Dumb Money No More: How David Ellison Became a Hollywood High Flier

Jun 21 2021 11:49 AM
Dumb Money No More: How David Ellison Became a Hollywood High Flier

When the young Oracle heir entered the entertainment industry, no one expected much. Instead, he’s built the rarest of businesses — a thriving, all-audiences, independent studio.

LOS ANGELES — Fifteen years ago, when a 23-year-old David Ellison rolled into Hollywrood with oodles of trust-fund cash, entertainment insiders licked their jackal lips: Oh, the fleecing we will do!

Mr. Ellison, the son of Larry Ellison, a co-founder of Oracle, sure looked like “dumb money.” That is the Hollywood term for a gullible, affluent outsider bitten by the movie bug, the type of investor that studios have long counted on to keep their assembly lines running, despite it almost always ending poorly (for the newcomer). The young Mr. Ellison couldn’t stop talking about his love of cinema, in particular big-budget spectacles. He had just dropped out of the University of Southern California to act in a $60 million movie called “Flyboys,” a World War I aerial combat tale.

Partly financed with Ellison money, “Flyboys” arrived to a disastrous $6 million in ticket sales. But no matter: The scion was on Hollywood’s radar.

Along with his wallet.

Soon enough Mr. Ellison had given up acting and by 2010 had become a financier and producer for Paramount Pictures, pouring $350 million of equity and debt into movies like “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.” But Hollywood snickered at his effort to be taken seriously as a creative force, as did the news media. “The Kid Pays for the Picture” was the headline of a 2015 profile in GQ, which included a photo of Mr. Ellison posing on the Paramount lot with a billowing parachute strapped to his back — part invader, part lifesaver, all wealthy white guy entitlement.

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