Frank Eakin, a Weaver of Dreams
Woodlands’ Entrepreneur Frank Eakin Has Found Creative
And Business Success
By Sharon Spoonemore
An entrepreneur at heart, Frank Eakin has met with success in four industries over three decades, beginning with exporting Cajun food and shipbuilding in the 1980s and 1990s, to social marketing of retail electricity along with producing books and movie combinations since 2000. For him, it’s all about the excitement of the challenge. After producing an award-winning children’s movie in The Woodlands with 200 local kids called The Bracelet of Bordeaux, new doors opened that led to his best-selling audiobook for Twelve Years a Slave narrated by Oscar-winner Louis Gossett, Jr. His current book-audiobook project, Come to the Garden, was written by local author Jennifer Wilder Morgan and narrated by Today Show host Kathie Lee Gifford, with a release date of Feb. 23, 2016.
What inspires this seemingly ordinary guy to make his mark in the entertainment business? Consider his mother and several life experiences.
One of Eakin’s most cherished moments happened the night of the 2013 Academy Awards when Twelve Years A Slave director Steve McQueen acknowledged Eakin’s mother and expressed his sincere gratitude by commenting, “I’d like to thank this amazing historian, Dr. Sue Eakin… she gave her life’s work to preserving Solomon’s book.” McQueen was referring to a free black man from New York named Solomon Northup who was kidnapped into slavery for 12 years in Louisiana until he was finally rescued.
Sue Eakin had made it her life’s work to authenticate Twelve Years A Slave. In 1931 at the age of 12, she discovered the book on the shelf of a Louisiana plantation owner, and after writing her master’s thesis on the book at Louisiana State University, she researched the story for 20 years, then wrote the first modern edition of Twelve Years A Slave in 1968. In 2007, at age 88, she created an updated version of the book with previously unpublished facts and images providing details for every aspect of Northrop’s story.
Eakin’s memories of escaping out his classroom window when a racial riot broke out, and the burning down of his family’s home on two occasions as a result of his mother’s civil rights work, helped him understand the chasm that needs to be breached. Shortly before her death in 2009, Sue Eakin received a call about making a movie based upon the book. After Eakin recognized this movie offer was real, he bought the rights to his mother’s final edition from a university press. He built rapport with the movie producer, Plan B. “I provided some archive information they needed. I went on to publish the book and then produced the audiobook with Louis Gossett, Jr. as the narrator. Our early timing resulted in being designated as the official audiobook,” he said.
Gossett accompanied Eakin to the private screening of the movie at Fox’s Los Angeles studio. Many people in the room were emotionally impacted. “Just by looking at faces and seeing people hug each other, we all knew then that this was going to be something very special,” he said.
The Toronto Festival was a major success for Twelve Years A Slave. Eakin developed relationships with McQueen and the actors, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender and Paul Giamatti. Eakin traveled with McQueen and the cast and crew to film festivals around the country and to the Hollywood premiere.
An earlier experience also inspired him and helped him develop his “Midas touch.” Eakin interviewed a professor on his high school radio show in Baton Rouge who spurred Eakin’s interest in filmmaking. The professor had a talented 19-year-old son who had written a screenplay and whose goal was to become a film director. The son wanted to raise $200,000 for a black and white movie, but he had no credentials. In the 1980s, virtually no funding channels existed for even experienced filmmakers who wished to produce independently. This talented kid didn’t let that stop him. He wrote another screenplay, received $1.2 million from a funding source in New York and produced a watershed independent film, Sex, Lies, and Videotape. The kid was Stephen Soderbergh, who later earned Academy Awards for Erin Brockovich and Traffic. He also produced the Oceans film series and others.
“Soderbergh’s filmmaking success, against all odds and at such a young age, inspired me,” Eakin said. “I didn’t have the money at the time, but I knew that someday I wanted to do that.” He started his own business as a student at LSU with gourmet Cajun food items that would give him the funds to start a film company. Putting some profitable deals together gave him capital, and he built a sizable food export business he eventually sold to a Japanese conglomerate. He then entered the finance arena. Eakin’s brother led him into the energy industry, which brought him to Houston. They began in the ship channel with a little barge company that had $13 million in sales and had built it to $100 million when Eakin decided to sell his interest.
With the money to chase his dreams, Eakin came to The Woodlands in 2003. “I read everything I could find about producing movies. Then I met Casey Kelly who was a scriptwriter with great credentials. I took her class and workshop in screenwriting. We developed a friendship, began doing projects together, and out of that came The Bracelet of Bordeaux.”
The whole community became involved in this volunteer, low budget film — teams of moms and dads and young people. “It took a lot of hard work, but we broke sales records for author events featuring independent books at the Texas Barnes & Noble stores. With the national theatrical run in a hundred theaters, it became ‘the little movie that could.’ ”
The Bracelet of Bordeaux was one of five feature films chosen from hundreds worldwide for the American Film Institute’s (AFI) —one of the world’s most prestigious film organizations — for its Dallas Film Festival. Eakin’s idea to package a children’s book with the movie DVD caught the attention of a distributor and resulted in the film being shown in 100 theaters nationally in 2009. Six years later, the movie has been carried by all the major American movie rental and online outlets and continues to sell well, with 10,000 downloads last Christmas season alone.
“With the entire community involved, it was the first step in building an organization with a lot of good will and feelings. Only a fraction of one percent of the independent films are even distributed, and book publishing is brutal. Then the good Lord dropped this project called Twelve Years A Slave into my lap,” Eakin concluded.
After his efforts on The Bracelet of Bordeaux and Twelve Years A Slave, Eakin began to wonder, “What’s next?” His grandparents were faith publishers and writers, and their books on his shelf reminded him of how contemporary and relevant that message is. The prospect of a faith book inspired him. He knew he had to pick carefully and had to believe in it because it’s very hard work with little or no financial benefit for years. It was all a risk.
While Eakin attended a men’s group luncheon at church, Jennifer Wilder Morgan spoke about her new book, Come to the Garden. After careful consideration, Eakin decided this just might be his next project. Following months of interaction, he was convinced that she was authentic and highly gifted, and her project was just what he was looking for. “There was something about the freshness of Jennifer’s approach that really connected,” he observed. As the book’s main character tells her life experience, she interacts with a fictional angel.
The concept for the book is based upon Morgan’s experiences going with her physician father on his patient calls and her starting a care ministry at Methodist Hospital. She learned the power of holding a patient’s hand as she visited critically ill patients, including many who were young, and listened to them to talk about their encounters with the divine.
As Eakin and Morgan began the task of finding a book publisher, doors that were often impossible to open began to open. They made trips to New York, Dallas and Nashville. Eakin’s experience and contacts with Audible/Amazon books pointed to an audiobook as the first step. A “yes” from Kathie Lee Gifford to be the narrator got the wheels rolling. Gifford introduced them to When God Winks author, Squire Rushnell, and his wife, Louise Duart, who in turn introduced them to their New York literary agent, Jennifer Gates. With Gates’ help, they landed a book contract with a publisher that is the nation’s second largest and No. 1 in the faith book market. Eakin rounded up a coast-to-coast “dream team” to help promote and launch the new book in early 2016. Some of the best in the business jumped onboard to lead Morgan and her book to success.
Today, you never know where you will find Eakin. He may be on the set of a movie production in South Africa, or playing golf with his young son in Hawaii. Wherever it is, he’s savoring the moment but always thinking ahead. Whatever seeds he plants, they grow. He’ll be the first to tell you it’s not easy, but it’s all a great ride. A grateful man at heart, Frank Eakin just may be the consummate dreamweaver.