There's been no shortage of wealthy heiresses moving amongst the Hollywood community in recent years, from Paris Hilton to the late Casey Johnson. With each, it unfortunately appears, their actual creative contribution is in opposite proportion to their attention seeking behaviour. But now, an entitled young woman is shaking up the American movie business in an unexpected way.
At the tender age of 25, Megan Ellison – the billionaire daughter of software multi-billionaire Larry Ellison – is writing cheques and offering production guarantees for some of the most interesting projects doing the rounds. And while her track record is, given her age, naturally brief, she's already turned heads by helping to fund the Coen brothers' recent western, True Grit (pictured), which was well received by critics and took over $230 million worldwide.
Now Ellison is in business with one of the cinema's leading filmmakers, Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood), putting up the funds for both The Master, a drama about the founder of a new spiritual belief (the story's similarities with Scientology are numerous) that has Phillip Seymour Hoffman attached to play the flawed mystic, and an adaptation of revered novelist Thomas Pynchon's obtuse 2009 detective tale Inherent Vice, which may attract Robert Downey Jr. to the lead role.
Anderson has been working on the former for several years, but at least one studio passed on making it because it didn't see the project, with Hoffman and a then involved Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) starring, as a commercial proposition at a $US35 million budget. At the same time Ellison is involved with the currently shooting Cogan's Trade, a gangster flick from Australian filmmaker Andrew Dominik (Chopper) that stars Brad Pitt, and may be helping to reunite director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) with an untitled black satire about an annual conspiracy amongst the world's leaders to plot the coming year's events.
Of course, if you have enough money to spend eventually you have to produce something worthy, but Ellison appears to have unusually good taste – if you're not excited by at least one of the titles above then you're truly hard to please – in an industry where producer credits often stem from ego and avarice.
She's a reminder of a long gone Hollywood, when a rich individual could leave their mark on the cinema, whether as a patsy or a principal. Ellison would appear to have more in common with a Howard Hughes than the numerous corporations that now underpin the movie industry. But as those companies, with their fluctuating share prices and anxious shareholders, grow ever more wary of what they put their resources into, there's obviously room for a determined individual who can let their money do the talking.