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Skydance to co-finance Paramount pics

David Ellison, studio ink four-year deal

Paramount Pictures has negotiated a four-year deal with David Ellison and his Skydance Prods. to co-finance four to six pictures per year for the studio.

The arrangement with Ellison — the son of Oracle Corp. founder-CEO Larry Ellison — won’t kick off until Skydance completes a round of fundraising expected to be in place by year’s end that will allow Ellison to commit hundreds of millions of dollars in coin to Paramount projects.

Because the funding wasn’t completely closed, Paramount insiders were optimistic but reluctant to comment on the story. Sources said that it is in the advanced stages, far enough along that they have pictures on the table, including the Coen Brothers-directed “True Grit” remake and “Mission: Impossible IV,” and several projects that Skydance is playing an active role as producer.

The desire is to construct an arrangement comparable to the one that Warner Brothers has with Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures, which both co-finances WB pictures and also brings its own product to the table.

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If Skydance meets that lofty goal, it would be a boon to Paramount, which currently does not have a slate financing deal in place. Paramount does repeat business with Spyglass, which co-financed “Star Trek,” “G.I. Joe,” and is co-financing the Jay Roach-directed Steve Carell-starrer “Dinner with Schmucks” with Par and DreamWorks.

The studio’s last slate financing arrangement was Melrose 2 and Paramount walked away from a $450 million slate deal with Deutsche Bank in 2008 because it found deal points in an unstable credit market to be unsatisfactory. The credit crunch has made new slate funding deals scarce, which makes Skydance a potentially important partner for Paramount.

Also on the fast track is “License to Steal,” a Shane Salerno-scripted action comedy which Paramount and Ellison bought in a seven-figure upfront pitch deal last summer in the first big buy made by Paramount Film Group president Adam Goodman. Loosely based on a Marc Weingarten Salon.com article, the film focuses on the high-end repo business and agents who travel the world to reclaim play-toys of the wealthy that include private jets and speedboats. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and producing with Ellison and Salerno is exec producer.

Also on the table is the Skydance-developed “Northern Lights,” a Todd Robinson-scripted drama that is “Top Gun” meets” “Fast and the Furious,” about four aspiring acrobatic pilots who form a team and take on a more experienced varsity squad for dominance in the sky.

Who is Ellison? The 27-year old attended USC Film School and is himself an acrobatic pilot who at age 20 became one of the youngest pilots to take part in the Oshkosh Air Show. He formed Skydance in 2004 with the goal to combine his passion for acting, aviation and producing, and found his first outlet for all three with “Flyboys,” the 2006 Tony Bill-directed WWI film that Ellison co-financed and played a role in.

While the experience sparked Ellison’s appetite for more, “Flyboys” never got off the ground at the box office, and the belief is that Ellison lost millions on it. The experience reinforced the importance of backing star-driven films. Sources said that the pictures Skydance co-finances with Paramount will be star-driven. “True Grit” will star Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin and “Mission: Impossible IV” is built around Tom Cruise, who’s producing with JJ Abrams.

Ellison runs Skydance with COO Andrew McKenna and CFO Paul Schwake, and they are directly involved in raising coin for the Paramount venture. McKenna was the co-founder of GoodSigjn Management, a domestic infrastructure investment fund started in 2004 with a dedicated fund. Schwake was formerly at Spyglass and more recently at Level 1 Entertainment, which initially was expected to co-finance “Star Trek” before Spyglass stepped into the deal. The company will not be based on the Par lot. Skydance headquarters are located on a hangar in Santa Monica, right next to a garage that houses three of Ellison’s planes.

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