EXCLUSIVE: In a move that takes her patronage of auteur filmmakers to another level, Megan Ellison and her Annapurna Pictures have made a deal to finance two pictures directed by David O Russell. This is an outgrowth of their experience on American Hustle, the ensemble drama that got 10 Oscar nominations and grossed $250 million worldwide. Ellison earlier this year pledged to back Page 1, the development shingle of Zero Dark Thirty writer and producer Mark Boal. But she usually finances auteur pictures piecemeal and this is the first deal of its kind for her. She just signed on to finance Richard Linklater’s Boyhood follow-up That’s What I’m Talking About, with Paramount distributing. Her latest film is Foxcatcher, the Bennett Miller-directed drama that is smack in the center of the Oscar race, with the performances by Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo.
It will become clear soon which of Russell’s films will come under his deal. He is next expected to re-team with his Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle star in a movie about Joy Mangano, the Miracle Mop lady. That is set at Fox 2000.
I don’t know whether Ellison will start making more of these deals, but she is certainly someone to admire. I can recall when Paul Thomas Anderson watched Universal reject The Master because of its $35 million budget, and it was clear the only way he would get to make it would have been if he cut the budget drastically to be more reflective of the gross ceiling of a specialty movie. Ellison allowed him the budget he wanted. I thought the movie was a bit indulgent, but I appreciated being able to see a great auteur filmmaker get to realize his vision, and Phil Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix got nominated for their performances.
Filmmakers are finding it harder and harder as margins get tighter, but Ellison provides an oasis for the best ones. Enough of her films are succeeding, and the way she is going, she will leave a trail of credits that someone like John Calley would have admired. Also endearing is that Ellison wants nothing to do with the likes of me and other journalists. She runs toward good filmmakers and runs from personal plaudits. I can’t think of another person in this business quite like her.