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Megan Ellison Hates Harvey Weinstein & More: 7 Highlights From The Juicy Vanity Fair Profile On The Annapurna Scion

by Edward Davis
February 1, 2013 10:00 AM
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Vanity Fair’s 2013 Hollywood issue is kind of the gift that keeps on giving. It not only has an awesome oral history of “Pulp Fiction” (highlights of which you can read here), but it also has some pretty in-depth and juicy profiles. But, the most tantalizing is about Megan Ellison, the 27-year-old daughter of the third richest man in the U.S. She’s rumored to have been given a bankroll as large as $2 billion from her Dad on her 25th birthday (though her reps deny the figure), with the movie buff using the amount to help bankroll her slate of films.

To some, the young scion, independent film financier, producer and founder of Annapurna Pictures is the best thing that’s happened to movies. She’s rich, has taste and has cut checks last year for auteurs like John Hillcoat (“Lawless”), Andrew Dominik (“Killing Them Softly,”) Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master”). This year she'll be co-distributing films by Harmony Korine and Wong Kar Wai (“Spring Breakers” and “The Grandmaster”) and producing and funding pictures by Spike Jonze ("Her"), Bennett Miller ("Foxcatcher") and David O. Russell (his untitled Abscam picture). For young cinephiles, she is the second coming. But not everyone in the industry looks at her as favorably. Fans and filmmakers love her. Wary press (Sharon Waxman penned a diatribe against Ellison) and Hollywood insiders tend to be distrustful of her ability to cut checks without worrying how those consequences could affect the industry (none of her 2012 movies made a profit outside of “Zero Dark Thirty” once you factor in P&I; most don’t even need that figure in there).

So is Megan Ellison the savior of independent film, or a naive rich kid with taste and a lot of "dumb money" that wants to hang out with celebrities and rub shoulders with directors? In a fair and balanced piece portraying both sides of the coin, Vanity Fair suggests a bit of both: an entrepreneur who has wrestled with balancing art and commerce while trying to navigate her way through the swimming-with-sharks waters of Hollywood. Here’s seven things we learned from the magazine's profile.

1. Megan Ellison went around Chastain's agents and straight to the source for "Zero Dark Thirty."
Evidently when “Zero Dark Thirty” was mounting up its casting search, Chastain’s CAA agents told the producers she was too busy to even look at the movie. Ellison wouldn’t take no for an answer and was instrumental in her casting, essentially stalking her via text. “If I ever ask you for anything in my life, it’s to call me back for five minutes,” Jessica Chastain herself recalls of the message Ellison send her. “I said, ‘That’s very dramatic, what is it you need, missy.’ ”

“And Megan said, ‘O.K., we have this film, and Kathryn Bigelow wants you. We went to your agent and were told you are busy. I cannot accept that for an answer,’ ” Chastain remembered with laughter. “Megan was so determined and passionate. This girl then really went to town [negotiating the deal] to make sure I got on the picture.”

While that seems potentially nutty, let the record show that Chastain seems to be very much in her corner and by all accounts, the two get along just fine.

2. Paul Thomas Anderson had been discussing a deal for “The Master” with Fox Searchlight at a budget of $18 million when Ellison intervened.
Paul Thomas Anderson had initially set up "The Master" over at Universal before they decided that spending $35 million on a movie about two connected lost souls with allusions to Scientology at its core was too risky and rich for their blood. With the project adrift, Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures stepped in and with distribution by The Weinstein Company, funded and helped bring “The Master” to the screen for $35 million (though some reports suggest that number is closer to $40 million).

According to Vanity Fair, sometime in the project's lost months, PTA almost made a deal with Fox Searchlight to make the movie on a budget of $18 million. But Ellison swooped in and, according to one source, “offered P.T.A. literally twice as much, just because she wanted to, and just because she could.”

Topping out at $16 million domestically and $24 million worldwide, “The Master” lost money (not helped by the decision to shoot and showcase the movie in 70mm) and even Harvey Weinstein himself admitted as much. Some believe it was a bad move and one that hurts all of the film industry in the end. “There’s no rationale on the planet where you green-light ‘The Master’ over $25 million,” said one source. “Not on the script, not on PTA as a filmmaker, not on the subject.” Vanity Fair says it’s thought that Ellison has lost as much as $20 million on the project – although she evidently disputes the figure.

3. Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde” will have a $20 million dollar budget and Ellison may be more hands on.
For fans of filmmaker Andrew Dominik, don't be worried about his box office, as he's still got someone in his corner. He’s had what amounts to two perceived flops in a row, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and more recently, “Killing Them Softly," both starring Brad Pitt. ‘Softly’ scored a rare F Cinemascore with audiences, but the film did eventually crawl to almost $15 million domestically – the equivalent of its reported budget, and on the strength of Brad Pitt’s name and face, made another $20 million internationally.

Regardless, Annapurna believes in the filmmmaker and is backing Dominik’s upcoming film, "Blonde," starring Naomi Watts as Marilyn Monroe, and based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel about the famed movie star. Many cinephiles worried that the cool reception to “Killing Them Softly” (and its initially slow box-office) might hurt that film’s chances of getting made, but VF says the picture will have a $20 million budget and Ellison will have a “much more substantial role” in releasing the film.

