues, especially members of the Black Documentary Collective (https://www.facebook.com/blackdocumentarycollective), have produced and directed. We’re actually publishing an online catalog of our work soon, so audiences everywhere can request screenings of such gems as The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords, Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock, Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, In Motion: Amiri Baraka, Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band, and so many others. On the narrative front, directors Mira Nair, Jane Campion, Paul Thomas Anderson, Amma Asante, John Sayles, Ron Howard, Darnell Martin, Steve McQueen…and many more have influenced my appreciation for reworking a story from pages of a screenplay to motion (moving) pictures. As you may be able to tell from the list of directors, character drives story. Once the first opening moments of a film’s characters have captured your imagination, you’re in.
Q: How do you feel about the recent small screen successes on TV shows with African American female leads such as, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and Sleepy Hollow?
A: I’m not surprised at all about the talent on screen and behind-the-scenes of the television shows with African American female leads that are ratings champions today. It was inevitable. I’m also enjoying Being Mary Jane very much and am a fan of what Mara Brock Akil has accomplished all of these years. Let’s keep these executive producers, showrunners, writers and directors supported and employed. Any one of the aforementioned shows are ones which I’d be proud to direct an episode. They all are incredibly fun with moments that stay with you and keep you coming back the following week!
Q: When you go around to colleges, schools, and to corporations to speak, what are your talking topics, and what is it you hope people learn from your words?
A: So far, consistently, I have had the pleasure of speaking to audiences—both younger and the more mature set--about navigating my career and removing any obstacles from pursuing my passion. That’s a universal story that traverses industries. I am inspired all of the time by entrepreneurs who triple their revenues in a relatively short amount of time just by working the day to day as if their survival depends on it. As filmmakers we may be considered dreamers by most, but it’s up to me to a business by rallying a crew--and a crew of believers--to make this dream come true.
Imagine getting a crew of supporters behind the speaking topic of “When Young Black Men Learn about Love.” It’s actually quite easy. Before producer J. Tiggett and I embarked on this work, one would be hard-pressed to find significant attempts by media makers who thought this topic would work. It was too far-fetched to consider, and too unpopular. When as a speaker, I talk about approaching Black boys with questions about love and their emotional lives, those tough moments that some would sweep under the rug, and their hopes and dreams. I reveal the process that brings those honest responses, and I make sure the presentations with an audience are interactive experiences. There are some heavy emotional scars the audience members carry when it comes to this topic. The satisfaction that comes with opening up a Little Brother dialogue with them is being able to take a room full of diverse populations beyond the “I don’t want to appear racist” discussion and straight into a conversation without judgment, educating the audience and me as a speaker on a number a levels.
Q: What's the next project for Nicole Franklin?
A: The next project, after 15 years in the making, is to work at EPIPHANY Inc. full-time, only loaning myself out to work as a director-for-hire in episodic television, theater or maybe the occasional Hollywood film if the industry executives allow. But I have been blessed to have a well-rounded hands-on education in financing, packaging, distributing and designing an outreach campaign for independent projects. And because I love what I do, I am open to learning much more. What it means to be a media channel that broadcasts and projects the work of a storyteller is constantly changing these days. Due to some fortunate events, I am a part of a team at the newly launched FUBU TV to explore the Video on Demand (VOD) space and all that a socially conscious, multicultural channel of an established brand can achieve. There are a few other projects including a multi-episode documentary series with popular on-camera contractor Nick Jardine as well as an educational initiative I am launching in my hometown of St. Louis, MO to provide students in low-opportunity communities an introduction and support network for careers in technology. For the student project we jump start their interest with a Hackathon and link them to the tech incubators in town providing mentoring, apprenticeships and a renewed excitement for learning in the STEAM fields. I may also be diving into producing a Broadway play. And I have a new screenplay I plan to film next year for the micro-budget indie slate I want EPIPHANY Inc. to manage from start to finish. Stay tuned….
...if you want to be a producer, you need to write, write, write.— From Nicole's school adviser
Nicole Franklin in the media hub of NYC
Poster for documentary film series, "Little Brother"
Our culture comes through in our youth, and we’re motivated by young people doing great things… You’ll definitely feel the experience of Little Brother.— Common
Excerpt from Little Brother: The Fire Next Time
I think Hollywood is going to be catching up with the media makers of color and the audiences we are building out organically. It’s a natural progression.— Nicole Franklin
On the set of "Little Brother"
On the set with colleague, DP Wiener Millien
Nicole Franklin's project reels
Nicole and the late Anne Brown in Norway
"Anne has touched my life as a filmmaker immensely. I was a young woman who from the start was set on showing the world how unpredictable and unstoppable we are."— Nicole Franklin
Excerpt from Gershwin & Bess: A Dialogue with Anne Brown
For speaking engagement requests and more about Nicole Franklin, go to: