This is great for me,” Ron Howard begins. “Let me tell you why. Our partnership is decades long, but we’re very busy, so mostly we don’t dig deep. Tonight is my big chance to dig…” On the publication of writer/ producer Brian Grazer’s second book, long time collaborator, director/ producer Ron Howard, sits down with him for a freewheeling conversation about the author’s enthusiastic, curiosity-fueled approach to life.
Grazer and Howard were both wunderkind. After spending his childhood acting on television, Howard at 23 became a director starting with that medium. A year older, Brian Grazer was already producing. Both aspired to work in film. Grazer secured a “big” job at Paramount. His office had a well placed window for shout outs. “I would yell at people and say, hey!”
“I see Richie Cunningham (Howard’s role on Happy Days). He was a superstar, and I made it a point to meet someone new and interesting every week…” Grazer called to Howard who had no idea what was going on. “You avoided me after that,” Grazer notes. “I called his office, explained and he agreed to meet.” Howard says, “The truth is I never actually had a Hollywood lunch meeting. I’m an introvert.”
The young men shared values, both wanted to be taken seriously. In Grazer, Howard saw energy, passion, ideas and the ability to get inside offices. “Let’s be honest, he’s a bit of a character,” Howard says. “As the business has grown, there are so many more lines in entertainment. Communication has changed. Brian’s made a science of these things.”
“Why is this your next book?” Howard asks. “I realized all the conversations I had that were any good came from real people I met out of curiosity – busboys, waiters, Uber drivers. I prospect ideas,” Grazer answers. “All the joy in my life comes from being present with human beings. Nobody is going to share an insight or promote you unless you’re in front of them. I want to be in alignment with peoples’ intentionality…You have to get their spirit engaged in your mission.”
Grazer’s excitement is, in fact, infectious. Intermittently breaking into Howard’s comments, he suddenly sits forward, eyes blazing, conjuring an event with detailed precision. Howard is warm, measured and appreciative, but very much his own man. One can see how the two work symbiotically.
Howard observes that actor/director Henry Winkler suffered from dyslexia as a child, asking his partner how he handled the difficulty. Apparently Grazer methodically deflected until the tide turned in fifth grade. He was also able to talk teachers into raising his grade, showing current abilities even then. “I’d request a meeting and if that didn’t happen, I’d lobby my way in,” Grazer says. “What you were doing is fundamental to succeeding,” Howard comments.
Grazer is a good storyteller. He talks about United Artists putting the film Splash in turnaround four times, rescuing it each instance. He tells us that actors demand one being present. “If you disrespect an actor, he’ll remember it 25 years,” and shares the juggling he had to do to get American Gangster made. Quoted telephone calls are a hoot. Apparently the studio was willing to write off $33million until Grazer put the pieces back together in a more enticing way.
Eye contact, we’re told, is paramount. “You can’t have fear in your eyes no matter what…and you have to speak with certainty…I have a rule with film people, never talk business unless you’re in the corridors of business,” he says apropos of surfing with Tom Hanks.
Grazer goes on to stipulate that if you want to communicate with someone outside your wheelhouse, “you have to at least be operational in his/her language, to research enough that talking to them will benefit them.” The author reaches out, meeting people who intrigue him in all fields at all levels, whether a head of state or a recent driver with whom he’s now studying martial arts. He’s a Frank Capra character, Jimmy Stewart in black and white.
Audience questions include: How much of what Grazer recommends can be learned and how much has to come naturally? “A book’s worth, I guess,” Howard quips. “You rang the bell,” grins Grazer. Asked about mistakes, he replies, “Follow your gut – not stats or notes,” then tells us about rising to accept an Oscar for Apollo 13 before another name was called. Astronaut Jim Lovell reached across Howard to console the producer with “I never made it to the moon either.”
Not having read the book, I can’t tell you whether it will change your life, but the man himself is a glowing example of implementation and it’s bound to be an entertaining read.
Brian Grazer’s films have been nominated for 43 Oscars, winning Best Picture for A Beautiful Mind and 195 Emmys. He was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.” His first book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life was a New York Times bestseller. As a director, Ron Howard has created some of Hollywood’s most memorable films. As a producer, he’s helmed such series as the Emmy winning From the Earth to the Moon.
Event Photos by Michael Priest/Michael Priest Photography
Cover Photo: Ron Howard; Brian Grazer courtesy of the 92Y
Brian Grazer in Conversation with Ron Howard
Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection by Brian Grazer
September 17, 2019
92 Y at Lexington Avenue
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