Dominik says she is “interested in setting up circumstances where she can take control of the [marketing] process,” though her spokesperson claims it’s “too early in her career to make that call.” Still, eyebrows will be raised here, no doubt. However, someone who may not be involved in Dominik's next effort is Harvey Weinstein...

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  • RC | February 7, 2013 3:51 PMReply

    Harvey killed KILLING THEM SOFTLY for one simple reason: it shined a less than messianic light on Obama. He pushed the release date until after the election while he helped Obama's re-election campaign. Isn't that obvious?

  • Bentley | February 5, 2013 10:22 PMReply

    Why would anyone be surprised that Megan Ellison doesn't want Harvey Weinstein to distribute Blonde after the way he botched the KTS marketing? Let this be a lesson to Harvey - if you market a movie for what it really is, then maybe, just maybe people will go to see it for what it is and won't get pissed and tell exit pollers and friends that the movie was not as advertised. It would also have been nice if TWC hadn't thrown KTS under the bus because they had too many other movies to promote during awards season and didn't have the time to devote to a proper marketing campaign for KTS. TWC lost money because of it. If he'd left KTS in it's original Sept release date instead of shuffling it back to the end of November after the election then maybe the movie would have made more money.

  • jingmei | February 5, 2013 12:47 AMReply

    As a personal figure, perhaps she's a moviegoer with some taste indeed. But in today's world, she is rich, so inevitably it's ironic but it's true this business needs her especially when the indie films are fucking awesome.

  • brent wood | February 3, 2013 1:10 PMReply

    once again we learn that CAA can be the most dangerous player in H'wood.
    congrats for going up against the Big Bad Wolf.
    what's curious is how blase Jessica is upon learning how obstructionist her agents were.
    nothing with change in H'wood until the agents are brought under control and that
    will only happen if actors rebel. alas, fat chance as actors really can't think. they act.

  • Truth | February 11, 2013 11:39 AM

    Alan B, her agents should've at least known her taste enough to let her know she was being pursued...and obviously she was able to do the movie, so the other commitments didn't seem to be a problem. That's pretty bad form for the agents.

  • Alan B | February 3, 2013 3:59 PM

    She was busy with Iron Man 3. She couldn't do the film without backing out of other commitments. I guess her agents are assholes for expecting her to honor previous commitments. What were they thinking?

  • nightgoat72 | February 1, 2013 8:04 PMReply

    Oh no! A young woman who doesn't care about all the Hollywood business bureaucracy and bullshit is giving away money to talented filmmakers! And she DOESN'T SEEM TO CARE ABOUT PROFITS BECAUSE SHE'S RICH?! God help us all!

    Yeah, Megan Ellison is awesome. Cinema would be richer with more people like her.

  • nightgoat72 | February 2, 2013 1:05 PM

    And that makes a difference... why? Her dad being rich equates to her being rich.

  • Tyler | February 1, 2013 11:53 PM

    She's not rich......her daddy is.

  • Tyler | February 1, 2013 11:47 PM

    She's not rich......her daddy is.

  • Tyler | February 1, 2013 11:47 PM

    She's not rich......her daddy is.

  • Serena | February 1, 2013 3:14 PMReply

    Any young woman who uses her money to support artists like the Coens, PTA and Kathryn Bigelow is alright in my book. Sounds like she needs to prioritize her etiquette and when to say "No," but as an audience member all I really care about is the finished product, not how much money it made/lost. And it's hard not to dislike the Oscar-hoarding Harvey Weinstein; the only cool thing he ever did was fight for BLUE VALENTINE when the MPAA slapped it with an NC-17 rating, and even that was likely due to financial reasons.

  • royal_t32 | February 1, 2013 3:00 PMReply

    Playlist doesn't need to run these kinds of articles. It's unethical in my book to take so much from a profile that your readership won't likely read now you've poached the best reporting from it. Stick to original content and you'll get more respect from your readership. To be sarcastic and sincere at once, I would like to see Playlist try to put together an original feature of this magnitude and quality on a single individual.

  • knative | February 1, 2013 4:04 PM

    Eh, I don't think it works like that. The playlist peeps are more likely helping to raise awareness. I mean, who is going "Vanity Fair has an article on Megan Ellison that I am anticipating!"?

  • Richard | February 1, 2013 1:14 PMReply

    When Hollywood starts making films based on quality, rather than franchise potential, they will then be given my permission to bitch about a young woman who is putting up her own money (regardless of the fact that it was inherited) to advance the art form. Good for her.

  • DG | February 1, 2013 12:56 PMReply

    Who gives a shit what the execs think about her as long as she keeps funding good filmmakers I say good on her. Seriously if there is even one auteur helmed film getting release that wouldn't have otherwise seen the light of day then I think she's done something worthwhile, and it seems like there are actually several. People seem to be complaining cause she's not playing by the rules but the rules are to a game that's currently produced a situation in which the Hungry, Hungry Hippos movies gets greenlit but Jim Jarmusch is talking in interviews about retiring because he can't get funding for anything he wants to do.

