Author Topic: Silicon Valley Scion Tackles Hollywood  (Read 2711 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

  • Landlord
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 10032
    • View Profile
Silicon Valley Scion Tackles Hollywood
« on: August 29, 2011, 05:06:05 am »

August 28, 2011
Silicon Valley Scion Tackles Hollywood

LOS ANGELES — Annapurna, a Hindu goddess of nourishment, has her name on a section of the Himalayas. Annapurna Pictures operates from a cluster of three multimillion-dollar homes in the Hollywood Hills.

Instead of a goddess, Annapurna Pictures has Megan Ellison, a 25-year-old scion of Silicon Valley, who over the last year or so has been feeding what may soon be hundreds of millions of dollars to the hungriest part of the movie business: the writers, producers, directors and stars who make sophisticated dramas and adventure films that are too risky for studios and their corporate owners.

At least six movies set for release in the coming months received substantial backing from Ms. Ellison and her company. They include “The Master,” a drama about a cult that resembles Scientology that stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and is being directed by Paul Thomas Anderson of “There Will Be Blood” fame. Another high-profile project, still untitled, tackles the killing of Osama bin Laden; it is being written and produced by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, both Oscar winners for “The Hurt Locker.”

Earlier this year, Ms. Ellison bought the rights to the well-worn “Terminator” franchise for a reported $20 million. She is developing a film based on “The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” an article about the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by the departing executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller.

In all, it is a remarkable surge for a young woman who earlier this year was such a minor player that her executive producer credit on Paramount’s “True Grit” almost escaped notice: One player on the eight-member producing team said he was unaware of her credit until last week.

But the jury is still very much out on Ms. Ellison, whose father, Lawrence J. Ellison, is the chief executive of Oracle. She is spending money in a particular corner of moviedom, and doing it with a spirit more akin to the freewheeling world of technology start-ups than a film industry entering its second century. But there have been plenty of outsiders — the Seagram heir Edgar Bronfman Jr., eBay’s Jeff Skoll and Microsoft’s Paul Allen — who have been frustrated when they tried to make waves in the movie business.

Ms. Ellison invested in “True Grit” with her 28-year-old brother, David, who last year raised about $350 million in equity and borrowed funds for his own film company, Skydance Productions.

Since then, she has grabbed the limelight by diving into complex — and sometimes expensive — films that might not exist without her backing. Meanwhile, David counts on an alliance with Paramount Pictures and hews closer to the mainstream, making bets on safer pictures like the forthcoming “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.”

“She has this grand vision; she wants to be the one-stop shop for filmmakers,” said Michael Benaroya, 30, a member of a Seattle real estate family who has joined Ms. Ellison in financing a thriller called “Catch .44” and “The Wettest County in the World,” a Prohibition-era crime drama, both of which still await release.

Ms. Ellison declined interview requests.

Friends and business associates describe her as shy, though not too shy to have reportedly posted on MySpace a photo of herself with the caption: “Drunk dialing Dad in Paris after 3 bottles of Dom.” Like her father and brother, Ms. Ellison is not a college graduate, though both she and David attended the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts (David is enrolled there, and planning to graduate, according to the school.)

But she is not without focus. A competitive equestrian, she trained on jumpers at the Wild Turkey Farm in Woodside, Calif. Seven years ago, Ms. Ellison rode in the North American Young Rider Championships.

According to an associate who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid conflict, Ms. Ellison has had unusually broad life experiences because of her father’s wealth. David Geffen, the DreamWorks co-founder and for a time the co-owner of a yacht with Mr. Ellison, is said to have been a longtime mentor. (Mr. Geffen did not respond to an e-mail query.) Ms. Ellison works with the Ziffren Brittenham law firm, an entertainment powerhouse that has represented both DreamWorks and her brother.

Her introduction to the film business began in 2006. Katherine Brooks, a writer and director of television programs and indie films, recalls Ms. Ellison contacting her via MySpace after the first showings of Ms. Brooks’s movie “Loving Annabelle,” about forbidden love between a teacher at a Catholic school for girls and her student. Out of the blue, Ms. Ellison, said she wanted to invest in Ms. Brooks’s next picture.

At a first meeting, Ms. Ellison “drove up on a Harley-Davidson, black-painted nails, this Pink Floyd shirt and jeans,” said Ms. Brooks, who spoke by telephone from New Orleans, where she now works. For a year, the two made plans for “Waking Madison,” about a woman who tries to cure her multiple personality disorder by locking herself in a room without food for 30 days.

Ms. Ellison wrote checks for a budget that was reported to be $2 million, though Ms. Brooks said she “didn’t want to know” what the film actually cost. Shot in 2007, it was shown at the Newport Beach Film Festival in May of this year, and was finally released on video in July.

