The Exeter Bulletin — Fall 2012
Kathy (Fox) Franklin '86
Finding the Right Narrative
"You never know what is going to unfold if you pursue what you're excited about and find fascinating," says Kathy (Fox) Franklin '86. This approach helped Franklin land her current role as president of Franchise Development for Lightstorm Entertainment, the production company run by filmmakers James Cameron and Jon Landau.
Lightstorm is the company behind Avatar, the No. 1 box-office film of all time, and its two upcoming sequels. Franklin's role is to spearhead brand development across multiple mediums and expand the Avatar community.
"It's exciting to be able to combine a globally successful film with an important message—the idea that we are all connected and share responsibility for each other and the world we live in," she says.
Franklin has always been interested in good narrative—understanding why stories unfold a particular way. The power of her own story and the choices that have shaped her career are not lost on her. She has not made career decisions so much as she's pursued her interests.
Franklin attended Princeton hoping to join the Foreign Service, but the coursework didn't speak to her. She chose instead to major in English and women's studies. After graduating, Franklin began working in the financial industry, but that too failed to spark her imagination. So she earned a master's degree from Teachers College, Columbia University and taught English in New York and Philadelphia.
In the mid-1990s, Franklin and her husband moved to Los Angeles. Themed customer experiences like Rainforest Cafe and Planet Hollywood were emerging, and Franklin became curious about storytelling through place creation. "When the big shift in the design world of bringing narrative into the environment began, this was an exciting and powerful idea to me, and I wanted to explore it further," she explains. Franklin enrolled in UCLA's certificate program in environmental design and created an internship where she learned to create themed environments.
Franklin then embarked upon what she calls "the holy grail when you're in the themed entertainment space"—the Disney empire. She wanted to develop theme parks as a Disney Imagineer, but her "in" with Disney came differently. Disney was forming a corporate philanthropy program and needed someone with expertise in education, creative and design skills, and a level of comfort in a corporate environment. "Suddenly these things that I had done, which to my parents seemed like perhaps a fairly random series of choices, had completely prepared me to be the right person for that role," she says.
At Disney, she loved her initial work supporting teachers. "It was exciting for me as someone who had been a classroom teacher to suddenly get to do things that reached so many classrooms and so many schools," Franklin says. She was ultimately named vice president of Disney Worldwide Outreach, where she oversaw global marketing, communications and branding for corporate philanthropy.
After eight years of giving away Disney's money, Franklin wanted to learn more about the businesses that generated those funds. Her corporate experience had equipped her to lead franchise management at Disney Consumer Products for Disney Princess and Disney Fairies and later the Cars and Toy Story franchises. During that time, she learned a saying from the people at Pixar: "Every day, you should teach something and learn something." Franklin adds, "Some days are more teaching days. Some are more learning days. Some days are neither. But if you approach each day with this idea in mind, most days are pretty productive."
For Franklin, Lightstorm is an avenue for her to be both teacher and student. "When you get an opportunity both to contribute your skill set and to learn something, that's the ultimate gift," she says. Franklin is currently working on the development of an Avatar-themed land at Disney's Animal Kingdom, as well as Avatar games and apps and extensive social media outreach. Since Franklin joined Lightstorm a year ago, the Avatar community on Facebook has grown by 35 percent to more than 33 million "likes." It's a community eager for the narrative Franklin has to share.
— Taline Manassian '92