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Annapurna’s Ellison a patron of the auteur

American Film Market 2011: Preview - Annapurna Prods.

In Sanskrit Annapurna is an incarnation of the Hindu mother goddess, who fills the world with food; in Hollywood, the name evokes much-needed financial nourishment supplied to the industry by producer-financier Megan Ellison.

In less than two years, Ellison’s Annapurna Prods. has become one of the most sought-after backers in the business, supplying the market with several auspicious projects, from Kathryn Bigelow’s new military thriller to a reboot of the “Terminator” franchise to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Scientology-inspired drama.

With high-end auteurs attracting A-list casts (Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Philip Seymour Hoffman), the films are hot commodities not just in the U.S. market, but globally, where name director-driven projects are especially coveted.

At AFM, a number of foreign sales companies will be closing deals on Annapurna pics. FilmNation has only a few territories left on John Hillcoat’s bootlegging drama “The Wettest County,” while the Weinstein Co. hopes to close deals on the Anderson film, currently in post-production. TWC won’t show footage yet, according to chief operating officer David Glasser, but offers are already coming in.

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“There’s a lot of smart money in the marketplace right now,” Glasser says. “And Annapurna is one of them. (Ellison) has incredible taste. It’s nice to deal with investors who are really clear on the product they want.”

The Weinsteins have U.S. rights to “Wettest County” as well as Annapurna’s Andrew Dominik thriller “Cogan’s Trade,” starring Pitt and Ray Liotta, for which Inferno sealed significant sales during last year’s AFM.

Because of Ellison’s access to private equity — she is the daughter of Oracle multi-billionaire Lawrence Ellison — Annapurna is uniquely positioned in the market, not needing to rely on pre-sales to trigger production. The company is also making a healthy number of pictures, so it’s not just about quality, but quantity as well.

Annapurna is said to have a number of other films in the works that have not yet been announced, but may, in fact, be further along than already hyped projects such as the Julian Assange biopic or Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s political satire, both in development.

Just this month, it was announced Ellison was backing a post-apocalyptic film with transmedia possibilities inspired by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi’s concept album “Rome,” to be directed by rising musicvideo helmer Chris Milk.

Ellison, herself, continues to maintain a low profile — she has never granted an interview — but insiders suggest the 25-year-old entrepreneur isn’t looking for fame, but is simply motivated to support talented filmmakers.

“I think she’s very driven specifically by directors,” says financier-producer Michael Benaroya, who worked with Ellison on “Catch 44” and “The Wettest County,” and would do so again. “I think she tends to have a larger vision of what she wants, both the projects as a whole and her slate as a whole.”

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