| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Feb 23 Seven years ago Megan
Ellison took a leave from the University of Southern California
to climb the mountains of Nepal. On Sunday, the 27-year-old
daughter of billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison hopes
to climb the Dolby Theater stage in Hollywood to accept the Best
Picture Oscar for "Zero Dark Thirty."
It could be a tough ascent for Ellison, who spent $43
million to produce the film, which is nominated for five Academy
Awards. Director Kathryn Bigelow's drama about the mission to
kill Osama bin Laden was passed over for a Golden Globe, often a
predictor of the Oscars, and also missed out on the Screen
Actors Guild's top film prize. "Argo" took both.
Still, the younger Ellison has scaled Hollywood's rungs of
influence and power with startling rapidity despite scarcely a
dozen films to her credit.
She already has Oscar experience, helping to finance the
2010 Jeff Bridges film "True Grit," nominated for 10 Oscars.
This year, she produced director Paul Thomas Anderson's "The
Master," about a charismatic sect leader played by Philip
Seymour Hoffman, which earned him and co-stars Joaquin Phoenix
and Amy Adams Oscar nominations.
"She is bringing great projects to the screen and doing good
things for this business," said Bill Gerber, who produced the
Clint Eastwood film "Gran Torino" and has not met Ellison. "She
is like the legendary producer Hal Wallis ("Casablanca"), who
bet on filmmakers and let them realize their dreams."
Deep pockets help. Larry Ellison's only daughter has a hefty
trust fund to draw on, and is one of a growing number of wealthy
business scions who employ their family coffers to bankroll
Teddy Schwarzman, the 33-year-old son of Blackstone Group
Chief Executive Officer Stephen Schwarzman, produced this
year's Mark Walhberg film "Broken City." John Powers Middleton,
the 29-year-old son of Philadelphia Phillies part-owner John S.
Middleton, is producing nine films and the planned TV series
"Bates Motel," according to film information website IMDB.com.
Megan Ellison's 30-year-old sibling, David, raised $350
million in debt and equity in 2010 and produces big-budget
action films with Viacom's Paramount Pictures, such as
this year's "Star Trek into Darkness."
His sister largely keeps to herself in a town where
glad-handing, fancy parties and showy appearances is currency.
She doesn't give interviews. She took a power lunch with
"Master" director Paul Thomas Anderson at a neighborhood eatery
called Jerry's Deli and has gone to meetings on a Harley
Ellison declined to comment for this story through her
publicist and did not respond to calls to the office of her
company, Annapurna Pictures, or messages left on her Facebook
EQUESTRIAN TO ANGEL
Since setting up Annapurna in 2010, Ellison has become a
prolific producer, having helped finance 11 films. Four others
are in various stages of production, according to IMBD.com.
Last year, she and brother David split the $15 million to
secure the rights to "The Terminator" franchise, sold as part of
a bankruptcy proceeding, outbidding Lions Gate and
other studios. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently told reporters he
hopes to join the cast of "Terminator Five."
With studios shutting down specialty film divisions and
filmmakers finding it increasingly difficult to get financing,
Hollywood welcomes someone with a large checkbook and a genuine
interest in their films.
"The Master" languished till Ellison was shown a script, the
film's producer, JoAnne Sellar, recalled in production notes for
"Megan Ellison appeared like an angel who swooped in and
said, 'I love this project and let's do it,'" said Sellar.
"That's when things really began to happen."
Jessica Chastain, nominated for an Oscar for her lead role
in "Zero Dark Thirty," says Ellison pushed her to take the part.
"'We have this film, and Kathryn Bigelow wants you," the
actress recalled Ellison saying, in an interview with Vanity
Fair. "'We went to your agent and were told that you were busy.
I cannot accept that for an answer.'"
Ellison makes quick decisions, a trait filmmakers like. It
only took two meetings to convince her to back "Zero Dark
Thirty," said screenwriter and producer Mark Boal, who said he
and Bigelow chose her over other interested financiers.
"She loves films and she was very enthusiastic about this
one. What's not to like?" said Boal. "She has her own ideas, but
she let us do what we thought best for this film."
The young producer has backed her share of financial
misfires, including "The Master," which cost $32 million to
produce and has only generated $26.2 million in worldwide ticket
sales, according to the site Box Office Mojo. Other flops
included the Brad Pitt film "Killing Them Softly" last year.
Megan Ellison shares her father's passion for buying choice
real estate. She owns three adjoining properties in a pricey
hilltop section of Hollywood, including one from which she runs
The producer was raised in Woodside, California, where her
mother, Barbara, bred horses at her Wild Turkey Farm. David flew
airplanes. Megan competed in equestrian-jumping competitions.
"She could have been a champion, she was that talented. And
she had the determination to succeed you don't often see in
someone that young," recalls her coach, champion jumper Mandy
Porter. "But one day, she decided she wanted to try something
Her next film, "Foxcatcher," stars Steve Carell as John du
Pont, a member of the prominent du Pont family who was convicted
in the 1966 shooting of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz on du
Pont's 800-acre Pennsylvania estate.