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Inside Brian Grazer’s Curious Mind

December 11, 2015, 5:32 PM UTC

Brian Grazer

Academy Award-winning movie and TV producer, Imagine Entertainment I've spent the last 18 years soliciting advice from people outside the movie business. Before that, I sought advice from people in the entertainment industry. So I've collected advice from close to 1,000 people over 30 years. Every month I create a new list of people to call. I call it my "interesting people list." I call, on average, five people a week -- I'll personally call Eliot Spitzer or Isaac Asimov -- and may end up meeting with one every two weeks. Ideally I like to meet these people in my office. And I ask them to tell me about their world. I meet these people to learn ultimately how to be a more efficient filmmaker. My whole career has been built on one piece of advice that came from two people: [MCA founder] Jules Stein and [former MCA chairman] Lew Wasserman. In 1975 I was a law clerk at Warner Bros. I'd spent about a year trying to get a meeting with these two men. Finally they let me in to see them. They both said, separately, "In order for you to be in the entertainment business, you have to have leverage. Since you have none -- no money, no pedigree, no valuable relationships -- you must have creative leverage. That exists only in your mind. So you need to write -- put what's in your mind on paper. Then you'll own a piece of paper. That's leverage.' With that advice, I wrote the story that became Splash, which was a fantasy that I had about meeting a mermaid. For years, I sent registered letters to myself -- movie concepts and other ideas -- so that I had my ideas officially on paper. I have about 1,000 letters in a vault. To this day, I feel that my real power is only that -- ideas and the confidence to write them down. --2005
Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage

There is one ritual legendary TV and movie producer Brian Grazer has maintained for 35 years. Every two weeks, he meets a new person. “There’s no agenda,” Grazer said. “And there’s never an ask.”

When Grazer was fresh out of college and producing TV in the early 80s, it became clear that he was “breathing the same air” as the rest of Hollywood, he recalled. “I needed fresh air.”

This curiosity to interact people outside of the Hollywood inner circle blossomed into a trademark, and has helped Grazer connect with famous scientists, royalty, politicians, and more. In fact, Grazer has said in the past that many of the people he meets give him inspiration for his movies and TV shows, which collectively have grossed over $13 billion.

In the mid-90s, Grazer, who is behind films like Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind, was obsessed with meeting the late Princess Diana, even calling Buckingham Palace and asking to speak to her. When hit movie Apollo 13 was released, Grazer, who produced the movie, was invited to have a royal premier in London. At a dinner following the screening, Grazer happened to be sitting across from Princess Diana and, to get her attention, asked the waitstaff if he could get a bowl of ice cream. He then invited her to have a scoop of his ice cream (she did).

Another memorable Grazer curiosity conversation was with Dr. Jonas Salk, the scientist who developed the polio vaccine. Grazer was to meet Salk at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and he got so nervous as he approached that he threw up and nearly fainted. Salk immediately rushed to Grazer and proceeded to examine him to make sure he was in good health.

Grazer, who shared his memories while being interviewed this week at an event hosted by Google Ventures, the tech giant’s venture capital arm, also revealed a number of other tidbits about himself and advice for entrepreneurs:

On Grazer’s hair: Grazer’s now infamous hair, which is gelled heavily to stand up straight originated from falling into a swimming pool. Grazer’s daughter told him to push his hair up, and it stuck.

On Sun Valley: Grazer was a regular for years at Allen & Company’s Sun Valley Summit, where technology, media and business moguls gather yearly. Over the past ten years, more technology executives started showing up. Now, they’re the stars, replacing Hollywood executives who were previously in big demand at the summit. Grazer said it was intimidating meeting all these new executives and took a break from going to the conference. But a few years later, he said he begged his way back in, and met investor and former Netscape founder Marc Andreessen in the process.

On storytelling advice for Silicon Valley: Grazer believes that narrative storytelling can be done better in Silicon Valley. His advice: “Brand identification is the thing you are precisely best at, and you need to signal to others that identity. The identity is something like a magic wand that should be applied to every problem you want to solve.”

On his relationship with his business partner, Ron Howard: Grazer says that the two producers, have produced over 60 films together including Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, don’t fight. Rather they disagree through questions. He also says that one of the keys to their successful business relationship is that they both share the same qualitative taste and work ethic.

On what he is currently working on: Grazer is excited about virtual reality and is currently working on a project that involves what he described as multiple sensory experiences for a viewer. But he didn’t reveal any other details.

For more about virtual reality, watch this video: