It’s not uncommon for production companies to occasionally produce content with Jewish themes or stories. It’s rare, however, to see a Hollywood production company devoted solely to Jewish content.
Leviathan Productions, which announced its formation last week, is aiming to do just that.
Led by longtime Hollywood producer Ben Cosgrove and bestselling author Josh Foer, Leviathan touts itself as “the first independent production company focused on creating premium film and television content based on Jewish stories.”
How did the idea come about?
It started when Cosgrove’s children went off to college in recent years, and he became more conscious of the rise in antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric on campuses and beyond. He became increasingly irked by the rise in misinformation and distortions, especially on social media. As a native of the Los Angeles Jewish community and a successful film producer, Cosgrove thought that he could do something to bring more balance to the conversation.
“We talk a lot about the show ‘Will and Grace’ which was a hugely successful show, and it probably did more to make Americans comfortable with LGBTQ characters and people than any legislation or protests,” Cosgrove told the Journal. “It’s presenting positive images that are identifiable and resonant that can impact the way people view the world.”
Citing the Netflix show “Shtisel,” Cosgrove explained how the show helped him better understand the humanity of the Haredi community.
“The Haredi community to me has always been something of an impenetrable mystery that I didn’t really understand and couldn’t really identify with,” Cosgrove said. “And the beauty of a show like ‘Shtisel’ is that it takes you inside the community and demystifies it and makes you realize that you know, on some level we’re all the same, and the problems that they have, or the problems that I have — those kinds of stories have a big impact on us.”
The producers also drew inspiration from television shows such as ‘Fauda,’ an Israeli war drama series on Netflix that depicts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with more humanity and context. Cosgrove explained that “Fauda” is an outlier in that there is a dearth of Jewish stories that are told on film and television that depict the experiences of Mizrachi Jews from Arab lands such as Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen and Iraq.
“We have to tell stories that people want to see, not stories that people feel that they should see,” Cosgrove said. “We definitely want to do things that you can appreciate regardless of where you are politically or religiously.”
Leviathan co-founder Foer is a journalist, entrepreneur and the author of the New York Times bestseller “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,” which has been translated into 37 languages. He is also the co-author of the travel book, “Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.” Foer also created Sefaria.org, an online “living library of Jewish texts.”
Cosgrove was previously the Senior Vice President of Production at Paramount Pictures. From 1998-2005, he was President of George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh’s production company Section Eight, where he produced Academy Award-nominated films “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Syriana.”
Foer and Cosgrove were introduced to each other after a mutual friend (and former Jewish day school classmate of Cosgrove) decided to connect her two friends who had each described to her the need for a production company in Los Angeles focusing on Jewish content.
“Right off the bat, we agreed and said the same thing —that we have to lead with entertainment,” Cosgrove said about his first meeting with Foer.
“Right off the bat, we agreed and said the same thing — that we have to lead with entertainment,” Cosgrove said about his first meeting with Foer.
Now that Leviathan Productions has opened its doors, Cosgrove and Foer are aiming to shine a light on parts of the Jewish experience that are often overlooked by film and television. They have already acquired the rights to Leonard Slater’s book “The Pledge,” about the underground network of airplanes in the United States sent to assist Israel in the War of Independence. Leviathan will also be collaborating with Broadway producer Mandy Greenfield to adapt Anna Ziegler’s play, “Photograph 51” into a film about Jewish scientist Rosalind Franklin’s discovery of the structure of DNA, before credit was taken by James Watson and Francis Crick.
“We’re anxious to look at different Jewish communities throughout the world,” Cosgrove said. “Different stories, different legends, different histories. We want to share the full spectrum of the Jewish experience.”