While you were busy hating Lena Dunham because her life in the Big City is more HBO-worthy than yours or because her parents have cooler jobs than your parents, the entertainment industry has been incubating a far more contemptible privilege beneficiary — 26-year-old Megan Ellison, who has used some of her father and possible Mickey Rourke-stunt-double Larry Ellison's billions to force open the doors of the indie film industry.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Ellison has financed more independent movies that no one has seen than the people who thought moviegoers really wanted an Atlas Shrugged movie (Ellison, btw, also quotes Ayn Rand on her Twitter). A USC film school dropout, Ellison inherited a large chunk of tech-industry treasure when she turned 25 from her father, the chief executive of Oracle Corp. who has an estimated net worth of $36 billion. With that inheritance, Ellison has set to work building a film company the likes of which some observers believe may one day rival Harvey Weinstein's Oscar-chum empire, the Weinstein Co. She currently has two horses in the race at Cannes, and has attracted such marquee filmmakers as Kathryn Bigelow, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Spike Jonze to her burgeoning enterprise through her sincere interest in filmmaking and a munificence that's notoriously hard to come by in the indie film racket — the four Ellison-financed movies to debut this year have (so far) run her more than $100 million.
Ellison has made all these deals, notes the Times with details that are supposed to either inspire awe or rage — depending what kind of ordinary American reads her profile — at Ellison's casual wealth, while loafing around her newly-built $33-million movie magic compound in Led Zeppelin t-shirts and schmoozing with agents and filmmakers in her pool. She drives an Aston Martin and shares insights into her personality via Twitter, insights such as, "The control freak in me really clashes with the social anxiety in me, which drives me to drink in social situations in March. It's a real lose, lose."
She's also, according to Joanne Seller, a producing partner of director Paul Thomas Anderson's, "taking filmmakers under her wing and letting them flourish," a increasingly rare phenomenon in the movie industry, which has been recently plagued by falling theater attendance and board game adaptations. In an era when few studios will roll the dice on a movie that doesn't include the pyrotechnic destruction of at least one major metropolis, Ellison is giving underfunded filmmakers the chance to make the sorts of adult dramas that seem increasingly pushed to the margins of the demographics box-office game. Among her biggest upcoming titles are Bigelow's $45-million dramatization of the Navy SEAL hunt for Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, and Anderson's $30-million The Master, which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as, more or less, L. Ron Hubbard.
Whether or not these sound like titles you're clamoring at the box-office window (seriously, does anyone go up to the window anymore, what with those handy kiosks all over movie theater lobbies?) to see, Ellison is giving filmmakers opportunities to make movies they want to make instead of movies based on an ancillary superhero who needs a backstory before his or her inclusion in the next Avengers extravaganza. Ellison isn't, however, the first wealthy Hollywood financier to fancy herself a film connoisseur, and though the Times profile obliquely praises her for is giving filmmakers a sort of safe house in an industry increasingly hostile to story-based filmmaking, other Hollywood outsiders have sunk millions into star-crossed film projects, only to slink away from the industry a little more jaded about the magic of the moving pictures. (For an especially vivid account of one such billionaire lured to the glamor of Hollywood like a moth to an open flame, read Nicole LaPorte's The Men Who Would Be Kings, which tells about, among other things, how Microsoft-scion Larry Allen became Dreamworks' check-scribbling dupe.)
An Ayn Rand-quoting, luxury car-driving, martini-sipping patron of the arts, Ellison has more money in the bank than any of her movies will cost (or probably gross), and that would be simply a frustrating manifestation of the inheritance principle in America if not for a single, maddening detail — she has gone on record as saying that the Back to the Future trilogy is the "best movie trilogy of all time," when anybody who knows movies knows the best movie trilogy ever is comprised of the first three The Mighty Ducks films. I mean, seriously, what is this country coming to?
Megan Ellison is energizing indie film world [L.A. Times]