Who Is David Ellison and Why Does Paramount’s Future Rest in His Hands?

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Summary

  • David Ellison is a Hollywood powerhouse making strides thanks to his penchant for producing blockbusters.
  • Ellison, son of the tech tycoon Larry Ellison, plans to reshape the industry, putting his less-than-stellar acting career in the rearview mirror.
  • The potential acquisition of the faltering Paramount brand indicates Ellison’s preeminence in the entertainment industry is all but inevitable but with an arduous task ahead.



The future of Hollywood could change overnight. If the Skydance Media-Paramount deal goes through as expected, David Ellison will be major figure to be reckoned with, already securing inroads with Tom Cruise and showing he can lead blockbuster projects, successfully navigate creating sequels (just not for The Terminator series), and maintain a media empire.

Never heard of him? That explains why he decided to go all-in on the producing thing. Unless your wardrobe in 2007 was filled with Abercrombie and Fitch, you likely don’t remember him. Ellison’s rise to the top of the heap of Hollywood elite power brokers has been hard-fought and fraught with daring chances and bold performances. We’re joking; he’s filthy rich. To be blunt, he tried acting, specifically in vanity projects, and it didn’t work out.


His relevance in the entertainment industry is telling… not so much concerning him, as it tells us how incompetently most big-name studios are run in the modern day, leaders seizing all the credit in prosperous times and using their employees as human shields when movies fail. Yeah, looking at you, Bob Iger, who believed The Marvels needed more executive supervision on set. If Ellison and his pals snatch up Paramount on the cheap, it makes perfect sense why. The mere fact that an independent production company could buy out a prestigious relic of Golden-Age Hollywood shows just how dire things can get when a company is left to rot through complacency.

Precisely at the moment that every big gamble that Hollywood doubles down on fails like a three-legged racehorse, there could be a guy to set them right. Don’t look now, but a random trust-fund kid wants to be the next Hollywood titan with some help from his dad’s army of robots.



Who Is David Ellison, and Why Is He So Important in Hollywood?

With a whopping four full-length films, one short, a TV movie, and a single television appearance on his resume from 2005-10, actor David Ellison didn’t capture the world’s attention. His role in Hole in One (mercifully altered from its original title: Parfection: The Golf Movie) saw him playing a supporting role as a caricature of the quintessential aughts-era, polo, and khaki-clad dude-bro so perfectly it will be studied by anthropologists for centuries to come.

Hole in One is exactly what it looks like: a low-budget, mildly edgy movie. Other roles did come miraculously as it seems, despite the film’s dismal financial and critical reception. We’re going out on a limb and suggesting it might have something to do with his last name. You see, there’s no way of talking about David without talking about his dad.


Larry Ellison just so happens to be one of the wealthiest and most influential men on earth, with a yacht worth 700 times your parents’ mortgage. If you haven’t heard of Larry Ellison’s tech company, Oracle, they’re the people competing with Google and Tesla to produce the generative artificial intelligence that will steal your job in a couple of years. Remember that, it will be important later.

His role in Flyboys could be called a career peak, regardless of whether it also performed horribly. Take what you will from the fact that an obscure actor was cast in a major film that just so happened to be co-produced by his own private production company. Everyone knew this star-making film was destined to bomb.


James Franco recovered, but Ellison’s movie star delusion died as abruptly as it started, finding work in increasingly terrible films nobody saw. His last acting role came in an episode of Leverage 14 years ago. Many actors have stalled careers, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. But then again, most don’t have billionaire fathers that open doors for them, either. From 2010 onward, he moved behind the camera as a producer.

Reinventing Himself One Film at a Time

Financing, unfortunately, is the heart of all productions because nothing happens without the union guys getting paid, and all that cash flows through guys like David Ellison. Even the most talented writers, directors, actresses, and cinematographers are ultimately at the will of the guy who controls the purse strings.


