Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Nearly 18 months after Megan Ellison pledged over $20 million for the rights to finish The Terminator‘s humanity vs the Skynet cyborgs storyline with a new series of films, she has finally closed the complicated rights deal with Pacificorp. Other than the fact no progress has been made all this time on a script, the surprise here is Ellison has enlisted her brother, David Ellison, to be her financial and creative partner. There is still no studio attached, but future Terminator films will be done as a co-production between her Annapurna Pictures and his Skydance Productions. The Ellisons will produce, while Dana Goldberg, Paul Schwake and Ted Schipper will be exec producers.

Even though Pacificorp spent $29.5 million several years ago to win the rights after Halcyon turned them over to bankruptcy court, insiders tell me that the big numbers in place 18 months ago have been adjusted downward. That is because of the uncomfortable specter of a ticking clock that has continued to wind down as no forward progress was being made. New copyright laws allow for North American rights to The Terminator to revert back to creator James Cameron in 2019 (that happens after 35 years, and The Terminator was 1984). While that law hasn’t been tested in the courts, no major film company would want to move forward on a project with a potentially catastrophic rights crisis looming. So the original pricey deal — made with the expectations there would be three films — was scaled down because the reality is they might only get to make two installments. Four films have been made so far, the first two directed by Cameron, another by Jonathan Mostow and the last, 2009′s Terminator Salvation, helmed by McG.

Megan and David Ellison are the children of billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison and while their professional paths crossed when they were both exec producers on True Grit, they have largely taken different paths in Hollywood. She has focused on eclectic prestige projects like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, John Hillcoat’s Lawless, the Kathryn Bigelow-directed Zero Dark Thirty, the Andrew Dominik-directed Killing Them Softly and the upcoming David O Russell-directed Abscam movie with Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper. David Ellison’s Skydance has been making commercial popcorn pictures at Paramount that recently have included Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise, World War Z, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Star Trek Into Darkness and Jack Ryan. I would not be surprised to see Skydance take the active hand in development because Terminator is their kind of movie. Skydance makes its movies with Paramount, but I’m told that studio isn’t involved at this time.

The project has been moving in fits and starts, and most likely that has been due to the slow pace of the rights deal. At one point, Arnold Schwarzenegger had been attached, and so was Fast & Furious helmer Justin Lin. Because Ellison expected to put the first of two pictures in production in late 2012, Lin dropped out. Right now, the Ellisons are starting from scratch as they seek out a screenwriter to plot the end.

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