How David Ellison Built Skydance Into Hollywoods Smart Bet


At exactly the same time, Skydance proceeds to have a producing and financing deal with Paramount. (It expires next June.) That means Skydance gets the opportunity to invest in Paramount productions and help shape the creative result. Coming collaborations include “Snake Eyes,” an action film based on a G.I. Joe character and set for release on July 23, and the much-anticipated sequel “Top Gun: Maverick,” that will arrive on Nov. 19. Mr. Ellison is also a financier and producer of two more “Mission: Impossible” movies.

The upshot: In a time of entertainment industry upheaval, Mr. Ellison has transformed Skydance into the rarest of Hollywood companies — a flourishing, built-from-scratch, all-audiences, independent studio. Nobody (insider or outsider) has accomplished that feat in years, certainly not on the scale Mr. Ellison is trying. He wishes to become Legendary, the “Godzilla vs. Kong” studio which was founded in 2000 and sold for $3.5 billion in 2016. And he also needs to be Pixar, which was started in 1986 and sold for $7.4 billion in 2006.

The last Hollywood start-up with this much ambition may have been DreamWorks SKG, which was founded in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

David Ellison is not some rich guys son who’s a dilettante in all of this not at all, Mr. Geffen said. “He’s an extremely serious, hard-working, dedicated guy who keeps getting better at what he’s doing. He’s succeeding in a tough, tough business that’s changing radically and fraught with risk. ”

The question is whether Skydance can maintain its momentum. The DreamWorks dream team found it difficult to navigate Hollywood’s fast-changing currents.

And what is Mr. Ellison’s end game?

In certain ways, Skydance is an instruction guide for understanding Hollywood — where it’s been, where it is now, where it’s going.

Studios like Paramount used to control everything. Costs remained relatively steady, and movie businesses largely bankrolled their own productions (with occasional money laundering from the mob). As Hollywood grew, star-struck outsiders with too much money and too much self arrived to fund pictures. The intelligent ones usually got out as quickly as they can, said Jason E. Squire, the editor of The Movie Business Book. ”

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