Skydance Productions is an American film and television production company based at Paramount Pictures, with whom they co-produce and co-finance films such as Star Trek into Darkness & Star Trek Beyond.
I first heard of Skydance from a blurb in Variety Magazine’s issue on notable women in the male dominated entertainment business. Dana Goldberg was mentioned as being “Chief Creative Officer”, the title of a job created especially for her. Variety said, “Paramount relies on Skydance to deliver some of it’s biggest pics”. Such as Star Trek. That got my attention. So I explored.
Skydance was founded in 2010 by David Ellison, son of the billionaire CEO of Oracle Corp. He was joined by Dana who had begun her entertainment career as an assistant at Hollywood Pictures. She then spent three years as vice president of production at Baltimore/Spring Creek Pictures. From 1998 through 2010, she was a vice president and later president of production at Village Roadshow Pictures. She certainly has the experience to oversee my beloved Star Trek.
At Skydance, Ellison and Goldberg have been responsible for feature-length films including True Grit, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Terminator Genisys and Star Trek Beyond. In television, they have produced Manhattan (shot here in New Mexico!), Grace and Frankie (with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda), and the upcoming Condor (based on Three Days of the Condor). Not too shabby!
In a June 2015 interview connected with their Terminator Genisys premiere, Skydance founder David Ellison said, ” We’ve had an amazing relationship with J.J. Abrams, we’re making our 3rd and 4th movie together, and the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry’s franchise is something that we feel the tremendous pressure of living up to that legacy, and very much hope that the movie does that for audiences when they get to see it next year.”
As CCO, Goldberg oversees all aspects of creative development and production for film and television. While film projects and properties continue to be her primary focus, Goldberg now also works with the television department. Television, eh? One of the questions asked in the interview was if there was a future for a Star Trek TV series.
ELLISON: It’s something that we would love to be involved in. As I’m sure everybody knows, the rights situation given the CBS and Paramount divorce on the Star Trek rights is very, very complicated. The exact status of it is absolutely something being worked on. We would love to be involved, but all to be determined at this time.
GOLDBERG: You’re preaching to the converted. We would love it, both as fans and as people who would want to be involved in the making of them. We would love it. Everything you just said is right. It goes with what we were talking about before with television is you can just take more time to tell very specific stories and it would be fantastic. It’s not something we control, sadly.
Phooey. Doesn’t sound like it will happen soon.
UPDATE!!! 11/2/2015 Maybe Paramount & CBS did get it together! CBS announced a new Star Trek series on their premium channel. See more here.
So what is Skydance Productions – really? How did David Ellison, a man of substantial connections and wealth, come to create the company. He talked about how Steve Jobs was a mentor.
ELLISON: I had the incredible luxury that Steve happens to my dad’s best friend, so he was like an uncle growing up. …He was a very, very close friend and truly the Thomas Edison of his time, and I was fortunate enough in building this company to be able to talk to him about it throughout the entirety of it. And a story I’ll never forget, because in irony it was actually the day they were launching the second iPhone, we were getting close to closing our deal at Paramount with Skydance, and I told Steve I wanted to talk to him about it. He said ‘why don’t you get on a plane and fly out here tomorrow?’ And I said ‘you’re launching the iPhone tomorrow.’ He was like ‘I don’t care. Get up here.’ I sat down and pitched him the entire company, the way we had been pitching everybody else on our fundraising tour, and Steve looked at me in the way that only Steve Jobs can and he goes ‘this isn’t gonna work.’ [Laughs] And I was like ‘alright, why?’ And he said ‘you know the answer, you’re just not thinking about it.’ And I didn’t, I was kind of floored at the moment in time, and he was like ‘look, why does Pixar work?’ He said ‘the biggest mistake everybody makes about Pixar is that they think we were successful because we created 3-D animation, and nothing could be further from the truth. We simply went back to a world where we found out how to make movies better than anybody else.’
And he talked a lot about how free agency was created because the golden age of Hollywood was when the studios had a very firm handle on the talent, but because they did not treat them appropriately, didn’t compensate them appropriately, that created the free agency, and we live in the world we exist in now. Steve adjusted that by actually making the talent his partners, and by treating everybody well both creatively and economically, and really changing the model. …he talked about the brain trust, really going to that idea where we had a core group of both executives and filmmakers that we could work with over and over and over again, because any one person can make a bad movie. Some of the greatest filmmakers of all time have made bad films, but when you get a group of people together, five really talented people will usually not miss. It doesn’t mean that on their own that would necessarily go differently, but that was really the model.
From that moment on, we went back and restructured the company and changed it, and re-pitched it to him, and he said ‘that’s gonna work better.’ I was very fortunate and truly blessed to have him as a friend and as a mentor and to be able to work with Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross and Don Granger who are these incredibly talented producers and storytellers at our company and to be able to work with filmmakers like J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird and Chris McQuarrie and Alan Taylor and writers like Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, our company is what it is because of the incredible people that we get to work with.
Sorry, they didn’t spill any details about Star Trek Beyond. There is an interesting link with Terminator Genisys. It features Brandon Stacy, who worked on the first two rebooted Star Trek films as stand-in and photo double for Spock actor Zachary Quinto. Yum!
The whole interview with Ellison & Goldberg is interesting. You can read it here.
Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a fascinating look at the movie process: http://youtu.be/EQutDk1yecI
Tim Russ, who played Tuvoc in Voyager and Deep Space 9, is also a director. He is now working on the pilot of a Star Trek web series, Star Trek: Renegades. He chatted about this with The G & T show and mentioned some fascinating considerations and constraints about directing Star Trek: http://www.gandtshow.com/?p=1944
He mentions that it is the director of the pilot who sets the “look” of the series – that each series has it’s own look that instantly conveys which one you’re seeing. Aha! I have noticed that, but didn’t think about it. In flipping channels, I’d never even briefly mistake a Hawaii Five-O episode for an Star Trek episode. Tim Russ mentions some factors in creating this look. For example, in directing “Living Witness” for Voyager, he had to be careful about camera angles – there were angles that the executive producer hated and would not let into the show!
Star Trek: Renegades takes place 11 years after Voyager, which lead to some interesting discussions about how things might have changed in those 11 years. Russ said they wanted to look more modern without losing the audience’s understanding of what was happening. You can’t make a weapon look so different that the audience doesn’t realize it essentially is a phaser.
I also wasn’t aware that Paramount, as owner of Star Trek, insists on approving everything using the name or concept. That includes books, graphic novels, toys and other products, the fan-produced movie Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, and the proposed Renegades web series. I found that Lucas does the same with Star Wars. Renegades could have been developed as a separate Sci Fi story line, but as Russ points out, anything Star Trek has such a large built-in fan base.
Wow! It seems directors do a lot more than tell actors where to stand!