Dear Woody: Please take the money and run to Israel

“Midnight in Tel Aviv”? “From Jerusalem With Love”?

It may be too early to choose a title, but Rob Eshman’s idea to bankroll a Woody Allen movie to be filmed in Israel has taken off.

The editor and publisher of the L.A. Jewish Journal proposed the notion in a column last month. Since then, it’s gone viral. He did interviews with the BBC, Vanity Fair and the Canadian Broadcasting Company, and stories about his “not-so-crazy idea” (as he puts it) have run in newspapers around the world, including Israel.

Woody Allen

The campaign so far has raised nearly $24,000 in pledges, plunked down online (http://jewcer.com/project/the-woody-allen-israel-project) by fans who want to invest in the next “Dizengoff Danny Rose” (OK, no more puns).

If the $9 million campaign falls short, donors will not have their credit cards charged. If it succeeds by the Aug. 23 deadline Eshman has set, then everyone gets a screen credit. Really, they do.

Raising that much money is unlikely and Eshman knows it. But he considers the campaign a success, and a movie still a real possibility.

“It’s doing much better than we ever thought,” Eshman said last week. “It’s been a huge splash in Israel, where it got the attention of everybody from the top government offices. Several billionaire movie financiers have gotten the message, but nobody’s written a check yet.”

It all started when Eshman came across a recent print interview in which Allen explained that he often shoots in cities like London, Rome and Paris because “countries call up and invite me to make movies.”And they pay for the privilege, too.

Eshman wondered wheth-er the filmmaker, who has never been to Israel, could be persuaded to shoot a film there if funding were in place.

All it would take, Eshman surmised, would be $18 million, the average budget of a Woody Allen feature. The return on the investment, Eshman believed, would be incalculable good publicity for Israel. And, most likely, a darn good movie.

“He makes you fall in love with these cities,” he added, referring to Allen’s screen locales, from Manhattan to Barcelona. “It would be fascinating to see Tel Aviv or Jerusalem through his eyes.”

Eshman does not expect to raise all the money directly through “crowd funding,” a relatively new form of fundraising in which anyone can pitch in a few dollars online. But he is serious about Allen taking on an Israel project, and said the campaign has intrigued real movie producers.

“It was a way for people to show their support and get people’s attention,” he said his pitch. “My focus went away from crowd funding and more toward people [who are] serious about raising the money.”

Eshman is a lifelong Woody Allen fan, citing “Manhattan,” “Hannah and her Sisters” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors” among his favorites by the auteur.

Given Allen’s impact on the image of Jews in American cinema, Eshman thinks it’s time Allen broadened his palette by filming in Israel.

“It just seems to be a good fit,” he said. “Here’s a guy who defined the image of the Jew for much of the 20th century. The Woody Allen character became one of the symbols of the diaspora Jew. You take that character and pop him in Israel, and it’s a completely different image.”

So what does the famous New York filmmaker think about all this? Though he never pitched Allen directly, Eshman has heard from Allen associates that he has commitments through the next couple of years. But here’s the good part, according to Eshman: “He wouldn’t rule out the possibility. It wasn’t a no, and in Hollywood that’s almost like a yes.”

And should Allen ultimately come round, Eshman would prefer a light “Annie Hall” comedy over something somber and dark, such as the Bergmanesque “Interiors.”

“I would like it to be a comedy, if only because in Israel there’s a lot of funny people,” Eshman says. “If you look at a lot of Israel’s nominated movies, they are so serious. Jews have a reputation for being funny. I would like Woody to return Jews to their funny roots.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.