Something happened at the 2014 Golden Globe awards that probably flew under the radar for most viewers. Megan Ellison, daughter of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, made history as a movie producer. She is the first woman to score two Best Picture Oscar nominations in the same year. When Amy Adams took the stage to accept her Best Actress award for ‘American Hustle,’ she not only thanked writer-director David O. Russell, “You write such amazing roles for women,” but she also made sure to include Ellison in her thank you speech. So did writer-director Spike Jonze of ‘Her’ when he won his award for Best Screenplay.
This isn’t Ellison’s first trip to the Big Dance. In 2012, she has been nominated for producing ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ If you recall, it was an extremely controversial movie that sparked a debate whether the director Kathryn Bigelow was implying that torture helped the US track down Osama Bin Laden to his compound and kill him in 2011. Bigelow was snubbed for a Best Director Oscar nomination by Academy members. It received praise from film critics and was a modest hit at the box office. Previously, her other successful investment was backing the Coen brothers’ 2012 ‘True Grit’ which was one of the highest-grossing Westerns ever made and was nominated for ten Academy Awards but won none.
So why should we care about Megan Ellison and her ascent into Hollywood? Quite simply, she is making a huge impact on moviemaking and thankfully so. She is taking on film projects that major Hollywood studios won’t touch with a ten-foot pole. That’s good for moviegoers that want to see intelligent adult dramas instead of the same franchise movies that target young audiences to help guarantee a studio turn a profit. As fellow producer JoAnne Sellar (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights) states, “She’s supporting auteur-ish directors and their passion projects. She’s filled a hole in the marketplace.” Subsequently, she funded ‘The Master,’ the Scientology-based film project from director Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams. Unfortunately, the film didn’t connect with audiences and was not a box office success.
At 27-years-old, Ellison is a billionaire thanks to being the heiress to software entrepreneur Larry Ellison, fifth-richest man in the world. With a net worth of $43 billion, she inherited a lump sum of that fortune estimated at around $2 billion. She’s always had a love for film. After dropping out of USC’s prestigious film school after only two semesters, she decided to travel the world. Between the usual jet-setting party stops of Cannes and St. Tropez, she traveled to the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal, through a section called Annapurna. The Indian meaning of Annapurna literally means “Goddess of the Harvests.” Fittingly, she named her production company, AnnaPurna Pictures. Many consider her a savior of the film industry. She has deep pockets, a love for cinema and the moxie to finance films deemed risky by big Hollywood studios.
Although Ellison never gives any interviews, she actively communicates on her Twitter feed and enjoys rubbing elbows with the Hollywood community. In a short period of time, her company has attained the reputation as a place where auteurs can get their projects funded and made. Her movie choices fill a void for cinephiles seeking mature adult dramas. Ellison’s money has made her a major Hollywood player but she doesn’t squander it. She has teamed up with powerhouse Creative Artists Agency and on their advice, only puts her money behind top-end directors (like Anderson, Russell and Jonze) struggling to get their projects off the ground through the studio system. Certainly, Ellison wants to make money but it’s obvious she cares more than just the bottom line. Annapurna Pictures doesn’t restrict her from dealing with a single studio. She pays for the film then negotiates with a major studio to distribute the film. For instance, the distributor for ‘American Hustle’ is Sony and it is Warner Bros. for ‘Her.’
She isn’t the only Ellison to make a splash in Hollywood. Her 31-year-old brother David runs Skydance Productions that was involved with the making of ‘Star Trek into Darkness’ and ‘World War Z.’ His production company will team up with hers in the reboot of the ‘Terminator’ and ‘Mission Impossible’ movie series in 2015. ‘American Hustle’ leads the Oscar race with 10 nominations including best picture, actor, actress, supporting actor and actress. ‘Her’ is nominated in three major categories – best picture, best screenplay and best original song. Check out my movie review of American Hustle and Her. The Academy Awards ceremony is slated for Sunday, March 2 on ABC http://oscar.go.com/.