The Qualities of a Great Fixer
I'm just back from a very successful and smooth-running shoot for National Geographic in Laos. It would be really easy for me to credit our solid pre-production, or the top-flight skills of our team for this successful conclusion...or even to just credit good luck. But a huge part of what makes an international production go well lies in the choice of and abilities of the fixer hired to help run and manage the project. At the end of the day, this person will either help you run your days smoothly while presenting opportunities you had no idea to even consider, all the while helping keep the team safe and operating effectively in what might well be an alien environment to many of them....or they won't. And that's not as simple or trite as it sounds. Because that "won't" can mean many things, all of them bad for the project and, worse even, for the team members themselves.
On this project in Laos, where we were not only filming in a communist country, laden with rules and morays we needed to be conscious of, but in actual rice paddies concealing tons of live UXO cluster bomblets still in place 40 years after being dropped, we were blessed to have Cyril Eberle (WWW.CYRILEBERLE.COM) on board functioning as our fixer. And he's as much responsible for our successful shoot as any one. Perhaps more so. Cyril has all the best qualities that a fixer needs. Not only is he intimately familiar with the land, people and culture in all the places we operated in, thus keeping us physically safe, on schedule, and on budget but he thoroughly understood what we needed, materially and creatively. A good fixer is logistically solid, but a great fixer adds a creative mind to the mix in a way that supports production and yet doesn't step on toes. Cyril is a producer/director in his own right, and he was able to suggest interesting story arcs and new characters and possibilities to our director, and yet left his ego at the door. In his case we were doubly blessed that he is an excellent photographer and a drone pilot and had thoroughly scouted all out our locations well in advance. He not only had supplied production in advance with photos of possible locations and characters, he had also kept in mind possibilities for scenarios we might need locations for later (i.e. a long stretch of rural road I needed to fly my drone along-side some bicyclists).
Not all fixers are creative, nor do they need to be. I've had very good ones that functioned something like a mix of production manager/security chief and quartermaster. As long as they are looking out for the well being of the team and the job they are there to do and are skilled at their responsibilities, they will be a solid asset to the production. But when they can add foresight, initiative and a deftly-presented creativity to the mix, they become great and a vital factor in a successful shoot.