Carl Franklin

Carl Franklin (born April 11, 1949) is an American actor, screenwriter, producer, film and television director. Franklin is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, and continued his education at the AFI Conservatory, where he graduated with an M.F.A. degree in directing in 1986.

Carl Franklin
Cast of TV's The Fantastic Journey. Back row, L-R: Katie Saylor, Roddy McDowall,
Carl Franklin. Front: Ike Eisenmann and
Jared Martin
Carl Michael Franklin

(1949-04-11) April 11, 1949
Richmond, California, United States
EducationAFI Conservatory
OccupationFilm director, television director, actor, screenwriter, producer
Years active1973–present

Early life

Carl Franklin was raised outside of San Francisco, in Richmond, California. He never had the opportunity to know his biological father, who had died before Carl was born. Franklin was raised by his mother and stepfather. While Franklin speaks highly of his stepfather and has called him “very loving,”[1] he has spoken out about his stepfather's abusive tendencies, linking his outbursts to alcohol use. Problems at home combined with life in a tough neighborhood fueled Franklin's ambition to be the first in his family to attend college. He was awarded a scholarship to University of California, Berkeley. Franklin's initial desires to become a teacher or lawyer led him to study History upon his arrival at the university.[2] However, after two years, Franklin changed his major to theater arts.

Franklin did not actively participate in the many demonstrations at Berkeley in the period. Describing the scene, Franklin told the LA Times: "It was like a dream to me, I wasn't really sophisticated enough to join a particular movement."

Early career

Upon completion of a BA degree in Theater Arts, Franklin almost immediately moved to New York City with hopes of becoming an actor. One of his first jobs was acting in the New York Shakespeare Festival, where he appeared in the Twelfth Night, Timon of Athens, and Cymbeline. Franklin performed off-Broadway with The Public Theater.[3]

Franklin began his on-screen career in the film Five on the Black Hand Side in 1973. From there, he acted in a string of guest roles on television shows such as The Rockford Files, Good Times, Caribe, The Incredible Hulk, McClain's Law, and The Streets of San Francisco.[1] Over the years, Franklin's looks have typically landed him roles portraying men of power, such as members of the police force or military officials. Franklin's most recognizable acting role was his 1983-1985 portrayal of Captain Crane on the popular action-adventure series The A-Team.[3]

Franklin is quoted in L.A. Weekly, saying "Acting made a director out of me.”[1] And so, at age 37, Franklin returned to school at the AFI Conservatory in Los Angeles. He obtained his M.F.A. degree in directing in 1986.

His time at AFI culminated in his master's thesis, Franklin produced a short film called Punk in 1989. The film follows the story of an African-American boy faced with the realities of familial stress, societal pressures, and the ever-daunting development of sexual discovery.[4]

Concord Films

Straight out of his Master's program, Franklin landed a job with movie producer-director Roger Corman in 1989.

While working at Concord Films, Franklin gained experience working on low-budget films, helping to crank out six films in just two years’ time. From 1989 to 1990, Franklin worked on Nowhere to Run, Eye of the Eagle 2: Inside the Enemy, and Full Fanthom Five, respectively, under Concord Films.

Later career

At the end of the 80s, producer Jesse Beaton was looking for a director for a film called One False Move. Remembering Franklin's short film Punk, Beaton met Carl to discuss the film's vision.[4]

Franklin's approach to the screenplay produced a thriller of the Film Noir genre. The story follows three drug dealers, played by Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams, and Michael Beach and their interactions with a small-town Arkansas police chief played by Bill Paxton.[3] Far from his low-budget past, Franklin's budget of $2 million gave him a bit of room to be creative, and achieve his entire vision for the film.[4] However, the original version of the film, which was released in 1991, was thought to be overly violent. In response to such claims, Franklin told the Observer, “I didn't want people getting excited seeing how neat someone can be killed… I want the audience to feel the emotional loss of life--the real violence is the loss, the violation of humanity. They've taken from us someone who had dreams, hopes, the same set of emotions we have."[3]

