Hollywood Producer Brian Grazer Reveals the Secret to His Creative Process

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Brian Grazer
Image courtesy of the Upfront Summit

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Hollywood film producer Brian Grazer has one particular strategy that he credits with inspiring him to develop and produce award-winning films like “A Beautiful Mind,” and it starts with getting out of the office.

At this week’s Upfront Summit venture capital conference in Downtown Los Angeles, the Imagine Entertainment co-founder outlined the process he uses to break himself out of a creative slump, which he calls “curiosity conversations.” The essence of it, Grazer said, is finding at least one person to interview each week that has experience outside of his area of expertise; the further from the movie business they are, the better.

Graze recalled a recent, impromptu “curiosity conversation” with an Uber driver that evolved into Grazer paying the driver to teach him the Russian martial art of systema. “It’s not easy, but I would recommend everyone do something like that,” Grazer said. “You’re supplementing the [film and television] pitches that you get with those conversations.”

Imagine Entertainment co-founder Brian Grazer at the 2022 Upfront Summit in Downtown L.A. Image courtesy of the Upfront Summit

Grazer’s Hollywood connections have granted him the chance to meet with a who’s-who of experts in their respective fields, from the late science fiction writer Isaac Asimov to hip-hop legend Dr. Dre. He spoke keenly about his conversations with Elon Musk, who advised him while Imagine was producing the National Geographic sci-fi series “Mars,” and also reached out to the late Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard to broaden his hip-hop knowledge during the production of the Eminem-starring “8 Mile.”

“It does give you a better sense of detection as to whether an idea is an old idea, or a new idea, or an old idea that needs a new perspective or refresh,” Grazer said. “It helps you understand who is or isn’t full of s--- on a particular subject.”

Grazer co-founded Imagine with Ron Howard in 1985. The production company is reportedly in talks to sell a majority stake to London investment firm Centricus Asset Management, but continues to produce content at a rapid clip and recently landed two Academy Award nominations for the Andrew Garfield-starring “Tick, Tick… Boom!”

“I think that you have to believe that there’s a glow of goodness in the thing that you’re trying to make—that people are going to benefit, there’s a win-win in the equation,” Grazer said about the projects he chooses. “I’ve chosen to make movies that try to do that, to inspire people [and] empower them.”

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.