Subsequent efforts didn’t fare much better. Ms. Ellison stepped in to help back another film, “Main Street,” featuring Colin Firth, that was shot two years ago in Durham, N.C., on a reported budget of $10 million. It floundered through festivals in Texas, Arizona and Indiana, and has yet to open in theaters. “Passion Play,” also shot in 2009, got a release but bombed. That film, a thriller about a down-and-out trumpeter, was packed with stars — Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox, Bill Murray — but took in extremely low box office receipts when released in May.

Two things changed Ms. Ellison’s fortunes. The first involved money. In the last year, according to associates, Ms. Ellison got access to much larger sums from her father. As recently as last summer, she had needed financing from Mr. Benaroya to help make “Catch .44” on a budget of just over $10 million. Six months later, their roles were reversed. Ms. Ellison, now fully funded, helped Mr. Benaroya rescue “The Wettest County in the World,” which had to begin shooting in February but required more cash than he had on hand.

“I wasn’t in a position to write a $26 million check,” Mr. Benaroya said.

The second change grew from a lesson in Hollywood dynamics. The Creative Artists Agency was the guide, working with Ms. Ellison not as a client, but as a well-heeled adjunct to the agency’s film finance group, headed by Roeg Sutherland and Micah Green.

In an initial sit-down, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were private, Ms. Ellison was asked: “Do you realize what you could have access to?” Her money and considerable verve could teach Hollywood something about taking creative chances, the agents argued. But it should be applied only to filmmakers in the top rank, precisely in a moment of need.

They soon connected her with Mr. Boal and Ms. Bigelow, who were struck by what Mr. Boal called her “Silicon Valley style” — a belief that there’s actually profit “in cool, as opposed to a more cynical view that there’s money in repeating what has already worked.”

Ms. Ellison paid for Mr. Boal’s purchase of the Julian Assange story and became a backer of the bin Laden movie. (Representative Peter T. King, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, has questioned whether filmmakers have received classified information in preparing for the movie, which is set for release shortly before the presidential election. Mr. Boal and Ms. Bigelow have said the film, which will not portray Barack Obama on screen, has no political agenda.)

The director John Hillcoat, another Creative Artists client, is now finishing “The Wettest County in the World” in a postproduction facility inside one of those three hillside homes — the most expensive of them purchased for $13.8 million with a loan from Larry Ellison’s Octopus Holdings — that Ms. Ellison has been using as her quarters.

Indeed, virtually all of Ms. Ellison’s current projects have ties to Creative Artists. In some, like “Cogan’s Trade,” with Andrew Dominik as writer and director and Brad Pitt in a leading role, Ms. Ellison’s interest is largely financial. On others, like “The Master,” she is credited as a full producer. On those, she shares fully in decisions, though Mr. Benaroya and others who have worked with Ms. Ellison say she is generally supportive of directors, and inclined to reinforce rather than challenge their choices.

The next step, according to associates, will probably involve ventures in other culture-related businesses, but it is not clear which. Most, they say, will be meant to make a profit. A very few may be for fun, or to let her play patron of the arts.

But none, predicts Mr. Boal, will be reckless.

“She comes across as very casual,” he said. “But this is a woman with an endgame.”

Offline Battle

  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 11167
  • M.A.X. Commander
    • View Profile
Re: Silicon Valley Scion Tackles Hollywood
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2021, 02:55:59 am »
Sunday, 28th March Twenty One
Fired CAA Agent Jay Baker Apologizes for Comparing Black Colleague to a Crack Addict
by J. Clara Chan

Fired Creative Artists Agency literary agent Jay Baker apologized on Saturday for comparing one of his colleagues, the manager Jewerl Ross, to a crack addict in a scene from "Menace 2 Society."

"I deeply regret my actions and the pain I have caused Jewerl Ross," Baker, who was ousted from CAA on Friday, said in a statement to Deadline.

"I have apologized to him, and I also want to apologize to anyone else whom my behavior has offended. I have no excuse and I take full responsibility. I am a work in progress and I've embarked on a journey to fully understand what it means to be truly anti-racist. I promise that my actions going forward will reflect that learning."

According to an email obtained by Deadline, Ross — who is Black — said he was "horrified" after Baker said Ross' request for an early screening of an upcoming film was like "the crack addict scene from 'Menace 2 Society'" and then proceeded to send Ross a clip of the exact scene for him to watch.

"No black man in America wants to think that a white person thinks that asking for a favor is like asking for crack," Ross wrote in the email.

"The first thing that crossed my mind is that if I were white and asked for a favor, would you ever have thought of this scene? And would you ever have sent it me?"