It’s hard out for movie distributors these days. One of them, Broad Green, just closed shop yesterday a mere three years after being founded by Wall Street hedge funders who invested in quality programming (A Walk in the Woods, 99 Homes, I Smile Back, Neon Demon, Song to Song, Last Days in the Desert) and got little back in return. A last ditch effort at more broadly appealing titles (Bad Santa 2, Wish Upon) failed to pay off, and now they’re off to that great distributor house in the sky, like so many others who simply can’t make it in a world where the DVD market is dead, European pre-sells have shored up and online streaming services gobble everything up despite being billions of dollars in debt.
Somehow, Annapurna’s Megan Ellison looks at all of this, and thinks she can beat the odds.
Why not? She already has multiple times before. The daughter of a billionaire, Ellison dropped out of USC Film School after just one year, and made Times’s 100 Most Influential People list before she was 30, throwing her own money around to create Annapurna Pictures and produce award-winning (and usually financially successful) movies like Zero Dark Thirty, True Grit, The Master, Her, American Hustle, Foxcatcher, Joy and 20th Century Women. Moreover, she had the good sense to disentangle herself from Terminator: Genisys, her brother’s passion project they were going to make together before she stepped away and left him to put it through his own production label, Skydance Media.
Now, Megan is back working with Kathryn Bigelow on the buzzy awards contender Detroit, and making the biggest bet of her career. Instead of sticking with her hot streak as a film producer she’s trying her hand at being a studio head, turning Detroit into the first film which Annapurna which will fully distribute (in addition to having produced it).
THR‘s Kim Masters ran a must-read column earlier today looking at all the angles and speculating as to whether Ellison truly can beat the odds. Here’s an excerpt followed by a link to the full article:
Ellison, 31, has become the first woman with total control of a Hollywood studio and the first to put hundreds of millions of her own money on the line. Can she make it work? At this point, the challenges facing the business generally and the kind of art house movies that Ellison favors in particular are such that even some who have hit rough patches with her are hoping for the best. “I haven’t always had the best experience with her,” says one top talent rep. “It doesn’t matter. There’s nobody doing what she does in the business. There is no one who takes more risk and is more friendly to talent.”
One producer who knows her says she doesn’t need to fixate on profit: “If she spends $600 million and breaks even, she’s doing fine.” A film investor who also knows Ellison agrees. “She’s decided,” he says, “that she wants to be a studio. I don’t care if she has five bombs in a row. If she wants to keep going, she’ll keep going.”
Lesson of the day: Be born to a billionaire. Then you can be bold and make the movies you’d actually want to see. Be the change you want to see in the film industry because you’re so damn rich you can afford to swing that big. That’s exactly what Ellison is doing, and without her we would have been robbed of seeing some interesting (not always perfect, but always cinematically ambitious) movies in recent years and hopefully many more in the years to come.