The Ellison Kids: Billionaire Producers Making Their Mark on Hollywood

Wed Jul 27, 2011 6:49am EDT

Forget Bob and Harvey, Joel and Ethan, Larry and Andy.

Hollywood’s new power siblings are the Ellisons -- David, 28, and Megan, 25.

The two children of Oracle co-founder and billionaire Larry Ellison are funding major projects throughout the movie industry. They even occasionally throw their weight behind projects together such as with “True Grit.”

After a rocky start, David Ellison’s Skydance Productions is co-financing movies at Paramount, including “Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol” and “World War Z,” from a $350 million fund.  

But even more interesting is Ellison’s younger sister, who through her Annapurna Productions is working with directors like Spike Jonze and Kathryn Bigelow.

“She’s incredibly impressive,” producer Doug Wick told TheWrap. "She has that rare balance of having really great taste, real respect for people who are genuinely gifted, real appreciation, and then also having a really clear practical streak.”

Ellison funded Wick’s film, “The Wettest County in the World,” bought by the Weinstein Co. at Cannes this year. The film, directed by John Hillcoat, is based on Matt Bondurant’s novel. The screenplay is by Nick Cave and stars Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman and Guy Pearce.

Wick said that people who look at Megan Ellison as merely “young” or merely “money” are wrong.

She is funding Jonze's new project with Charlie Kaufman. The plot of the first collaboration between the filmmakers since “Adaptation” is being kept under wraps.

Annapurna is also financing for Columbia Pictures a thriller about the Navy SEALs who found and killed Osama bin Laden. The movie stars Joel Edgerton and is directed and produced by Bigelow and written by Mark Boal -- the “Hurt Locker” team. Budget figures were unavailable.

Also read: Megan Ellison's Annapurna to Finance Bigelow & Boal's Next

She's also producing Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," a 1950s period piece about a charismatic intellectual who builds a faith-based movement in the United States -- and takes on a young drifter as his right-hand man.

She's executive producer on "Cogan's Trade," starring Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini, and written and directed by Andrew Dominik, who also wrote and directed "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

And her company outbid the likes of Lionsgate for the rights to make a "Terminator 5" earlier this year, paying an estimated $20 million for the rights.

But Ellisons are anything but flashy Hollywood players. They work below the radar and generally avoid interviews. 

David’s Skydance Productions has made bigger bets, and paid the price.

His first project five years ago, “Flyboys,” was a flop. Ellison co-financed and starred as pilot Eddie Beagle in the MGM movie, which had a $60 million production budget and grossed $17.8 million worldwide.

He is now executive producer of “Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol” and “World War Z,” two very big projects Paramount projects starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, respectively. 

Other Skydance projects in development include an untitled disaster project by “X-Men: First Class” and “Thor” writers Zack Stentz and Ashley Miller.

Also read: Skydance Raises $350M to Use on 'M:I:IV,' 'True Grit,' Jack Ryan

At a time when Hollywood is desperate for production money, the Ellisons can wield their cash as leverage in a time of scarcity.

Their name undoubtedly helped smooth the path. Their father, co-founder and CEO of Oracle Corp., is the world’s fifth-richest person with $39.5 billion, according to Forbes.

David Ellison, who graduated from USC film school, acted in a couple of movies before moving into producing, executive producing 2010's “True Grit” with his sister for Paramount. In 2010, he made the deal with the studio.

Both David and Megan Ellison declined to comment for this story. 

J.C. Spink, the manager and producer, told TheWrap that he is “extremely impressed by David. He seems really smart and I think he’s making good choices in what he’s buying and what he’s partnering with Paramount on.”

Spink, who has produced movies including “Monster in Law” and “The Hangover,” said that “anyone who has preconceived notions about him is going to be proven wrong.”

Megan Ellison is gaining fans around the industry, too.

“When you’re working on a movie, after you’ve interacted for 50 hours, you’re in the trenches quickly, so first impressions are way in the rearview mirror,” said Wick.

“It doesn’t matter if someone is young, old, real experienced, inexperienced, you find out quickly, you test their mettle. Everybody has worked with incredibly accomplished people who turn out, later in their careers, to be real egomaniacs.”

Megan Ellison is different, he said.

“She’s going to create her reputation in the proper way: One smart step at a time.”

Related Articles:  Megan Ellison's Annapurna to Finance Bigelow & Boal's Next Skydance Raises $350M to Use on 'M:I:IV,' 'True Grit,' Jack Ryan

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