How To Become A Movie Producer (Or Many Other Things)

A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman.

Brian Grazer has made movies you’ve seen.

I read his book over a year ago. One story stayed with me.

From pages 50-52 of the hardcover edition:

I had been at Warner Bros. about a year as a legal clerk when I managed to talk my way into a meeting with Lew Wasserman. In terms of meetings, that was a stunning accomplishment — as big a deal for me at twenty-three as Jonas Salk and Edward Teller would be decades later, maybe bigger. Wasserman was the head of MCA, and he was critical in creating the modern movie business, including the idea of what we now think of as the event movie, the blockbuster. When I went to talk to him, in 1975, he had been at MCA since 1936. While he ran MCA, Wasserman had under contract movie greats like Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, Henry Fonda, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gregory Peck, Gene Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock, and Jack Benny. MCA’s Universal Pictures had produced Jaws and would go on to produce E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Back to the Future, and Jurassic Park.

On the day I went to see him, Lew Wasserman was undoubtedly the most powerful person in the movie business. I was undoubtedly the least powerful person. It had taken me months of patient cultivation to get onto Wasserman’s calendar, even for just ten minutes. I talked to his assistant Melody on a regular basis. At one point I said to her, “How about if I just come by and meet you?” And I did — just to put my face and personality with my voice.

When I finally got to see Wasserman, I wasn’t nervous or particularly intimidated. I was excited. For me, it was an opportunity to get some wisdom from a man who, in fact, started out in the movie business one notch lower than me — as an usher in a movie theater. He had practically invented the movie business. Surely I could learn something from him.

That day, Wasserman listened without much patience to me talk about my determination to become a movie producer. He cut me short.

“Look buddy,” Wasserman said, “you somehow found your way into this office. You’re basically full of it. I can see that. If there are a dozen ways to become a producer — having money, knowing people who have money, having connections, having friends in the business, representing movie stars or writers — if there are a dozen ways to become a producer, you don’t have any of them.

“You can’t buy anything — you can’t buy a script treatment. You can’t buy a book. You don’t know anybody. You certainly don’t represent anybody. You have no leverage. You really have nothing.

“But the only way you can be anything in this business is if you own the material. You have to own it.”

Then Wasserman reached over and grabbed a legal pad and a pencil from his desk. He slapped the pencil on the pad and handed them to me.

“Here’s a yellow legal pad,” he said. “Here’s a number-two pencil. Put the pencil to the pad. Go write something. You have to bring the idea. Because you’ve got nothing else.”

I was stunned, but also amazed. Wasserman was the first person to cut through the swirl of the movie business for me and say, Here’s what you, Brian Grazer, can do to become a movie producer, to rise above legal clerk.


Otherwise you’re all talk.

I was with Wasserman no more than ten minutes, but it felt like an hour. That time with him changed my whole perspective on the movie business — it disrupted my very youthful point of view.

Previously here:

Human Variables category

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