Despite the film's lack of professional publicity, One False Move was largely promoted by word of mouth and earned itself mixed reviews. However, the reviews that were positive were very positive, gaining the project more attention. The film was named Best Film of the Year by Gene Siskel, and one of the 10 Best Films of 1992 by the National Review Board.[5]

Next came one of Franklin's most famous films, Devil in a Blue Dress. Franklin's involvement in the production stemmed from his admiration for Walter Mosley, author of the source novel. Franklin adapted the screenplay himself. Working again with Jesse Beaton, and with Jonathan Demme as Executive Producer they were able to obtain a $20 million budget for the film, paving the way for a smooth production.[4] With Denzel Washington on board to play the lead role, the film showed great promise.

Set in Los Angeles in the end of the 1940s, the story follows an African-American private detective and his often challenging career. The film's biggest contribution was its recreation of South Central Los Angeles, in a time when the neighborhood was at its peak of historical relevance. His portrayal of the area touched on a piece of time often overlooked, and reminded audiences of the community values of Los Angeles, and especially hit home for many African-American viewers, who appreciated the insight into the family values that define their culture.[1] Reviews for the film varied, with many praising Franklin's directing more than the film itself.

Switching to television, Franklin directed Laurel Avenue, a two-part miniseries focused on an African-American family in Minnesota for HBO in 1993.[4] One issue in particular that stood out in the series was the issue of drug use. Franklin defended his depictions, explaining that "Drugs are a huge problem in the black community.[1] Not to include that would be a stupid oversight. But if the subject of drugs is introduced in the context of a hardworking family that has managed to maintain unity, and the audience sees drugs as a threat to that unity, they get a much greater understanding of the problem."

Following Laurel Avenue, Franklin found himself maintaining A-list status, which allowed him to work on bigger and more visible projects, such as 1998's One True Thing. The film is an adaptation of an autobiographical story by New York journalist Anna Quindlan,[1] following a woman (Renée Zellweger) with no option but to leave Manhattan for the small town where she was raised when her mother (Meryl Streep) is diagnosed with cancer.

Racial ties and film

Franklin says “I am interested in the universal values of the black experience.”[5] However, just because Franklin is a filmmaker who is African American does not mean that all of his films are racially motivated. Not all of his films revolve around a central theme of culture: some of his films cover racial issues, while others do not.

Explaining to The L.A Times, "My ethnicity is a plus, a tool. It gives me ammunition in terms of the way I view the world. There are certain stories in the black community that inform us all.”[2] Discussing the realities for African Americans in the television and film industry, Franklin said: "When I came up, the only legitimate dramatic actor was Sidney Poitier, the bankable star was Richard Pryor and the other choice roles were action parts that went to Jim Brown. Even someone as good as Billy Dee Williams had a couple of great moments and then couldn't get a decent part."[2]



  • Punk (1986)
  • Eye of the Eagle 2: Inside the Enemy (1989)
  • Last Stand at Lang Mei (1990)
  • Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Awards and nominations

Year Award Result Category Film
1992 Deauville Film Festival Nominated Critics Award One False Move
1992 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Won New Generation Award One False Move
1992 Mystfest Nominated Best Film One False Move
Won Best Direction One False Move
1993 Cognac Festival du Film Policier Won Grand Prix One False Move
Critics Award One False Move
1993 Fantasporto Nominated Best Film One False Move
1993 Independent Spirit Awards Won Best Director One False Move
1993 MTV Movie Awards Won Best New Filmmaker One False Move
1995 San Sebastián International Film Festival Nominated Golden Seashell Devil in a Blue Dress
1996 American Film Institute Won Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal "For Franklin's Outstanding Body of Work"
1996 Edgar Allan Poe Awards Nominated Best Motion Picture Devil in a Blue Dress
2004 Black Reel Awards Nominated Film: Best Director Out of Time
2014 Primetime Emmy Awards Nominated Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series House of Cards (Episode: "Chapter 14")


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