New producer on block places studio giants on notice

By Adam Sherwin

Megan Ellison hailed as the saviour of cinema. Photo / AP
Megan Ellison hailed as the saviour of cinema. Photo / AP

Move over Harvey Weinstein, there's a new movie mogul in town and she boasts deeper pockets than the Oscar-laden king of independent film will ever have.

Megan Ellison, the 26-year-old daughter of the software billionaire Larry Ellison, is being hailed as the saviour of cinema after distributing her largesse over a series of films whose artistic ambitions far outweigh their box-office potential.

As the Wall Street money tap dries up for risky indie cinema, directors are hustling for an audience with Ellison, the film-school dropout who has shot to the top of Hollywood's producers-to-watch list by asking open-mouthed supplicants: "How much do you need?"

When Paul Thomas Anderson set out his vision for The Master, the director's allegory for the birth of Scientology, Ellison said, "I'll pay for it all", and wrote a cheque for US$40 million ($48.6 million).

Ellison's Annapurna Productions backed Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, a dramatisation of the Navy Seal hunt for Osama bin Laden, offering US$45 million.

Ellison has financed four films at a total cost of US$100 million this year.

Ellison's father Larry, the chief executive of computer giant Oracle, is the third-richest man in the US. She inherited US$2 billion on her 25th birthday, spent US$20 million on headquarters for her Annapurna company and began backing her own taste for high-minded films.

Critics argue Ellison's unlimited funds are skewing the market for independent cinema, lavishing money on loss-making films which could be made more cheaply, deterring harder-nosed investors from backing projects.

However, Ellison's sights extend beyond what might appear to be vanity projects. Annapurna splurged a reported $20 million for the rights to make a fifth Terminator film.

A recent tweet, quoting Ayn Rand, has placed the studio giants on notice that Ellison is ready to make the leap to blockbusters: "The question isn't who's going to let me. It's who's going to stop me?"

-Independent

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