Oscar hopefuls shake different money trees on way to screen

Fri Feb 21, 2014 10:00am EST
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By Ronald Grover

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Joe Newcomb, a failed minor league baseball player who struck it rich as a Texas chemical trader, will be among those crossing their fingers in the Dolby Theatre audience on March 2 when the Academy Awards are handed out.

Newcomb financed scrappy best picture Oscar contender "Dallas Buyers Club." In the category of film financiers, he'll be joined by Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison's daughter Megan, who provided funds for "American Hustle" and "Her," by "12 Years a Slave" backer Bill Pohlad, whose family owns the Minnesota Twins baseball team, and financiers who assembled investors in Asia and the Middle East to back "The Wolf of Wall Street."

There have always been oil men and others eager to invest in Hollywood, the last few years indicate they are playing an increasingly important role in financing Oscar contenders.

Five of the nine films nominated for best picture this year made it to the big screen with the help of investors who are outside the Hollywood studios. It's a trend that's intensified in recent years, as studios try to reduce their risk in making films.

"The studios' business model no longer accommodates a lot of pictures that strive for the type of critical success that would support an Oscar campaign," said Steven Prough, managing director of investment banking firm Salem Partners.

"They want films that have a higher likelihood of appeal to worldwide audiences, which is generated by large budgets and special effects."

Pohlad and Ellison have been among the hopefuls before. Ellison financed last year's Oscar nominee "Zero Dark Thirty," while Pohlad backed 2006 contender "Brokeback Mountain" and "The Tree of Life," which was nominated in 2012.

Ellison's Annapurna Pictures emerged as the hot new player in Hollywood in the last few years, and not only for her check book, but also because of her willingness to take risks and support directors.   Continued...

A large Oscar statue is seen in the Dolby Ballroom during the 86th Oscars Governors Ball press preview in Hollywood, California February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Fred Prouser