David Ellison Took Flak for Hiring Cancelled Animation Innovator

(p. 1) Mr. Ellison, the son of Larry Ellison, a co-founder of Oracle, sure looked like “dumb money.” That is the Hollywood term for a gullible, affluent outsider bitten by the movie bug, the type of investor that studios have long counted on to keep their assembly lines running, despite it almost always ending poorly (for the newcomer). The young Mr. Ellison couldn’t stop talking about his love of cinema, in particular big-budget spectacles. He had just dropped out of the University of Southern California to act in a $60 million movie called “Flyboys,” a World War I aerial combat tale.

Partly financed with Ellison money, “Flyboys” arrived to a disastrous $6 million in ticket sales. But no matter: The scion was on Hollywood’s radar.

Along with his wallet.

Soon enough Mr. Ellison had given up acting and by 2010 had become a financier and producer for Paramount Pictures, pouring $350 million of equity and debt into movies like “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.” But Hollywood snickered at his effort to be taken seriously as a creative force, as did the news media.

. . .

(p. 10) Mr. Ellison . . . enraged half of Hollywood by abruptly announcing in January 2019 that John Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar, would join Skydance as animation chief. Mr. Lasseter (“Toy Story,” “Cars”) was radioactive at the time, having resigned seven months earlier as Disney’s chief creative officer amid #MeToo complaints about unwanted workplace hugging and imperious behavior. (Mr. Lasseter had apologized for “missteps” that made some Disney-Pixar staff members feel “disrespected or uncomfortable.”)

People like Mr. Ellison typically sulk off to some luxury hideaway at this point in the script to nurse their wounds. (Lanai, the Hawaiian island owned by his father, would do nicely.) Accustomed to floating through life, they seem unable to cope with anything less, especially if it means admitting missteps.

Instead, Mr. Ellison served up a major plot twist.

He raised $275 million by selling 10 percent of Skydance to investors like RedBird Capital, a private investment firm, and CJ Entertainment, the Korean company behind the Oscar-winning “Parasite.” He lined up $1 billion in revolving credit through JPMorgan Chase. And Skydance made a sharp turn toward streaming, selling attention-getting content to whichever service wanted to pay the most.

So far, the result has been nothing short of remarkable, in part because Mr. Ellison’s timing was fortuitous. The pandemic supercharged home entertainment.

For the full story, see:

Brooks Barnes. “Not Such ‘Dumb Money’ After All.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, June 20, 2021): 1 & 10-11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 16, 2021, and has the title “Dumb Money No More: How David Ellison Became a Hollywood High Flier.”)

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