You may not have heard of Megan Ellison, but there's a good chance you’ve seen a movie produced by her. In fact, in the past year alone, two films she's funded have received multiple Oscar nods — three for The Master and five for Zero Dark Thirty, including one win for sound editing. And given that Ellison and her brother David recently purchased the rights to the Terminator franchise, chances are you'll be hearing a lot more of her soon.
Still, as Vanessa Grigoriadis notes in her Vanity Fair article, Ellison has worked hard to maintain a low profile — a somewhat surprising move given both the business she's involved in and her own background. Ellison is the daughter of Larry Ellison, the co-founder and CEO of Oracle Corporation who, with a net worth of approximately $43 billion, currently ranks fifth on Forbes's list of the wealthiest individuals in the world. Larry Ellison, by all accounts, has not stinted on sharing his wealth with his children; for Megan's 25th birthday, her father is rumored to have given her anywhere from $200 million to $2 billion.
But unlike some heiresses — Paris Hilton comes to mind — Megan Ellison appears to have little interest in the hard-partying lifestyle so many of her peers adopt (at least, not anymore — numerous articles refer to her party-girl past). While some have criticized her involvement in the film industry as egotistical — in the words of one source, she can come across as someone trying to "hang out with the cool kids" — it's hard to argue with the results. Terminator franchise notwithstanding, Ellison is earning herself a reputation as a savior of the smart, daring films that have an increasingly difficult time finding financial backing from Hollywood executives. In fact, funding cutting-edge ventures is written into the mission statement of Ellison's production company, Annapurna Pictures, which boasts a commitment to "mature, adult dramas."
If nothing else, Ellison’s financial clout is a breath of fresh air in an industry that is still overwhelmingly dominated by men. With women comprising only 18% of all directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors as of 2011, it's a fair bet that mainstream cinema is heavily circumscribed by male interests, so perhaps it's not altogether surprising that female executives like Ellison should gravitate towards movies that are a bit further off the beaten track; as the Salon article above notes, indie films come much closer to gender parity.
Not everyone is convinced that Ellison will ultimately prove a boon to the film industry, though. In fact, some worry that Ellison may inadvertently hurt the very kind of cinema she is trying to support by "pumping up prices" for indie filmmakers who can't afford to casually shell out the extra money needed to shoot on 65mm film. And then there's the fact that, as Grigoriadis points out, Ellison seems to hunger for a more active role in the creative process — a desire that may at some point come into conflict with her goal of freeing filmmakers from the constraints placed on them by financial considerations.
Besides, it's hard not to feel some resentment towards someone who simply has billions dropped in her lap to spend however she likes, and Ellison may find the image of "spoiled rich kid" a difficult one to break.
But with several new films in the works, it's unlikely that Ellison is going anywhere anytime soon, so for now, let's just sit back and enjoy the ride.