David Ellison’s Skydance Media, which had planned to bolt from Paramount Pictures under its previous regime, has instead signed a new multi-year deal with the studio, according to people familiar with the matter.
The new pact will keep Skydance at the studio for four more years. Together the companies will produce new installments in the Mission: Impossible, Top Gun, and World War Z franchises, as well oversee a re-launch of the Terminator series that is rumored to involve James Cameron, the director of the first two films. Paramount and Skydance will partner on “Bermuda Triangle,” a mystery thriller that may be directed by Sam Raimi, and “Gemini Man,” an action-adventure that has drawn interest from Ang Lee and Will Smith.
The move is a boon to Paramount because Skydance is one of the studio’s most important co-financing and co-production partners. It comes at a particularly critical time for Paramount. Its pact with a major film financing partner, China’s Huahua Media, is looking increasingly wobbly. As Variety recently reported, executives from Paramount parent Viacom Inc. are flying to China this week to try and reassure Huahua that the studio’s upcoming slate will be more internationally successful than it has been over the past year with such disappointments as “Baywatch,” “Ghost In The Shell” and “Transformers: The Last Knight.” There are concerns that Chinese authorities may be limiting Huahua’s ability to service the deal — the company missed a June payment to Viacom.
The new agreement also includes animated features. In March, Skydance launched an animation studio along with Madrid-based Ilion Animation Studios. These films will be distributed by Paramount. Skydance’s first two animated films are “Luck,” a comedy from director Alessandro Carloni and writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger and “Split,” a fantasy project being directed by Vicky Jenson and written by Linda Woolverton.
The extended agreement will continue to enable Ellison to co-produce and co-finance certain Paramount titles and give the studio the opportunity to co-fund his movies. The company, which has 14 feature film credits, is ramping up its in-house production operations, and plans to make between three to four live action movies a year, and at least one animated film.
Skydance’s upcoming releases include “Annihilation,” a science-fiction thriller with Natalie Portman, and “Geostorm,” a disaster film with Gerard Butler that Warner Bros. will distribute. The sixth “Mission: Impossible” movie hits theaters next summer, and will be produced by Skydance.
Ellison had been ready to leave the Paramount fold earlier this year before its prior management, led by Brad Grey and Rob Moore, were pushed out, say people with knowledge of the tensions. As he plotted his next move, he met with several studios, including Warner Bros., Sony, Fox and Lionsgate about potentially setting up shop. Ellison was motivated to bolt because he was upset about the quality of the films that the studio had been producing. Skydance lost millions on its investments in “Baywatch” and “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.”
However, Paramount has undergone a change in leadership since Ellison was looking to make a jump. He enjoys a strong relationship with the studio’s recently installed chairman Jim Gianopulos, the former head of Fox’s film division, who replaced Grey last spring. Grey, who had run Paramount for 12 years, died of cancer in May.
“We have the utmost confidence in Paramount’s bright future under the strategic direction of Jim Gianopulos, and we look forward to continuing to partner with him and the world-class leadership team that he has put in place,” David Ellison said in a statement. “From beloved franchises to wholly original IP and bold new animated films, together we have ambitious plans to bring more great stories to the big screen for audiences around the globe.”
In a statement, Gianopulos praised his business partner.
“David and his team have been creative producers on films in some of the most successful action-adventure and science fiction franchises of all time, and we’re thrilled that Skydance movies will feature prominently on the Paramount slate for years to come,” said Jim Gianopulos, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures. “Skydance has been a key part of Paramount’s history and I am confident that our partnership will continue to deliver many successes both commercially and financially into the future.”
Ellison is the son of Oracle founder Larry Ellison. His sister Megan Ellison is also involved in the film business. She runs Annapurna, which produces director-driven fare such as Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.”