“How are we gonna kill that person this week?” is a question that Matthew Mungle would periodically ask himself when working on the set of The X-Files in the late 90s. “I couldn’t wait to get the script to see what monster we had to create next.”
That might seem strange for a man with a terrible phobia of blood, but Mungle’s job is hardly within the realm of normal. Though you may not recognize his face, you’ve surely seen the prosthetic makeup Mungle has done in more than 200 film and TV projects, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for which he won an Academy Award. And it’s not just faces: He’s also designs prosthetic pensises, breasts, and pregnancy bellies. “We’re known for realistic-looking work,” Mungle says. “We don’t do too many aliens.”
But the work is Frankenstein-esque in the sense that Mungle hatches new creatures from scratch. He and his team may spend an entire month on one effect, like someone’s hand getting cut off in CSI. That work could be edited together so it’s only on screen for four seconds. But hey, those are still pretty impressive bragging rights.
Mungle at work on an autopsy body for CSI.
Outside of work, Andrew Freedman tries not to tell anyone about his job. Not because it’s a top-secret government position; yes, it’s a government job, but probably one you never knew existed.
His official, jargon-y title is director of marijuana coordination for Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado—a title that didn’t exist before he got the job in February 2014. But he may be better known as his unofficial, colloquial title: marijuana czar.
“[Telling people what I do] has ruined almost every dinner conversation I’ve had,” Freedman says. “Sometimes I get caught up in a pro- or anti-legalization debate, so I’ve witnessed everything from admiration to anger.”
Colorado made history when it became the first U.S. state to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana in 2014, but Freedman steers clear of advocating for or against legalization. Here’s how he got the job, the challenges he faces, and why half-baked ideas (sorry, had to) for getting rich quick off Colorado’s pot market don’t usually pan out.
The otherwise nondescript office where Freedman (left) works has some old prohibition posters hanging, to remind them of where they are historically.
If you haven’t heard of Escape the Room, you’re missing out.
The concept, which was initially inspired by online games, is much more thrilling as a live experience. You’re locked inside a web of 150-square-foot rooms for an hour, maybe with your closest friends or maybe with strangers (you decide which is scarier), where you must work as a team to find hidden objects and decipher clues in order to solve the puzzle and break free.
Behind the curtain — or in this case, behind a big TV monitor on a perch outside the room — is Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent, who co-founded several Escape the Room locations with his friend Max Sutter. (“Think of it like a karaoke bar,” he says. “Anyone can open one.”) They now have three spots: New Haven is their flagship, but the Escape Industries network, which they co-founded with local partners, also includes Sacramento and Rhode Island. They build a new game every six months, so each has a lifespan of about two years.
“When I was little, I wanted to be a video game designer, so similar tendencies are at play with the Escape the Room design,” Rodriguez-Torrent says. He’s experienced 20 or 30 different rooms, but he’s still no master: “I should be better than I am.” Here, he discusses the key to success (in Escape the Room, but also in life), how he creates puzzles in a former brothel, and the time he almost banned a bachelor party. Spoilers ahead.
Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent (right) with his co-founder, Max Sutter.
Here’s an alternate ending for 27 Dresses: Katherine Heigl is fed up with the bridesmaid schtick. But instead of letting that take her down a vulnerable path to love, it takes her down a path to a self-sufficient business plan.
Perhaps that’s not a recipe for box office success. But it’s Jen Glantz’s story. She started her own company, Bridesmaid for Hire, after she realized just how much time and energy it took to help plan her friends’ weddings. Why not get paid for it?
The normal boundaries of business don’t apply. Often, because she’s an unbiased party and not a close friend, brides feel more comfortable telling her things, like doubts about their weddings. Then it’s her job to coach them through it (that is, once she learns the fiancé’s name) and handle any dirty work on the big day. “It’s like a friendship on an accelerated time frame,” Glantz explains. She travels to weddings across the U.S. — all expenses paid by the bride, of course, who will often keep Glantz’s true identity a secret — and racks up a lot of dresses in the process, which she stows in her tiny New York City apartment.
In her element at a wedding dress store.
Gavin Pretor-Pinney distinctly remembers the time he traveled halfway across the world to the middle of nowhere.
To see a cloud.
A few years ago, he trekked from his home in the English countryside to the Australian outback to see a Morning Glory cloud, which stretches horizontally across the sky like tubes, a rather rare phenomenon. They look like elongated cotton balls, if you pulled a bunch of them apart and placed them next to each other, rising and sinking like ocean waves along the horizon.
A Morning Glory cloud approaching Kangaroo Point in Australia, 1993. (Photo: Russell White)
“It’s a mecca for glider pilots who go there to surf this cloud,” Pretor-Pinney explained. They form in different parts of the world, but this one stretched hundreds of miles in length. “When I first got there, it was looking dicey. I was worried I would have to go home and say I just saw a blue sky.”
For Prettor-Pinney, clouds aren’t just a hobby anymore; they’re his business. The Cloud Appreciation Society operates from an office adjacent to his barn in Somerset, UK, which is covered in cloud posters and has a big etched hand pointing up toward the sky.
It doesn’t take much prompting for Prettor-Pinney to begin waxing poetic: “Clouds don’t just get in the way of the sun, they are the most dynamic and poetic aspect of nature.” His idea for the society arose as a joke in 2004, and has since taken on a life — and membership base — of its own. In fact, it’s given quite a meteoric jolt to how we classify the wispy white stuff above us.
Jennifer Raskopf, in the room where it all happens.
There’s a little show on Broadway right now that you may have heard of — it’s a musical about the life of a Founding Father.
Yes, that’s the one.
Jennifer Raskopf is an assistant costume designer for Hamilton, the show that picked up 11 Tony Awards last night (no biggie). She’s seen the show about a dozen times — or two dozen, if you count shows that weren’t fully staged — has cried every time.
Raskopf helped shop for and do swatching and fitting for costumes for the 28 members of the current cast, from bras to buttons to the king’s cape. Like most typical theater-goers, she has about 30 Playbills sitting around her apartment; unlike most typical theater-goers, she can casually reminisce about the time Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created and stars in the show, started singing DuckTales while everyone was waiting for lighting onstage.
Only three or four people in the United States extract snake venom — the real deals, that is. Jim Harrison is one of them.
He typically “milks” about 150 snakes in two hours, or approximately a minute per snake; it’s kind of like an assembly line of venom. He doesn’t wear gloves — they hinder his dexterity — and while he’s “only” been bitten nine times in almost four decades on the job, his shortened right forefinger is due to a kickboxing mishap, not a snake bite.
There’s a lot that people get wrong about the job, Harrison explains. Plenty of people call him up, wanting to learn how to extract snake venom as a get-rich-quick scheme. But in reality, it’s a limited market, and the hardest part comes after the venom has been funneled into tubes and shipped out.
Harrison runs the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, where about 2,000 snakes reside, along with his wife Kristen. He proposed in 2004 while filming for the National Geographic show Snake Handlers in St. Lucia. “People think of venom and they think of death,” he says. “I think of venom and I think of life. It saves more lives than it will ever take.”