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The Uncomfortable Moment That Inspired Brian Grazer To Write 'Splash'

04/21/2015 10:28 am ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015

Brian Grazer has a lot of incredible films and TV shows under his belt -- from "Arrested Development" to "A Beautiful Mind" to "Empire" -- but his Hollywood success all began with a hit film about a mermaid. "Splash," starring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah, was released in 1984 and went on to become one of the year's highest grossing movies. Yet, if it weren't for one particularly uncomfortable incident with another studio executive, there's a chance "Splash" might not have happened.

When Grazer sat down with Oprah for an interview on "Super Soul Sunday," the prolific producer shared a story about what inspired him to write the film that helped launch his career.

Years ago, Grazer was a young legal clerk at Warner Bros., eager to make his way up the ranks in show business. As part of his unrelenting practice of meeting one new person each day, Grazer had set his sights on legendary studio head Lew Wasserman, who Grazer calls "the patriarch of modern entertainment."

Grazer's daily practice of meeting new people led to some long-lasting friendships over the years -- it was how he met his now-producing partner, Ron Howard -- but not every meeting went as smoothly. The day Grazer got his chance to meet Wasserman, the exec didn't exactly give him a warm reception.

"He won't even let me go in the office; he meets me at the lobby as I get off the elevator," Grazers remembers. "As I got off the elevator on the 15th floor, I saw him coming at me, and he gave me that look like, 'Don't waste my time, kid."

Typically, Grazer would be undeterred by this attitude, but that wasn't the case with Wasserman. "I started out with my opening sentence," Grazer says. "And he just said, 'Look. You don't have much to say. Wait here a second.'"

Wasserman disappeared into his office and returned with a notepad and a pencil.

"He says, 'Put the pencil to the paper, and it's worth more than it is at separate parts,'" Grazer says. "I thought, 'What's he mean?' And he said, 'Okay, now get out of here!'"

Distracted by his nerves and confusion, Grazer was unsure what Wasserman was trying to tell him at the time. Now, however, he looks back on the incident with more clarity.

"What he meant was you have to own your own ideas," Grazer says. "He said, 'You don't know anybody, you're not the nephew or cousin of some movie star. You're a nice enough kid, but you don't have any connections. You don't have the money to buy a book to turn it into a movie. So, the only thing you've got a chance at is creating out of nothing an idea.'"

It sounds harsh, but Grazer found this sentiment strangely comforting. "I thought, 'Well, wow, that's actually kind of democratizing, because anyone can put the pencil on the paper,'" Grazer says. "Even though I never thought of myself as a writer, I could just dig stuff out of my imagination."

This is exactly what the Oscar winner says he did for "Splash."

"['Splash'] was birthed out of that moment that I had with Lew Wasserman kicking me out of his office!" Grazer says.

"Super Soul Sunday" airs Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on OWN. You can also stream the program live during that time on Oprah.com/supersoulsunday or Facebook.com/supersoulsunday.

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