Tragedy shines light on pressures of showbiz

When 48-year-old Jon Furie jumped to his death at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood on July 18, he left behind a loving family, loyal friends and associates — and an apparently prospering below-the-line agency, Montana Artists.

His death left the agency more vulnerable to the pressures of a competitive business. The company is working to restructure, but Furie’s death also serves as an extreme cautionary tale about the hardships that many in the biz are facing in this brutal economic climate.

Furie, son of helmer Sidney Furie, worked at the agency for seven years before purchasing it from founder Carl Bressler in 2003. By all accounts, he grew its roster and nurtured its bottom line. Today, Montana’s eight agents rep nearly 300 clients, including d.p.’s, production designers, editors, line producers, makeup artists and other below-the-line craftspeople.

“He always answered your call,” said production designer Andrew Laws (“I Love You, Man”). “If you were stressing about work, which is typical in our business when you’re between jobs and having a panic attack, Jon would say, ‘Relax, turn it off, go enjoy your family. It’s just a movie. There are more important things in life.’ ”

But Furie couldn’t follow his own advice. Associates say he was deeply affected by the depressed showbiz economy and its effects.

“Even though about 70% of our clients are working, Jon worried so much about the other 30% that he wasn’t sleeping,” said Howard Soroko, Furie’s close associate and business manager.

Another Furie client, cinematographer Alan Caso (“Big Love”), said, “When the industry went south and adversely affected not just his clients but many other people he knew … It ate away at him.”

Soroko said Furie had been out of the office for six or seven weeks prior to his death, which was ruled a suicide by the L.A. County Coroner’s Office.

During that time Soroko was involved in re-aligning Montana’s management team.

Now, with Furie gone, many wonder about the future of Montana. “Jon Furie was Montana Artists,” a rival said. “He was the person clients were loyal to … I don’t know how many are going to want to stay.”

The company’s new leaders see it differently. “There are definitely artists who came to our agency over the years because of Jon,” acknowledged Montana agent Matt Birch, who was hired by Furie seven months ago from Endgame Entertainment to help run the features department.

“That said, we laid out a several-year business plan from which we won’t deviate, regardless of the economy,” he added. “Last year was our best year ever, and although the first quarter this year is marginally off, as we knew it would be, the second quarter continued to rise and we expect our third quarter to be excellent in both features and TV.”

According to Soroko, Montana will restructure, with Karen Furie, Jon’s widow and current veep, moving to the prexy role. Plus, “several key employees” will become equity owners. He said Montana has enough money in the bank to do business for the next 18 months “even if we don’t make another dime.”

Still, the agency will probably be in a defensive posture in the near future. Even in normal times, said Claire Best, president of below-the-line shop Marsh, Best & Associates, some competitors regularly try to steal her clients. “Everybody knows who (the poachers) are. They aggressively chase clients. … It’s very sad when your clients get to the zenith of their career, only to have another agency” lure them away when it’s finally easy to place them.

One measure of Furie’s popularity was the turnout at his funeral, estimated to be between 700 and 1,000. Many were his clients; others were his competitors. One of those rivals, Larry Mirisch, said, “If he could only have witnessed what respect there is for him this may not have happened.”

It remains to be seen whether the clients who crowded the path to Furie’s gravesite will also remain loyal to the agency he leaves behind.

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