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September 17, 2019

Grazer & Daley in Conversation

Collaboration. Networking. Relationship Building. These human connections are the building blocks of success in the entertainment business. That was the message legendary producer Bryan Grazer brought to the School of Cinematic Arts (SCA). It’s also the theme of his new book Face to Face: the Art of Human Connection.

On September 11,  2019, Grazer, who graduated from the School in the 1970s chatted with SCA Dean Elizabeth M. Daley as part of the School’s 90th Anniversary Alumni Conversations Series. He discussed his career—especially how he is able to keep so many balls in the air at the same time—and told the audience gathered in the Ray Stark Theatre how his new book came about.

Grazer and Daley began the conversation with Grazer explaining that he wanted to call the book “eye contact.” Grazer has been on a personal, spiritual journey for the last fifteen years to make actual connections with people by listening to their stories. He says being present, meaning being focused, is important to his learning process and he does that by making sure he makes eye contact with everyone he speaks to.

“We had hired a new house assistant. She tells my wife, ‘I really like Brian.’” My wife says, ‘Do you know him?” She said ‘I don’t really know him but every time he speaks to me, he looks me in the eyes and it makes me feel like a real person.’” That story, Grazer said, inspired him to think of the book from the perspective of what we learn when we make “eye contact” with each other.

Face to Face is a follow up to A Curious Mind: The Secret to A Bigger Life, Grazer’s book about the benefits of seeking out information and experiences. The new book is about how to effectively engage the people who might have the information and answers you’re seeking.  “If you look someone in the eyes you let someone know they matter. And that’s what we all want,” said Grazer. “I thought about the nature of that and then I realized none of the conversations in A Curious Mind would have been meaningful had I not looked everyone in the eye and made a real connection.”

Grazer has been in the business for more than thirty years. His films and television shows, which have been nominated for forty-three Academy Awards and 195 Emmys,  including Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, as well as 24, Splash, Arrested Development, Empire, 8 Mile, Friday Night Lights, American Gangster, and Genius, to name a few. Along with longtime partner and fellow SCA alumnus, director Ron Howard, he co-founded Imagine Entertainment in 1986. Dean Daley said the heft of Grazer’s resume, combined with his connection to School is why she wanted him to come talk about the book. “He’s an alum and his partner Ron Howard is an alum and we at SCA have a very special relationship with Imagine. I can never figure out how one human being can do so much work in one lifetime,” she said. “I think what you’ve written in this book is part of that reason. The book really tells us things that we need to be doing.”

Grazer told the audience that his reverence for human connection didn’t happen overnight. As a young producer, Grazer thought he could do everything on his own, but eventually had to acknowledge how much collaboration mattered.

“Once I got out of USC, I had success pretty early. I produced a movie of the week and then a miniseries about the ten commandments. I thought because I was such a hustler I thought it was all me. I’m doing everything on my own,” he said.  “There (were) people around me but I was just telling them what to do. I undervalued the value of human connection. I undervalued the value of teamwork and a democratic environment.”

Grazer closed out the evening with a Q and A with students where he stressed that cultivating trust, collaboration and being present is actually good business; and the key to standing out in the competitive environment.

“What’s really important is that we all want to be special,” said Grazer. “When you look at someone in the elevator instead of your phone. There’s this white space time. If you're present. So I think optimally, if you want to differentiate yourself, put your phone in your pocket. Don’t have it out. It diminishes you. I think what sets people apart. The competitive edge is being present.”