  • Huffy | February 1, 2013 12:16 PMReply

    To everyone pissing and moaning about the executive complaining about not replying to an email: it's called common courtesy. Your expected to have it in any kind of profession, not just Hollywood. Not that I really care; its not me she's being rude to. And obviously she has plenty of fuck you money so she can really do whatever she wants but it isn't going to change the perception that she's a spoiled rich kid who had everything handed to her. Anyone who has had to work their way up knows connections and relationships go a long way, and pissing people off for no good reason is never a good idea if your in it for the long run. This isn't a judgement on her character, it's merely an observation. It's cool to have someone doing what all of us wish we could do (being rich enough to tell Harvey to fuck off is also a plus) but I seriously doubt that Papa Ellison is going to let her do what she pleases if her films continue to lose money.

  • Yod | February 3, 2013 9:36 PM

    Imagine how many emails and phone calls she gets, though. Unlike you, who probably gets so few you can reply to all of them.

  • Andrew | February 1, 2013 12:34 PM

    More like laughing rather than pissing or moaning. Yes, it's discourteous to fail to reply to someone's e-mail, but the idea that there's somewhat out there petty and insecure enough to complain to a reporter about something so trivial is pretty hilarious.

    Not replying to an e-mail is roughly the rudeness equivalent of failing to hold the door open for someone a few feet behind you when entering a building.

  • ben | February 1, 2013 12:07 PMReply

    Of course she's a spoiled rich kid. Not surprising. But I only care about where she puts her money. As long as she keeps pulling out the checkbook..

  • bohmer | February 1, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    She young and have taste. Weinstein cannot stand her because she's a powerful women that wants put herself in his shoes. She doesn't seem to loose that much money and she as the rights to the Terminator franchise isn't she? That will definitely turn to profit...

  • kindred spirit | February 1, 2013 11:26 AMReply

    LMAO as Blake Lively making outrageous salary demands. Seriously- this is the best part of the piece. Who the heck does she think she is? Girl, you are a TV actress and a big flop... SIT DOWN.

  • Lou | February 2, 2013 2:33 PM

    Kindred spirit, what I meant was that, for all we know, Lively (= her agent) might have asked for only 500K USD, which might have been considered an 'outrageous request' by Ellison, who used this as a justification for withdrawing her financing and substituting Lively with Mara. She humiliated Lively and disrespected and blackmailed the director. Hence, she acted in an inelegant manner, to say the least. Anyway, talking about TV actors, this film sounds like an episode of Criminal Intent without the stellar, formidable Goren and Eames.

  • Kindred Spirit | February 1, 2013 8:21 PM

    Not defending Ellison, Lou. But for Lively to make anything that has to do with outrageous salary demands is HIGH-larious. And I'm sure Rooney Mara, who may have zero personality but happens to be a great actress, was fine with whatever salary they were offering. If anything Mara is in a position to negotiate, not Lively who is the floppiest actress of all flops.

  • Lou | February 1, 2013 12:50 PM

    Making outrageous salary demands? Uhmmm. Exactly, how much? It sounds like a fake justification for an unethical behaviour. Ellison definitely handled herself poorly in this case.

  • W | February 1, 2013 12:45 PM

    I bet she thought being Dicaprio side piece made her an A-List.

  • dudeabides | February 1, 2013 11:20 AMReply

    This is some great gossip. Lol at the guy who doesnt get a reply email, get a fucking life and grow some balls dude! This is the same as any other industry that is male dominated. Kudos to Ellison for making really interesting films with great filmmakers, I'm sure she'll get better with the money part of the equation as time goes by. I mean she's 25 yrs old! Cant wait for Spring Breakers and The Grandmaster!

  • MAL | February 1, 2013 11:12 AMReply

    Just based on the films she is backing, I like her! She has taste, and does not seem to be "courting the stars". Rather, she is fighting fo r quality. So what if she doesn't play by their antiquated, politicized rules.

  • Sandra | February 1, 2013 10:55 AMReply

    Still my idol

  • Alex | February 1, 2013 10:44 AMReply

    It's still early days with her. She's financing good films and establishing a name for herself. The films she has financed haven't really lost too much money. Plus she is rich so she can afford a few failures at the age of 26. Worst comes to worst she will be known as a cinematic philanthropist.

    Remember just a few years ago Harvey Weinstein was releasing many awful films that never turned a profit.

  • Andrew | February 1, 2013 10:34 AMReply

    "She didn’t reply to my e-mail. The most powerful people in Hollywood actually return your e-mails. That’s the way it works here."

    Gotta give this guy credit. He's very efficient at conveying "I'm a whiney little bitch."

  • cinephile | February 1, 2013 10:25 AMReply

    'many cinephiles believe'

    laziest way to insert your own opinion ever

  • cory everett | February 1, 2013 10:10 AMReply

    A film executive is quoted as saying. “She didn’t reply to my e-mail. The most powerful people in Hollywood actually return your e-mails. That’s the way it works here.”

    Well boo-fucking-hoo.

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