Here’s looking at you, Ted. Tonight, Brian Grazer told interviewer Ted Sarandos that the key to his success in Hollywood comes down to eye contact: “The WiFi of human connection is looking at somebody.”
Grazer, partner with Ron Howard in Imagine Film Entertainment, said the eyes have it in conversation with Netflix chief content officer Sarandos, discussing Grazer’s book, Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection, at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills.
Grazer, also author (with Charles Fishman) of the 2016 book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, faced off with Sarandos as part of the Live Talks Los Angeles series, now in its 10th season.
The pair did not start off with Hollywood headline topics – streaming wars, upcoming competition from the soon-to-launch Disney+, Netflix’s legendary lack of transparency when it comes to its viewership, or why Netflix came in second behind HBO in number of wins at this year’s Emmys.
Instead, this big hug of an evening was all about getting past the disconnect caused by cell phones, or looking over your shoulder at a party to see whether someone more important has come into the room. The two praised each other for their curiosity and skill at forging human connections in what Grazer called “the loneliest generation of all.”
That concept, Grazer said, formed the cultural center of his book, “which I’m sure you guys will be reading tonight.”
“I read it,” Sarandos offered, unnecessarily.
The two also said they shared the legacy of chaotic childhoods in which their grandmothers were their anchors, and that they struggled in school. Grazer fought dyslexia and shyness; Sarandos, a community college dropout, aspired to be a journalist, but discovered, “I loved interviewing people, but was not such a great writer.” Grazer admitted he’s not much of a writer, either.
The conversation then turned to Sarandos engaging Grazer in telling behind-the-scenes anecdotes about some of his best-loved films and successes, although he did start out asking Grazer to talk about how he felt about lousy reviews for The Da Vinci Code.
“It got horrific reviews, especially in France,” Grazer said cheerfully, adding that he avoided eye contact afterward for quite a while.
Even while cheerleading genuine human contact and having “non-transactional” conversations, Grazer managed to correct Sarandos on the amount of money Grazer’s films have made over time. “$13.5 billion,” Grazer said, when Sarandos quoted a much smaller number.
“Damn that Internet!” Sarandos joked back.
The pair talked about a project they are working together for Netflix, Hillbilly Elegy, based on the popular memoir by J.D. Vance. “I thought his story was really therapeutic and leads to triumph,” said Grazer.
“There were a lot of people bidding on it,” Sarandos said.
Grazer said he has spent his life pursuing “curiosity conversations,” forcing himself to meet someone new every week. Next on his list of favorites: Pope Francis.
As time was running out, Sarandos asked Grazer to share his tips on pitching. “Pitching is the story itself,” Grazer said. “I create a context, an environment, by being friends with all the assistants…I want the boss to like me, I want the Teds to like me. “But, he added, “if it’s not authentic, don’t try this, because it will not work.”
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