Leading Annapurna Pictures, we have a young woman with every financial resource who never has to work a day in her life. Instead, she wrote a check for $35 million so the world would have The Master, a masterpiece which could only earn a profit in some alternate universe. She funded Zero Dark Thirty, the most deliberately provocative film of our time. With the inclusion of just these two films, the quality of the American movie market improved tenfold over previous years, thanks to a wealthy motorcyclist who tweets Jean Cocteau quotes. That’s right, kids. There’s someone out there with intelligent taste and a lot of money who wants to get your movies made. Cynics be damned: No one could look at the blatant facts of The Master - massive budget, no commercial prospects, complete creative control of a great director - and not see that this is a producer who means business (and none of what that implies.)
As if this wasn’t enough, look at what’s ahead for Annapurna: A big-budget Wong Kar-Wai film, a big-budget Bennett Miller film, and a big-budget Spike Jonze film. After Where the Wild Things Are, a brilliant film that would no doubt lose studio money, it looked like Jonze would have a tough time making another film on his own terms. Now, it seems like he’ll be freer than ever before.
Ellison’s next project is extremely important. A few years ago, Harmony Korine released Trash Humpers, a bizarre, beautiful, and vile document full of nihilist frustration that looks unlike anything else in contemporary American films. And now, he’s at the helm of—yes, I believe this—2013’s biggest sleeper hit. Watch the trailer and tell me Spring Breakers isn’t a balls-deep zeitgeist-capturing auteur film. For years we’ve heard about how important the teenage moviegoer dollar is, and Megan Ellison is putting her money where her mouth is. This could be the teen film that shows young people how indispensable auteur cinema is, the way Rebel Without a Cause or Carrie did.
For the past few years, the climate of American filmmaking was such that David Lynch and John Waters couldn’t get funding for their next bombastic projects. Now that we have Megan Ellison, someone who clearly doesn’t give two shits about making a fortune off of juvenile dreck like The Artist, this is going to change. And if this operation sustains itself—and I’m sure it will—we could be looking at a new Hollywood model.
Megan Ellison is a producer-cum-cinephilic-philanthropist and a reason to be optimistic about the state of American film. The gods of cinema are smiling on her.