Tales Of The Industry
by Justin Sevakis,
Welcome to “Tales of the Industry,” a new column where we will share stories from real working professionals in the anime business. These stories will be anonymous, and told in the first person. Names will be changed to protect people's jobs. They might've taken place last year, they might've taken place a decade ago. They're the things that the pros wish they could tell you.
Some of the stories will be heavily redacted, to the point where it'll be nearly impossible to guess who the story came from. This first one isn't like that, though – it obviously comes from the author.
Are you a current or former member of the anime business or convention staff? Do you have a story you've been dying to tell, but just can't tell it the normal way? Get in touch with Justin Sevakis through any social media you like. His Twitter account is @WorldOfCrap, if you aren't acquainted.
I probably shouldn't have been as nervous as I was. I had already met the CEO of the company, John O'Donnell on a plane, and we had talked, rapid-fire, about the business of anime on the entire flight from Detroit back to New York City. By the time we'd parted, he'd offered me a job. But being in film school, my goal was to attain a job in video production, and to get a job in video production, I would have to have a proper job interview and meet the people in charge of the production team.
I was only 20-years-old, and had been living in New York City and going to college for a year. In that time, I'd had a few adventures, and had recently gotten a job at a service bureau in the 2nd basement of the McGraw Hill building in Rockerfeller Center, where I spent the evenings printing out signs and 35mm slideshows for medical conferences. It was a decent college job, but this… THIS was what I had really dreamed of doing: working in the anime business! I could hardly believe my luck.
I arrived on time to the office, on the third floor of the Fisk Building on 57th street, a few blocks from Central Park. (The building's namesake, James Fisk, was a notorious late-19th century investor who bribed officials and judges, tried to corner the gold market, and ended up guttering the economy before he was murdered. But I digress.) On the third floor at the end of a long hallway were two doors. Immediately ahead was “Central Park Media / Venture Group International.” To the left was “U.S. Manga Corps / Software Sculptors / MangaMania”. I was very confused, because I knew that these were all the same company. (U.S. Manga Corps and Software Sculptors were labels of Central Park Media. MangaMania was once a small-time mail order anime business, but the phone number now just redirected to Right Stuf.)
At any rate, a further sign on the straight-ahead door said “KNOCK HARD.” So I did. For a few minutes. Finally, someone let me in.
I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting out of CPM's offices, but I was immediately taken aback by how filthy the place was. Walls that had once been white were now a spectrum of light earth tones, and what had once been carpet was now a solid mass, unraveling into fibers at the seams. The place was illuminated with large florescent lights hung from a drop-ceiling, not unlike every repressive high school classroom I'd ever been in. Most of the office furniture looked like it had been scavenged (and I later found out it had).
The woman who let me in was a short Asian woman (let's call her Jen) who I had once exchanged emails with. She was quite pleasant and told me that I would be meeting with the head of production, but first it was standard for new hires to take the “CPM Entrance Exams.” That's weird, I thought. Well, sure, how hard could they be? I sat down at one of the two entranceway desks, adorned with a positively ancient Macintosh computer. The chair was a molded plastic lawn chair that looked like it'd been there for years. The woman returned with a folder containing a few sheets of paper for me.
The first test was a one-page math quiz that started off with basic addition and eventually rose to roughly fourth grade level. I finished it in a few minutes. Next, was a typing test consisting of retyping a letter O'Donnell had once penned into Microsoft Word. Piece of cake.
Last of all was a Microsoft Excel test. This one worried me. I'd never used Excel before. All we had to do was make a table of some numbers, and add them. I didn't really know about the SUM= function, so I just manually added the numbers in the last cell at the bottom. I hoped that was good enough.
I found out later that Harvard and Yale graduates had completely failed these tests.
After alerting Jen that I was finished with my tests, I was ushered into the office of Ms. Stephanie Shalofsky, the second-in-command at Central Park Media. The office and desk was crowded and as Spartan as the rest of the office. Behind the desk was a petite Jewish woman with a Long Island accent. She was extremely soft-spoken but had a no-nonsense demeanor that was intense and intimidating. The look on her face read, “good lord, who is this child that John has hired into my department without asking me?”
I introduced myself and sheepishly sat down on one of the two non-matching chairs in front of her desk. She asked if I was a fan, and I gave some background as to my previous work with anime, which up to this point had included fansub work with my old anime club, starting Anime News Network (which wasn't all that well-known yet) and a short stint at a miserable anime-related venture at Scifi.com. I offered to show her some of my more ambitious fansub projects, which were on a VHS tape in my bag that I had compiled. She agreed to take a look, and as it played, she stared at it, deadpan. Glancing at the monitor, it all seemed so cheap and amateurish-looking. I shrank in my chair.
Around this time I started flashing back to the cheap take-out lo mein I'd had for dinner the night before. The taste, the smell, and the experience of eating it was at the forefront in my mind. This was because eating it had seemed like a bad idea, and now that prediction was coming very much true. All was not well in gastro-digestiveland. I tried to ignore the sharp pain in my gut. This was a dream job opportunity, and that was the absolute last thing I needed right now.
After Stephanie was done with me, I was ushered back into the hallway, and into the other door, the one marked “U.S. Manga Corps.” This, I was told, was where the production team was. I was excited. There, I got to meet a whole team of people, who were mostly pretty young and had a good sense of humor. Some of them seemed earnest, others just seemed kind of exhausted. I honestly don't remember much about this conversation because every fiber of my being was screaming in pain. FIND A BATHROOM NOW, OR THIS WILL GET VERY BAD, VERY FAST, I found myself thinking.
But I couldn't leave. Not yet. I was meeting and shaking the hands of the people I very much hoped to work with. Oh, GOD, please give me a little more time. Please god… Oh, now the fat one is making Star Wars jokes. I can't get a word in…
Finally we finished making the rounds. Anxious to leave (and starting to get really sweaty), I asked if there was a start date. “We'll email you to set something up,” Jen offered. “Oh, there is one more thing.” I stood in the entranceway while she left for the other side of the office. She was only gone a few seconds but it seemed like hours. OH MY GOD I AM DYING HERE, my large intestine screamed.
“Here you go. You need to watch this, and sign this.” Jen handed me a VHS copy of Urotsukidoji and a piece of paper. It was a waiver. “We're around adult animation constantly. This just acknowledges that you know that, and you're not bothered by it. Please watch it, sign the paper, and bring it back.”
“Oh, uh, I've seen it already.”
“Just take it home and say you watched it. I didn't watch it either.”
I politely shook her hand and made my exit, walking, then power-walking, then RUNNING to the men's room I noticed down the hall on my way in. I got there, and, like most big city office building bathrooms, it was locked. Panic stricken, I ran back and politely asked for a bathroom key. I must've been gushing sweat at this point, but nobody seemed to notice.
The next 30 seconds were the most relieving 30 seconds of my young life. I hadn't soiled my pants in my job interview. I had successfully landed what my young otaku self had considered my “dream job.” And, little did I know, at that very moment I was happily sitting on the throne, setting the tone for the next three years of my career.
If you are a current or former anime industry professional and have a story to share (we can keep everyone anonymous), get in touch with Justin Sevakis via social media.
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