Meet David Ellison: Paramount’s new leader

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David Ellison’s Hollywood journey has been marked by high-energy, adrenaline-filled blockbusters packed with suspense, stunts, and unexpected plot twists.

However, on Sunday, he achieved his most significant milestone yet by negotiating a merger with Paramount after months of discussions with the company and its main shareholder, Shari Redstone. Should the deal finalize, he will oversee a vast media empire that includes CBS, MTV, and the Paramount movie studio.

Although Ellison, 41, has been among Hollywood’s elite for over a decade, he is only now stepping into the spotlight. Here’s a recap of his career.

Who is David Ellison and what is Skydance?

A glance at Ellison’s Internet Movie Database page reveals a modest acting career with minor roles in films like “Flyboys” and “The Chumscrubber” (where he played “Student No. 1”). His Hollywood rise began when he transitioned to producing.

After leaving the University of Southern California and quitting acting, Ellison focused on production. With the significant influence of his family (his father is Oracle founder Larry Ellison), he financed big-budget films like “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

Ellison’s company, Skydance Media, has significantly increased in value, exceeding $4 billion after investments from private equity firms like RedBird Capital Partners and KKR. As CEO of Skydance, Ellison co-produced hits such as “Top Gun: Maverick” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” with Paramount, providing him access to the company’s executives and its most prized franchises.

Before producing “Top Gun: Maverick,” Ellison was something of a daredevil himself. He told The New York Times in 2022 that he began flying planes in his teens and performed in stunt air shows into his 20s.

What is the Ellison family’s role in Hollywood?

Larry Ellison, who made a cameo in “Iron Man 2,” supported Skydance’s bid for Paramount, leveraging his wealth and technological expertise.

David Ellison’s sister, Megan Ellison, is also a notable Hollywood figure: She founded Annapurna in 2011, producing films like “Her” and “American Hustle.” David’s wife, Sandra Lynn, is a country singer-songwriter known for songs like “I Think of You” and “Somebody Kissed Me at a Bar.” Neither Megan nor Sandra Lynn are involved in Skydance’s executive team.

What are David Ellison’s plans for Paramount?

While Ellison has not publicly detailed his plans for Paramount, he discussed them with a special committee of the company’s board months ago. He has proposed collaborating with another major entertainment company on a streaming joint venture in the United States, continuing the trend towards bundling, according to sources familiar with his pitch.

Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder, is enthusiastic about the Skydance deal, according to insiders. She believes Ellison’s management team will bring technological and animation expertise to the merged company.

Ellison also proposed enhancing Paramount’s streaming capabilities with improved recommendation systems and more efficient data provider deals, per a source familiar with his presentation. Skydance holds stakes in Paramount’s most successful shows and films, including “Mission: Impossible” and “Top Gun,” so merging the companies could provide greater flexibility in managing franchises.

A pivotal figure in the Skydance talks is Jeff Shell, former CEO of NBCUniversal. Shell, who joined Skydance backer RedBird Capital last year, will become Paramount’s chairman.

Does Skydance collaborate with other Hollywood studios?

Despite its strong ties with Paramount, Skydance has also produced films for other studios. It has a multi-year agreement to produce animated films for Netflix and has partnered with Amazon on projects like “The Tomorrow War” and “Without Remorse.”

Recently, Skydance has ventured into sports media. In 2021, Skydance Sports was launched and struck a deal with the National Football League in 2022 to create a production company to expand its sports programming reach. Last year, it produced “Air,” a film about the creation of Nike’s Air Jordan brand.

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