In our hallowed editorial offices, there’s an ongoing conversation that goes a little something like this: “Hey, did you hear what James Franco is doing now?” This is often followed by a careless shrug and a “What hasn’t he done?” While we’ve come to expect the award-winning actor and his equally-talented brothers to challenge the the notion of a linear career path, the roots of their creativity is rarely touched upon. In reality, their mother Betsy Franco is the catalyst for this — and much more.
A successful writer and artist in her own right, Franco’s own zeal for the arts began during her childhood in Ohio (her father was an oral surgeon and an artist, while her mother ran an art gallery). “Creativity was really emphasized in my home,” she recalls “My parents encouraged it. It was one thing I felt comfortable with and didn’t feel pressured.”
Flash forward past a visual arts degree from Stanford, a happy marriage, a growing family and the complexities of balancing her role as a mother against her driving passion, and suddenly Franco found herself at a crossroads that would ultimately shape not only her future, but those of her children as well.
“Painting was my passion, but I needed to make money,” she explains with a chuckle. “Then I had James and [his brother] Tom, and those two were so mischievous and curious they had to be distracted while I was working or else and they probably would have eaten the paints! They were my top priority, but as a practical person I knew I couldn’t exist without being creative. That’s why educational publishing was so appealing and eventually gave way to my own writing projects.”
What started as a sensible plan to earn income for her family by working as a part-time writer eventually spurned over 80 YA and children’s books (including the highly-acclaimed Metamorphosis: Junior Year that was illustrated by her son Tom; sons James and Dave narrate the audio version) and ongoing speaking engagements at high schools around the country in which she extolls the value of embracing a career in the creative arts while at the same time developing an actionable framework to execute it.
“My goal is to help teens develop clarity and encourage them to look for opportunities,” Franco asserts rather emphatically. “You have to pay the rent, get a part-time job, but leave time for your art.”
This philosophy is something that carried over into her own family and readily explains the turns her sons have taken in front of and behind the camera, in literature, education, fashion, and yes, even technology (wherein Franco and her son Tom are now hard at work together on a new app).
“From the the day [James, Tom and Dave] were born they were creative curious and unusual. We encouraged it at home. I don’t think about failure and we didn’t talk about it. The word ‘failure’ isn’t helpful in the realm of creativity. If I do something and it doesn’t work I use it later on.”
Not surprisingly, her most heartfelt choice was to invest not only in her own talents, but to foster her sons’ and eventually join forces with them on a number of projects including book collaborations, acting stints and an upcoming screenplay with son James. “I’ve done a quite a number of projects with my sons which I love doing. I love working with them,” she gushes with pride. “I can’t stress how much I’ve learned from them. When they were little and they saw me working as a writer, they saw the possibility in doing something creative and making a living from it. It takes as much creativity to figure how to make a living as an artist as to be an artist in itself.”
From mother, to muse, to mentor and back again. Betsy Franco has never allowed herself to be pigeon-holed, which seems to be the unspoken mantra of the entire Franco clan if their current professional trajectory is anything to attest to.