I think I need a fixer
September 6, 2010 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in hearing experiences from others that have worked with "Fixers" when setting up or actually out on a shoot. I'm usually a loner when taking pictures, but there are so many situations that having someone around that could help with literal and figurative interpretations and setting things up that I'm thinking I need the extra eyes and local knowledge.

I've begun to explore the outer edges of Shanghai as well as other rural areas under the shadow of major urban developments and I've realised that I'm likely to get much better shots / visual stories if there was someone to collaborate with to help with communication and advance research including developing an understanding of local histories and social dynamics.

I know this is common practice in PJ work, almost a necessity when working on new stories and in unknown locations. What are the primary things you look for. What's the adjustment like having someone with you when shooting. What are some ways that having a fixer has helped you get something that you wouldn't have otherwise and how did you find them?
posted by michswiss to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak for stills, but in film/video, a local fixer is a must. Even if you speak the language, the fixer can bribe someone so you can park the van, use the bathroom, and set up just one little light without having the local police crack down on you. In China, having a fixer also means that you're going to be able to get locations and angles that you can't as an obvious foreigner. (Local research isn't always what fixers excel at--most are logistics people, rather than historical types, but they can tell you who does have all the local lore at their fingertips.)

I would say that you do run the risk of hiring someone who's connected up the whazoo, but will not risk his/her future business by breaking a rule just for you--esp. in China. But a good fixer can hold back the curious, when you need a clean shot, point out stuff that's significant but not on first glance.

For video, you usually hire a fixer through recommendations of others. Mandy.com has a list of production companies, etc. all over the world.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:25 AM on September 6, 2010

I've worked as a fixer for a photographer and the BBC, but it was in the Falkland Islands, so things like language/bribery/crowds didn't really arise. Apart from a lot of driving, I guess the main role was getting access to the right people, most specifically, knowing who the right people were to provide certain kinds of material.

So, for example, when the Beeb said they wanted to illustrate the difference between the Falklands in 1982 and now, I phoned a farmer who I knew had hosted hundreds of British troops on his farm just before the final push on Stanley in 1982, and who is now making money from taking cruise ship tourists onto the same farm to see the penguins. I knew there was a cruise ship due in on the crew's first day in the Islands so got them out there to interview him on the beach surrounded by penguins/tourists etc. Even if they'd found him without me during their visit, they would have missed the cruise ship day. Another day, they filmed a fishing boat leaving the harbour, then I was able to drive straight round the headland to a well-hidden spot where they could film it heading out to the open sea, which they wouldn't have found otherwise.

Other stuff I did: Lots of phoning to arrange/cancel interviews/shoots; buy lunch for days I knew we'd be away from the shops; book places to eat for dinner; occasionally correct innaccurate place names they used in pieces to camera. It was very much like being a PA, but in a Land Rover instead of an office.

I imagine you'd get much greater benefit out of a fixer in Shanghai, where the language/cultural differences are greater.
posted by penguin pie at 11:21 AM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I'm now a newspaper reporter, and it occurs to me that, when we're out on jobs with snappers, we can be useful for: holding up a flash without having to set up a stand; chatting to subjects from behind the camera to put them at their ease while the snapper's snapping, so they don't get that 'rabbit in headlights' look; carrying kit.
posted by penguin pie at 11:24 AM on September 6, 2010

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