Meet David Ellison, Paramount's future boss and Hollywood's newest mogul
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Meet David Ellison, Paramount's future boss and Hollywood's newest mogul
David Ellison, head of Skydance, in 2015. His company’s merger with Paramount puts him in charge of a media empire that includes CBS, MTV and the Paramount movie studio. Photo: Sam Comen for The New York Times.

by Benjamin Mullin

NEW YORK, NY.- David Ellison’s Hollywood career has been defined by high-octane blockbusters filled with suspense, stunts and improbable plot twists.

But on Sunday he landed his biggest cliffhanger yet, striking a deal to merge with Paramount after months of negotiations with the company and its controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone. If the deal closes, he will be in charge of a sprawling media empire that includes CBS, MTV and the Paramount movie studio.

Though Ellison, 41, joined the cast of Hollywood’s power players more than a decade ago, he hasn’t taken center stage until now. Here’s a look at his career.

Who is David Ellison, and what is his company, Skydance?

A quick perusal of Ellison’s page on the Internet Movie Database shows a relatively undistinguished acting career, with minor roles in films like the fighter drama “Flyboys” and teen comedy “The Chumscrubber” (in which he played “Student No. 1”). It wasn’t until he became a producer that his star in Hollywood began to rise.

After he dropped out of the University of Southern California and gave up on acting, Ellison turned to producing. His family’s considerable influence — he is the son of Oracle founder Larry Ellison — helped him bankroll big-budget films like “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” and “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

Along the way, the valuation of David Ellison’s company Skydance Media ballooned to more than $4 billion, after private-equity firms like RedBird Capital Partners and KKR invested in it. Ellison, the CEO of Skydance, has coproduced hits like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” with Paramount, giving him an entree to the company’s executives and its most valuable franchises.

Long before he produced “Top Gun: Maverick,” Ellison was something of a daredevil himself. In 2022 he told The New York Times that he started flying planes in his adolescence and competed in acrobatic air shows into his 20s.

How is Ellison’s family involved in Hollywood?

Larry Ellison — who had a cameo in “Iron Man 2” — is personally backing Skydance’s bid for Paramount, throwing his wealth and tech expertise behind the deal.

David Ellison’s sister, Megan Ellison, is also a Hollywood fixture: In 2011, she founded Annapurna, which produced “Her” and “American Hustle.” Ellison’s wife, Sandra Lynn, is also in show business: She’s the country singer-songwriter behind songs like “I Think of You” and “Somebody Kissed Me at a Bar.” Neither Megan Ellison nor Sandra Lynn are on Skydance’s executive team.

What are David Ellison’s plans for Paramount?

Though Ellison hasn’t laid out his plans for Paramount publicly, he discussed them with a special committee of the company’s board months ago. He has discussed working with another major entertainment company on a streaming joint venture in the United States, keeping with the broader trend toward bundling, according to two people familiar with his pitch to Paramount’s board.

Paramount’s controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone, is enthusiastic about other aspects of the Skydance deal, two people familiar with her thinking said. She thinks Ellison’s management team will add tech and animation know-how to the combined company.

Ellison also pitched Paramount on a plan to supercharge the company’s streaming capabilities with improved recommendations and more efficient deals with data providers, a person familiar with his presentation said. Skydance has ownership stakes in Paramount’s most financially successful shows and movies, including “Mission: Impossible” and “Top Gun,” so uniting the two firms could give the combined company greater flexibility in managing its franchises.

A key executive in discussions with Skydance is Jeff Shell, the former CEO of NBCUniversal. Shell, who joined the Skydance backer RedBird Capital last year, will become the president of Paramount.

Does Skydance have ties to other Hollywood companies?

Though Skydance has a deep relationship with Paramount, it has also produced movies for other Hollywood studios. Skydance has a multiyear deal to produce animated films for Netflix, and it has partnered with Amazon on films including “The Tomorrow War” and “Without Remorse.”

Skydance has also lately gotten into the sports-media business. Skydance Sports, a division started in 2021, struck a deal in 2022 to partner with the NFL to create a production company that would expand the reach of sports programming. And last year it produced “Air,” a movie about the making of Nike’s Air Jordan brand.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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