The Profile Dossier: Brian Grazer, the Producer Leading a Curious Life
"Life isn’t about finding the answers, it’s about asking the questions.”
A note from Polina: I’m excited to share this Profile Dossier of Brian Grazer, the legendary film and TV producer. It was heavily researched and written by Alexis Derickson, a staff writer for The Profile.
The brain behind 43 Oscar nominations, 187 Emmy nominations, and $14 billion grossed is bound to be a brilliant one.
Brian Grazer’s path to becoming a renowned film and television producer began with eavesdropping on a conversation outside his apartment window. Recently graduated from the University of Southern California, where he worked 40 hours a week at hotel chain Howard Johnson’s while studying as a full-time student, Grazer needed to decide what to do with his life if he wasn’t going to law school. Doubtful about his next step and ability to one day pass the bar exam, Grazer listened with piqued interest as passersby discussed an opening for a “cushy” job as a law clerk at Warner Brothers.
At 3 p.m. the next day, Grazer interviewed for the position. By 3:15 p.m., he had the job.
The next two years were the beginning of Grazer’s daily routine of charming assistants into granting him access to some of the studio’s top producers and executives, from Warren Beatty and Lew Wasserman to Mel Brooks.
“Curiosity is the process of asking questions, genuine questions, that are not leading to an ask for something in return,” Grazer says.
Simple tasks like delivering mail and paperwork became opportunities to uncover every square inch of detailed knowledge about the industry, demystifying how it worked and what led to success via hundreds of five-minute conversations.
Miraculous opportunities manifested themselves once more in an open window of Grazer’s. “Ron!” he yelled out to the Happy Days star as he passed through the Paramount lot. Instantly attracted to his energy, Grazer set up a meeting with Ron Howard for the next day. Despite countless rejections, the pair convinced Disney Studios to film Splash, an implausible mermaid movie that would eventually be Oscar-nominated.
“You can get good at finding access in the entertainment industry,” Grazer says. “But the ideas, the narratives themselves, they are the only things that are going to be of any value.”
After Splash came a lengthy list of acclaimed works, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Parenthood, Arrested Development, My Girl, Apollo 13, Hillbilly Elegy, and dozens more, launching the careers of Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, and Daryl Hannah along the way.
Grazer reached a point of accomplishment that would lull many into complacency. Instead, he realized that one of the only ways to continue tapping into his authentic vision with invigorated creativity was to never stop learning.
For more than three decades, Grazer has engaged without fail in what he calls “Curiosity Conversations,” a bi-weekly, in-depth discussion with some of the most interesting people on the planet to broaden his worldview. These conversations led to movie and television ideas, as well as the basis of his first book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.
Originality remains a trademark of Grazer’s. It was what inspired him to first don his signature gel-spiked hair style, what he seeks constantly in his storytelling, and how he has seamlessly formed spaces for open conversation by accepting and embracing each person as themselves.
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