Fast Talk: I want that job

The economy is bad. The weather is drab. We can still dream, can't we?

Elvis Mitchell

Film Critic, The New York Times
New York, New York
I've always loved movies, but I never thought I would write about them for a living. It started in college. There was a public-radio station in Detroit, and the film critic there, Armond White, moved to New York, so the station asked if I wanted to take over. See movies for free? Sounded good -- and it still does. It's pretty cool to get paid for this.

Part of my job is about stirring up trouble -- to get people to think about what they're seeing. I keep hearing that audiences today are more sophisticated about media -- which is true, I think, on a technical level. They recognize a lot of filmmaking techniques that past generations didn't. But I don't think there's a lot more sophistication about the way that movies and TV manipulate audiences. So my job is to point that out.

The real thrill for me is going to film festivals. That's where I can be most useful -- alerting people to the great movies that are out there, even if they don't get picked up by a studio. Of course, some days are more interesting than others. At Sundance, it's gray, cloudy, freezing, and there's nothing to do but watch the movies -- so they had better be good. But at Cannes, you can walk out of a bad movie and enjoy the south of France with its Cuban cigars, cute waitresses, and European Coca-Cola. You can't go wrong with that.

Tom Burgoyne

The Phillie Phanatic
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I'm a Philadelphia guy all the way. I grew up in the suburbs here, I went to St. Joseph's prep school and Drexel University, and I'm a huge, huge sports fan. I started with the Phillies in 1989 as the backup for Dave Raymond, the original Phanatic. I saw an ad in the paper that said, "Mascots Wanted," and I sent in my résumé. I'd been the Hawk at St. Joe's prep. When I went to the interview, I brought three newspaper clippings: a photo of me that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1980, when I was on top of a statue during the Phillies World Series parade; another photo of me in a tuxedo and a Julius Irving jersey, when Doc played his last game; and a clip from my high-school paper, when a kid asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said, "The Phillie Phanatic."

Being a mascot has come a long way. If I can throw the other team off its game just a bit and create a home-field advantage, I'm doing my job. Here's one example: Joe Carter [of the Toronto Blue Jays] -- the most despised player in Phillies history because he hit a home run in game six to knock us out of the 1993 World Series -- was back in town for the first time since that game. It was four years later, but everyone still remembered.

He's doing his warm-ups, and I'm yelling at him, "Joe, I'm comin' after you tonight!" And he's yelling back, "Bring it on, Phanatic!" In the fifth inning, I come out with a dummy dressed in a Joe Carter uniform, and I started jumping on it, doing body slams. He comes bolting out of the dugout, grabs the dummy, and starts beating me over the head with it. Joe's a big guy, and I'm hoping he's all right with everything. The next day, a Saturday, I lay off. On Sunday, as I'm walking through the clubhouse before the game, Joe yells, "Yo, Phanatic! Where were you yesterday? These people came to see you and me going at it." And he says, "I'm coming after you tonight." So right after the national anthem, just as the Phillies are being announced, Joe and I are brawling out in left field. And I think, "This is what I do for a living." And I love it.

Melina Root

Costume designer, That '70s Show
Studio City, California

I started doing this work professionally when I was 24, first at Saturday Night Live -- the most grueling job I've ever had -- then on 3rd Rock From the Sun, and now on That '70s Show.

A lot of costume designers work hard to be invisible. When you're watching a show and you don't notice the clothes, that means that somebody slaved over you not noticing the clothes. I'm lucky that I work for a show where the clothes really matter -- and where at least part of the audience remembers how the period looked. But that also makes it a little harder. If you're doing a movie that's set in the 18th century, nobody's going to phone in and say, "You got a button wrong."

The idea of recycled clothes is getting more and more popular. I've done an entire Shakespeare production out of Dumpsters. I've done Spanish golden-age drama on $5. The idea is to understand the historical context of the clothes that you're using and then to mix and match them however you want. When I did 3rd Rock, the idea was that the clothes came from a cosmic thrift shop: A character would be wearing '40s pants with a '60s shirt, a '30s tie, and a '50s jacket.

I can only do my job with an actor's consent, so it can become a problem if an actor is primarily concerned with looking good -- especially for a show set in the '70s, when a lot of people didn't look very good. That's why my other dream job is to be a landscape architect. I love gardening. Plants never talk back. Shrubs never have a bad day.

Don Lafontaine

Voice-over artist
Los Angeles, California
Movie trailers are an art form and an extremely persuasive one. Every day, I look up to God and say, "This is the best job in the world." It really is an amazing gig. I get to work with creative people, be part of the whole process of entertainment, and remain somewhat anonymous.

The first voice-over that I ever did was for a picture called Gunfighters at Casa Grande. The film is so obscure that it doesn't even appear in Leonard Maltin's book of 40,000 movie titles. At the time, I was writing and producing radio spots, and I had something like six different campaigns to produce in one night. I did the voice-over myself to save time and put my name on the presentation. The studio bought it, and I was on my way. That was 1965. At last count, I've done the voice-overs on something like 3,200 trailers. [Yes, he's that voice.]

There are no downsides to this job. For 10 or 12 years, I've had a limousine that takes me from studio to studio. These days, though, I can do much of my work right from home. I have an ISDN line in my house. I get up, look at my schedule, hook up to whatever network or studio I'm working with, and do the sessions. A normal session lasts about five minutes, and I usually get it done in two or three takes.

Melissa Sarkissian

Sailing instructor, Club Med
Ixtapa, Mexico

Here's how my day starts: I get up, walk down to the beach, and put my feet in the sand. I look out at the ocean and say, "I'm at the office. This is where I work."

My official title is GO, or gentil organisateur. It's French for congenial or friendly host. I help bring boats in and out of the water; I set up guests with windsurfing, snorkeling, or kayaking equipment; and I give sailing lessons two or three times a day. Whatever I do, I don't fake it. I smile a lot, but that's because I like to smile. Why wouldn't I? The food is great. I get to meet people from all over the world. They're positive. They're having fun.

It's hard to imagine doing anything else. Whenever I go back home to Montreal, I say, "No, I'm not ready for this." I'm not used to the stress, to the fast pace, to people not being happy because they can't start their car in the morning. This is my dream job.

Michael Scibilia

Merchandise Manager, Dean & Deluca
New York, New York

I just got back from three days in Italy. I was in Milan and Parma, then I went to Modena to see how balsamic vinegar is made. I had the next day free, so I went to Bologna, which is the food city of Italy. I went to see the vegetable markets, the fish markets, the salumerias, and the cheese shops. It was beautiful.

I first walked in to Dean & Deluca around 1980 and said, "Someday, I'm going to work here," because these guys have a passion for what they do. I studied art history in school, but I didn't want to work in a museum for $19,000 a year.

When it comes to selling, it's all about sensing your customer. You have to size them up: Some of them you can be very formal with, some of them you can be downtowny with, some of them you can be arrogant with. It's a game. You bring them into your head. For instance, this guy from Calabria [Italy] walked in, and he's got caper shoots to sell. He's got wild artichokes too. I've read about those in botanical books, but this guy actually has them! And my customers are right there with it.

At Dean & Deluca, we look for classic, simple, and close-to-the-ground products. Last year, we were really into figs. We did figs in syrup and fig molasses. This year, we're investigating a range of products that use Italian bitter cherries. We're doing a bitter-cherry jam and balsamic vinegar that's aged in cherry wood. What I do here is similar to what a curator does for a museum: I acquire objects, and I assemble collections. We try to develop a theme and put on a show.

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