A Recipe for Success! DeVon Franklin on Film Inspired By Flamin’ Hot Cheetos

Grab a bag of Cheetos (and a napkin!) for this one! Flamin’ Hot, DeVon Franklin’s latest film production with first-time director Eva Longoria, releases on Hulu and Disney+ on June 9.

It’s the true story of Richard Montañez, the Frito Lay janitor who swept his way to the top. Using his Mexican American heritage, years on the factory floor, his determination, grit, recipe – and most importantly, his keen awareness of an untapped market – Montañez  turned up the heat on Cheetos. His inspiring story disrupted the food industry and became a global phenomenon. 

We talked with Franklin about the decision to have Longoria direct, the style, the faith of the family and the recipe for success!

Interviewed for Risen Magazine

Risen Magazine: When I got an opportunity to see this film, I absolutely loved it! It’s such a great story. Maybe share a little bit about what we’re talking about and Richard’s story here with Flamin’ Hot.

DeVon Franklin: I have a new movie that I just produced called Flamin’ Hot about the true story of Richard Montañez, who is the driving force behind the success of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and the Flamin’ Hot brand.

About seven years ago, a friend of mine texted me and said, “Hey, I have your next movie. I want you to meet Richard Montañez.” I said, “Okay.” I wasn’t taking it that seriously, because everybody says they have my next movie, and usually they don’t.

I had a meeting with Richard and his wife, Judy, and by the end of the meeting I gave them my word I would make their movie. I just felt so inspired and motivated by his journey and all he endured as he went from being the janitor, working for Frito-Lay inside of the factory, to becoming one of the top executives at the company. That journey was unbelievable. It was compelling, and I just knew I had to bring this movie to the world.

RM: I agree. Because one of the things that stands out so much is the idea that he doesn’t set out to change the world. He sets out to save his job and his friends’, the most noble, altruistic thing. In turn, through something he loves, it ends up making a huge difference. Maybe talk about just setting out, putting one foot in front of the other, so to speak.

DF: Yes. Well, what you’re pointing out, which underscores, is service, and that idea that sometimes in our kind of social media world and Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and all those things, everybody looks at the success of others and they say, “Oh, I want to be that.” Richard wasn’t trying to do that. He wasn’t trying to be the driving force behind a billion dollar brand. He wasn’t trying to even climb the corporate ladder.

He just was trying to save jobs at the factory. Some of his coworkers got let go, the factory wasn’t doing well, and that was his motivation. “How can I do something to help my fellow brother, my fellow sister?” That heart for service is what propelled his success, so we wanted to make sure we portrayed that in the film. Definitely, I hope that’s one of the takeaways for people when they see it that you may not how to play basketball. You may not even have the best education, but you can serve your way to the top. You can still be as successful as anybody else.

RM: Absolutely. One of the things that I thought was woven so well throughout the film was his faith.

DF: In terms of faith, the real Richard Montañez definitely had a journey of faith in his own life, so we wanted to portray that in the film. In telling his story and telling Judy’s story, you can’t tell their story without telling their faith story.

Similar to the movie, Judy came to faith before Richard, and Richard was very skeptical and was almost obstinate to it, was very resistant to it. But, ultimately, he had to decide for himself and discovered for himself that prayer works. His ability to give gratitude to God for what all that God had done, those elements in the film really are essential to his success. We wanted to portray that in the movie, not only to provide hope and inspiration, which is part of it, but to also just show what happens when we have faith. Faith is the real superpower.

Jesse Garcia and Dennis Haysbert in FLAMIN’ HOT. Photo by Anna Kooris. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

RM: Admittedly, I had never had a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto. I had had regular Cheetos —

DF: I hadn’t either. Before I started working on this movie, I had not either, so you are not alone in that.

RM: I since have, and they are very hot, but it’s a recipe. I understand, as we see this family come together, it’s more than just putting some sort of flavor on a Cheeto. They put their life, their heritage, they put more into that. Maybe talk about the metaphor that that is in the film and also the tangible, practical side of what was put into it.

DF: The thing that always blew me away about the story is you have this product, the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto and the Flamin’ Hot seasoning, and you say, “Oh, that flavor’s really cool.” But it’s amazing to identify that there’s a major story behind it and that there’s inspiration behind it. Why? Because inspiration was put into it.

One of the things that Richard did that was critical had nothing to do with the creation of the product, but it had everything to do with how he took that product to his community in Southern California, and that became the catalyst for the success of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. As much as the movie also articulates and focuses on the recipe in the kitchen, the real recipe is how he incorporated his community into his career journey. And so often we want to just do it by ourself. “I want to go at it alone.” Well, Richard didn’t do that. He didn’t just go by himself. He took the entire community with him, so that was one of the things that he put in it. That’s why I think this product had been so successful is because it’s more than just a chip or a Cheeto. It really represents hope and, now, possibility.

It was important for Richard to put that into the process of marketing the Cheeto and for us to put that into the process of making the movie. My hope is that when anyone sees the film, that they will be inspired, that they will have hope. This is a family movie. I want from the youngest to the oldest to see this film and to see, “Wow, the recipe for our success, one of the elements is service.” How can we serve our brother and sister? How can we make our community better? How can we make our family better? If we could get to a place like that, I would feel so gratified.

RM: DeVon, it’s so well done, and that has a lot to do with the leadership, yourself, and then, director, you had Eva Longoria come in and kind of helm this thing. I loved how the boardroom scenes went down. We saw several takes. It was fun, but you got across your point and so forth. Talk to me a little bit about the decision and having her direct.

DF: Listen, I believe that any movie I do, if I commit to the process, the director’s going to show up. In this instance, I sent the script out to about 20 directors. 12 directors came in, and I got a call from an agent that I knew saying Eva Longoria wanted to meet on the movie. At first I said, “Well, she wants to act in the film?” She was like, “No, she wants to direct it.” I said, “Oh, is she a director?” She said, “Well, she is. She’s done a lot of television.” And then I said, “Well, has she done a feature film?” Her agent said, “No.” I said, “Well, look, it’s Eva Longoria. I’ll take the meeting.” But I did not have an expectation, to be very honest with you.

When she came into the meeting, she was wearing glasses and had the script in a binder and every page was dog-eared. I found out in that meeting that she has a Master’s in Chicano Studies. She gave me a masterclass in what needed to change in the script, how we could make it more authentic, what she wants to do, and how she would take it to the next level. We probably spent almost two hours going through that script. At the end of that meeting, when she left, I realized that the director had shown up.

I immediately told her, “I want to take you into the studio to get hired.” She prepared an incredible director presentation, won the job and the rest is history. Working with her has been amazing, and everything she said she was going to do, she did everything in that film.

Jesse Garcia and Eva Longoria on the set of FLAMIN’ HOT. Photo by Emily Aragones. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

RM: Well, I love true stories or stories that are inspired by truth and then want to inspire us to go do something more than what we think we’re capable of doing, so I cannot wait for audiences to see Flamin’ Hot.

DF: Absolutely. I’m always grateful to talk to you and thank you so much for your support. I’m excited for everybody to see Flamin’ Hot. It starts streaming on Disney Plus and Hulu on June 9th, so it’ll be available to over 200 million subscribers through those two platforms. It’s the first movie in the history of the Disney company to go out on both Hulu and Disney Plus, so we’re really excited, and we just can’t wait to see how many lives we touch in the process.

RM: All right. Well, I’m going to grab my bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and cozy up and watch it another time.

DF: There you go. I love it. That’s the only way to do it.

Flamin’ Hot streams on Disney Plus and Hulu on June 9th




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