Published 13/01/2013 | 05:00
Stuntman and actor who made his name as a film director with the cult horror comedy Snakes on a Plane
DAVID Ellis, who has died aged 60, was an American film director best known for his much-hyped horror comedy Snakes on a Plane (2006), which became a huge internet phenomenon but flopped at the box office.
Ellis had hoped that by heavily marketing Snakes on a Plane on the internet, fans would be persuaded into cinemas at a time when the filmgoing habit was faltering in the face of other forms of entertainment, notably video games.
In Hollywood, the film was seen as a bellwether that might indicate if fans active online would leave their sofas and pay to see a film at the cinema.
Rated R (for Restricted) in the US, not least on account of its foul language, Snakes on a Plane's joyfully literal concept and starring performance from Samuel L Jackson ("I have had it with these mother****ing snakes on this mother****ing plane") had Hollywood in a lather of anticipation.
But in the end, though promotional trailers on the web received an enormous number of views, they failed to translate into hard cash at the box office. "Everyone was talking about the movie," explained one industry analyst. "But you have to convert that talk into moviegoing, otherwise it's just talk."
The film generated just $15.2m (€11.4m) in American ticket sales in its opening days, a comparatively paltry sum by Hollywood standards.
It was not for the want of trying. Snakes on a Plane was not the first film to crank up such high levels of anticipation via the internet, but it did take online hype to an unprecedented pitch. Fans visiting the official website could type in a telephone number that triggered a call from Jackson urging them to see what he suggested could be the best movie in history.
For months before the film's release, bloggers had started stoking anticipation, to the point where Ellis reshot some scenes to give the film a harder edge, with riper language and violence to lift it into the R rating category. Web chatter also minted an unprintable epithet about the snakes for Jackson to shout. To no avail.
David Richard Ellis was born in Los Angeles on September 10, 1952. He began his Hollywood career as a juvenile actor in 1975 in the Kurt Russell film, The Strongest Man in the World, before becoming a stuntman and stunt coordinator on films like Smokey and the Bandit II, Rocky III and Lethal Weapon. He moved into directing in 1986, on second unit action sequences for films such as Waterworld, The Matrix Reloaded and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
He made his debut as principal director in 1996, on Disney's Homeward Bound 2: Lost In San Francisco.
Another sequel, Final Destination 2 in 2003, was followed by the thriller Cellular in 2004, which Ellis believed underperformed commercially on account of poor marketing. He had hoped that the internet effect on Snakes on a Plane in 2006 would reverse this trend.
Ellis went on to direct Asylum in 2008, The Final Destination in 2009 and Shark Night 3D in 2011. He was the second unit director on the forthcoming Winter's Tale starring Colin Farrell, Will Smith, Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe.
At the time of his death Ellis was in South Africa preparing to direct Kite, a live-action remake of a celebrated 1998 Japanese animation which was set to reunite him with Jackson.
David Ellis was found dead in his hotel room in Johannesburg last Sunday. He is survived by his wife, Cindy, and three children.