“Hello and welcome to MovieFone!” Love it or hate it, moviegoers can’t escape the voice that has been barking out showtimes and theater locations since 1989. You might think the vocal stylings behind MovieFone belong to a high-priced voice-over pro or a retired game-show host. But in fact, those distinctive pipes belongs to Russ Leatherman, the company’s president.
MovieFone, which has logged more than 250 million calls in eight years, was created out of one man’s frustration. “I was with a bunch of people who wanted to go to the movies,” Leatherman, 35, explains. “We didn’t have a newspaper, so I had to run to the 7-Eleven. By the time I got back, the movie had already started. I thought there has to be a better way.”
With that, Leatherman had a concept. What he needed next was a spokesperson. More a process of elimination than a first choice, the company president ultimately decided he was the right man for the job. “It came down to me and one other gentlemen, and he sounded a bit like Donald Duck,” Leatherman remembers. “I got the job because I didn’t sound as bad as he did.”
Leatherman, who describes his signature sound as “Kasey Casem on crack,” knew his style would polarize callers. “They’d either think my voice was great,” he says, “or think, ‘Holy cow, I never want to hear that voice again.'” It’s clear that Leatherman has his fans: He receives thousands of requests to record funny answering machine messages for people who want the MovieFone guy on their home phones.
Even so, Leatherman isn’t likely to make a living from his voice alone. “He’s got a little regionalism and there’s something nasally there, so I’m going to have to say he’d have trouble finding steady work,” says voice-over agent Elena Berger. “He also needs to check the pronunciations of foreign films.” Leatherman won’t argue with that critique. “Once upon a time I pronounced c’est la viè as sest LAY-vee.” he says. ” If there’s nobody around to help me out, I pretty much make it up.”