Producing is one of the more interesting gigs in Hollywood; the job is so powerful that they can make or break a film without ever needing to leave their office. For every producer that keeps their distance and mitts off the script or final edit (or acting talent), we get those that fancy themselves creatives, bombarding the director with asinine notes and dictating how a film needs to be made. Paradoxically, producers have the most pivotal role in the movie industry and are the most useless people on set. Amazingly, David emerged from his father’s shadow with the Top Gun follow-up in 2022, producing the Tom Cruise hit.


The belated sequel succeeded beyond expectation. In a New York Times interview, Ellison credits the original film for his love of flying. He entered a flying competition in his teenage years in a German stunt plane his dad bought for him, only quitting his hobby to make time for film school at USC.

To his credit, his love of action movies and characters makes him stand out in a business where Kathleen Kennedy denies the existence of 40 years of Star Wars lore and canonized novels. He’d been trying to get a Top Gun sequel off the ground for more than a decade, aware of the scorn if he bungled this sequel:

“When you make a sequel 36 years later, which doesn’t happen very often, I think it’s sometimes easy to be cynical. And I think expectations are really high. When I think about what this movie meant to me and what it means to so many, I think people are understandably apprehensive about whether or not anything would ever be done to kind of tarnish the legacy of the franchise. We understood that.”


Any rich shmuck can make a film, but to understand why a film and character worked, to begin with, and how to satisfy a diverse array of audiences without merely rehashing the same story takes legit skill and insight into what moviegoers desire. Joking aside, Ellison understands the business side of movies better than almost anyone.

Related

Top Gun 3 Director Has ‘Wonderful’ Story Idea for Sequel & Tom Cruise Loves It

Top Gun 3 director Joseph Kosinski is now working on the script for the sequel, and Tom Cruise is very much on board.

Paramount: Fixer Upper or Junker?

Paramount Pictures (Paramount Global) lot in Los Angeles, California
Coolcaesar Wikimedia Commons


The next shiny toy for Ellison could be no less than Paramount, the home to classics like The Godfather, Airplane!, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Star Trek films. Paramount has fallen on hard times as of late. As covered in Fortune Magazine, the scion to the fortune of one of wealthiest people on the planet is positioning himself to claim a controlling share of Paramount Global via a merger with his production company Skydance Media. All this is pending the necessary paperwork by private equity firms and $2 billion in capital.

After a decade in the dumps—its stock labeled as garbage tier by securities raters, auctioning off whatever ancillary companies it can to cover its CEOs’ bonuses—Paramount might finally be in a position to take advantage of its brand power and numerous properties and networks (CBS, Showtime, Nickelodeon, etc) on its underperforming streaming service. Regardless of your affection for Yellowstone, the Paramount+ strategy is a complete mess at the moment, losing a reported $500 million in revenue in 2023 alone somehow, per The Hollywood Reporter.


The unbelievable turnaround will require a lot of magic from whoever is thrust into the leadership role, with 77 million subscribers sitting on their hands. In an interview with CNBC in 2023, Ellison foreshadowed Paramount’s unsolvable streaming Catch-22, that is, how studios must funnel all their cash at a tiny handful of risky blockbusters to stay profitable at the risk of starving their streaming services of enough content to keep people around every month:

“The direct-to-consumer business [streaming] has definitively changed consumer behavior, and I think above everything else, audiences are really going to want choice and that people are going to be very selective about what movies they want to go to theatrically and what they want to see at home.”

What could he do to revamp the decrepit company? If Bloomberg is to be believed, and they refuse to elaborate, the salvation of Paramount could be AI on loan from Oracle. Based on what we’ve seen of AI so far, replacing all the screenwriters or editors with an algorithm is probably Plan B right now.


One thing is certain. Paramount is on life support and needs someone to turn the tide. Judging by his recent track record producing well-received projects like Jack Reacher and the new Mission: Impossible, David Ellison could be the one nepo baby in Hollywood who has a clue what audiences crave. The hit 2022 film Top Gun: Maverick is streaming now on Paramount+.

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