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Los Angeles — David Ellison, 41, would not be the first rich guy to arrive in Hollywood with a fat bank account and dreams of making movies, though the son of billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison boasts the rarest of attributes for a budding media mogul: a Silicon Valley pedigree.

In an industry in which many get their start fetching coffee or moving props, Ellison spent summers writing computer code for his father’s software company and getting insights on the movie business from Pixar Animation Studios co-founder Steve Jobs. Those geek sensibilities will come in handy if he succeeds in his bid to take over Paramount Global, a storied studio the fortunes of which have been upended by technological change.

Ellison is orchestrating a multistep transaction that would result in the merger of his independent studio, Skydance Media, with Paramount. Skydance entered into a 30-day exclusive negotiation with a special committee of the Paramount board, though as with any talks, a deal is not assured.

If Paramount’s board recommends the merger, it would present an opportunity for Ellison to revitalise the venerable studio, whose library of 1,000 films includes classics such as Star Trek, The Godfather and Indiana Jones, and whose television assets include broadcaster CBS and cable networks MTV and Nickelodeon.

Ellison is likely to restructure the company to deliver the highest-quality content and recalibrate the Paramount+ streaming service in a way that differentiates it from its rivals, according to one person familiar with Skydance’s strategy.

“One of the things that people are underestimating … is his sense of tech, compared to some of the other guys, … maybe with his father’s help or just his upbringing,” said Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel. “What they do with Paramount+ and all that other stuff I think will be refreshing.”

Skydance also is seeking to buy National Amusements, the Redstone family’s holding company, which owns 77% of Paramount’s class-A voting stock. That deal is contingent upon Paramount agreeing to acquire Skydance in an all-stock transaction valued at $5bn.

Stunt flying

Ellison demonstrated an appetite for risk-taking from an early age, learning to fly when he was 13 with his father, who took lessons with him. By the age of 16, David Ellison was flying an Extra 300, a high-performance aerobatic aircraft.

The studio’s name takes its inspiration from Ellison’s love of stunt flying, also known as “skydancing”.

Ellison and his sister, Megan, were raised by their mother, Barbara Boothe, who instilled in them a strong work ethic (they received a $5 weekly allowance for performing chores) and a love of film. Every weekend, they watched movies, he has told people.

Ellison enrolled in Pepperdine University to study business, but transferred to the University of California’s film school. A GQ magazine profile of Ellison in 2015 noted that Megan served as a boom operator on her brother’s senior-thesis movie. In 2011, she founded her own studio, Annapurna Pictures, which backed such Oscar-nominated films as Zero Dark Thirty and American Hustle.

In 2006, Ellison dropped out of school to finance Flyboys, a World War 1 movie about fighter pilots starring James Franco and Ellison. The film flopped and another project, Northern Lights, failed to take flight.

Ellison then sought another tack. Skydance struck a four-year deal with Paramount Pictures that led to Ellison’s first success, the Coen brothers’ 2010 remake of the western True Grit, which garnered 10 Oscar nominations. Other box office triumphs have followed, including World War Z, Star Trek, a trio of Mission: Impossible films and Top Gun: Maverick.

Loves film

Bryan Lourd, co-chair and CEO of the Creative Artists Agency, said Ellison was detail-orientated and an advocate for projects, creatively and in terms of deal structure. Because Ellison worked on these big projects early in his career, he had the opportunity to learn from the best.

If Ellison lands the deal, he will be “an owner-operator that actually loves film and television and stories, and that is needed now more than ever”, Lourd said.

Skydance studio has grown with Ellison’s ambitions. The studio now employs 1,300 people and is on track to deliver six live-action feature films, 10 television series and plus two animated movies over the next year.

In 2016, Skydance acquired The Workshop Entertainment to launch a game group, Skydance Interactive. In 2017 Skydance launched an animation division, now led by former Pixar creative chief John Lasseter. It expanded into sports-related scripted series and documentaries in 2021, forming partnerships with the National Football League, Tom Brady’s Religion of Sports and John Skipper’s Meadowlark Media.

Skydance is backed by investments from the Ellison family, RedBird Capital Partners, KKR, Chinese internet giant Tencent, and Korean powerhouse CJ ENM and its entertainment subsidiary, Studio Dragon.


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