Innovative duo show Fortitude


There's an innovative twist in the brouhaha over a pair of disgruntled agents at Innovative Artists: They've started their own agency.

Veteran agents Ben Press and Michael McConnell have formed boutique agency Fortitude, setting up offices in the heart of Beverly Hills with a client list that includes Chevy Chase, Sean Astin, Lauren Holly, Gina Gershon, Lara Flynn Boyle, Cybill Shepherd, Matthew Modine, Cary Elwes, Damon Dash, Master P, Romeo and Emily Rios.

"We want to form a boutique company," McConnell said, "but with a big-agency mentality in which clients can actually strategize and achieve what they want to do, whether it's acting, directing, writing, producing or all of the above as opposed to have everything departmentalized and going from place to place and not being able accomplish what they really want to accomplish. We want to be able to sit in a room with them and go, 'We want to take you from point A to point B.' "

"We have a new vision of representation, which is the antithesis of where we just left," Press added. "We want to take our name clients and represent them at the highest level."

The new company is already fully operational and fully funded in Beverly Hills at Wilshire and Camden.

The forming of the agency is the latest step for the duo, who each filed suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that one-sided employment agreements chain the agents to their jobs for seven years but give Innovative owner Scott Harris the right to fire them virtually at will.

Hogwash, Harris says.

"It is disappointing that they did not raise any issues that they had with the company or their contracts prior to filing the complaint and taking this matter public," the Innovative owner said.

Legal maneuvering continued Wednesday, with an attorney for Press saying that he intends to file an amended complaint seeking monetary damages for "retaliatory" actions taken by Innovative against his client.

Press' attorney Martin Singer said he doesn't expect a hearing date in the suit for at least 30 days, but he informed Innovative that its alleged lockout of his client from Press' office Tuesday "constructively terminated" his contract with the agency.

"They filed this litigation while I was on vacation (in Connecticut)," the Innovative owner said. "But reports that I received indicated that they weren't doing their jobs as usual. They were being disruptive, and as I was not there to talk to them personally, I gave them each a letter instructing them to work from home."

It wasn't immediately clear if attorneys for McConnell also intended to file an amended complaint or seek damages in that suit.

Before Innovative, Press co-headed the feature talent department at Paradigm. Before that, he spent eight years agenting at ICM, where he started as an assistant to uber-agent Ed Limato.

McConnell started at Abrams Artists and also worked at IFA before joining Innovative in 2005.