Gersh Agency has established a film financing and packaging division, naming veteran producer Jay Cohen to head it. It is the first dedicated division in the talent agency’s 60-year history.

Cohen’s goal will be to secure equity, pre-sale gap financing and location rebates to help Gersh clients fund films. David Gersh, who with Bob Gersh hired Cohen, said it’s hoped that the division will also become a revenue earner, with the agency taking a packaging fee on films that Cohen finances.

Cohen has a background in producing features and telepics and in raising financing on Wall Street. He started in finance, spending six years at Van Kampen Merritt and later moving to Los Angeles to start the Institutional Investment Program for Fiduciary Trust Intl. of California.

He transitioned to the film business by producing and self-financing “Swimming With Sharks.” Partnering for three years with Dustin Hoffman and Village Roadshow Pictures Australia resulted in films that included “A Walk on the Moon” and “Clubland.”

Cohen then formed Cosmic Entertainment with Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell and Kate Hudson and produced films including the Russell starrer “Dark Blue.” Later, he started his own shingle, Light Speed Media, and produced films including “Two for the Money” and “Mad Money.” He most recently developed and exec produced “Bride Wars.”

“We’ve been thinking about doing this for some time, and Jay’s extensive background made him the right person,” David Gersh said. “We’ve had a lot of clients get involved in interesting projects that lend themselves to financing and packaging that don’t fit the big studio model. Other agencies have used this kind of division to attract and sign clients. This expansion goes hand-in-hand with our core business, and it was a good opportunity to both help clients and attract new ones.”

Cohen began as a Gersh employee late last week, but in the past month, he has helped piece together “An Honest Man,” a drama that Gersh client Alison Eastwood aims to direct. Cohen set the picture to shoot in Vancouver, which will provide a 40% rebate, and he is in discussions with a Canadian production company, an equity group and foreign sales company on a film to which Billy Bob Thornton is now attached.

Among the other films Cohen is packaging is “811,” which Gersh client Bruce Beresford will direct.

“Between the Australia (rebate) and equity, we’ve been able to piece together 60% of the budget so far, and once the lead is cast, we can move into foreign presales and gap financing,” Cohen said. “There are several different ways to get films like these financed. You almost have to think like an independent producer to piece them together.”