EXCLUSIVE: David Ellison’s Skydance Productions is negotiating a rights deal to turn the 1970s animated science fiction TV series Star Blazers into a large scale live action feature. Ellison will hire Christopher McQuarrie to write the script, with Ellison and Josh C. Kline producing with McQuarrie. The series was based on the Japanese anime series Space Battleship Yamato. Both are described as “space opera,” involving alien invasions, the near extinction of the human race, and a last dash journey through space to save the planet.
Ellison started Skydance with hopes he could emulate the studio-aligned-producer-who-can-put-up-50% model that Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures has succeeded with at Warner Bros. Ellison made a deal with Paramount Pictures in late 2009 to co-finance four to six pictures per year, and then raised a reported $350 million in debt and equity funding. His Paramount deal has gotten off to a flying start: Skydance funded half of True Grit, the $30 million Joel and Ethan Coen-directed Western that is up for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. More importantly to Ellison’s investors, True Grit has so far grossed $165 million domestic, with foreign still rolling out.
Ellison is the son of Oracle founder Larry Ellison and an accomplished acrobatic pilot who has a particular appetite for aviation projects (though his first foray as actor-producer, the Tony Bill-directed Flyboys, landed with a thud). Skydance headquarters are currently at the Santa Monica Airport, housed in a hangar that overlooks Ellison’s array of stunt planes., but he will soon move to offices on the Paramount lot.
Skydance has fast become a key player for Paramount, a studio that has been funding its pictures piecemeal since its slate financing arrangement with Melrose 2 dried up, and Paramount walked away from a $450 million slate deal with Deutsche Bank in 2008 because the studio found the deal point onerous in an unstable credit market. Just like Tull did at Warner Bros, Ellison’s slate is a mix of projects brought to him by Paramount, and others that he’s taken the active hand in developing. Among the Paramount projects Skydance is co-financing is Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the rebooted Jack Ryan franchise that is undergoing a Steve Zaillian rewrite, with Chris Pine starring and Jack Bender directing, My Mother’s Curse, the Dan Fogelman-scripted comedy that has Ann Fletcher attached to direct and Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as potential stars, an untitled comic pitch being written by David Caspe that Charlize Theron will star in and produce, and the Shane Salerno-scripted License to Steal, about high end repo agents who reclaim play toys of the wealthy, including jets and speedboats. He separately is developing Strange Case of Hyde with Dark Horse comic, but hasn’t yet set that at a studio.
Ellison has a Top Gun sequel percolating, which would potentially also be written by McQuarrie, a steady presence on Tom Cruise pictures. Cruise is currently starring in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, which Skydance is co-financing.