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What makes a good fixer?

I often work with young local journalists as fixers, and many times it’s someone who has no idea what a fixer does. I’m trying to put together a how-to document for these people with tips and instructions on working as a fixer. Any suggestions, ideas, or tips I could include?

(I’ll share the document when it’s complete, if anyone’s interested.)

Peter

by [a former member] at 2008-12-18 12:01:29 UTC Dharamsala , India | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Thanks so much for posting this, not being a PJ, when I first started on LS I couldn’t figure out why you guys needed so much fixer in so many remote places, or even why you were slopping your own film! LOL

(In the words of Ben Franklin, or was it Mark Twain better to be silent and thought a fool, than speak and remove all doubt.)

Eagerly awaiting the thread…

by [former member] | 18 Dec 2008 12:12 (ed. Dec 18 2008) | | Report spam→
Interesting…

And a good initiative. I too would like to see the final draft.

Or intermediate ones so we can add stuff and desires!

by Tom Van Cakenberghe | 18 Dec 2008 12:12 (ed. Dec 18 2008) | Kathmandu, Nepal | | Report spam→
1) Absolute and perfect fluency in all local languages, dialects and slang.

2) Impeccable knowledge of local customs, transportation, geography and the ability to ‘smell’ when a situation is turning bad.

3) Must have actual connections with the subjects/people/issues to be covered.

4) Must be able to provide some verifiable method for payment. Cash in-country works, but I like to use Pay-Pal or some bank-certified method of payment because it lends some credibility that the fixer is who he/she claims to be.

I would love to see your document when it is complete, and if you’d like me to put you in touch with a great fixer I know of, please PM me.

by Will Seberger | 18 Dec 2008 17:12 | Tucson, United States | | Report spam→
You are operating the assumption that “fixer” refers to some clearly defined, widely acknowledged job. One photographer’s fixer is another’s cab driver. Yes, there are people who have made money working for major news organizations over the years and can present you a resume detailing their various skills and qualifications, but it seems unreasonable to try to foist that level of achievement and specificity on an unsuspecting local who has offered to help you.

by [former member] | 18 Dec 2008 17:12 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
In Japan, a local fixer the magazine would hire to get set up for a given magazine article is called “coordinator.” When the magazine publishes the article, the name of the coordinator would be listed along with the names of the photographer and the writer.

by Tomoko Yamamoto | 18 Dec 2008 18:12 (ed. Dec 19 2008) | Baltimore, MD, United States | | Report spam→
Since I often combine work in stills and video, I also prefer to say “Production Coordinator” and I also always credit them (or see that they are credited) in the final production. I have had the privilege of working with several very competent coordinators, without whom my work would simply have been impossible. I have also done the odd spot of coordinating myself and have friends who do the same.

A very useful companion list to compile would be “How to work with a coordinator/fixer”. Top of THAT list would be
1. “Don’t diss your coordinator’s country or culture”, and 2nd would be
2.“If your coordinator says, ‘We should be going’, then pick up your gear and get THE FUCK OUT.” Always remember that you get to leave – he or she has to live in that country, in that neighborhood. So if you keep on shooting after the local gangster boss says stop it, you might get a blue eye or a broken camera – HE gets his house firebombed and his kids harassed after you are gone.

So what does a fixer do?:
Just a few things off the top of my head (some pretty obvious but let’s get the ball rolling):
“A fixer is a COMMUNICATOR who provides ACCESS: to local culture, to the subject, to the people you need to have access to to make your project happen.”

Needs to know local culture, customs and regulations to get you in the door and out of trouble
Needs to grasp very clearly what YOU want to do – and communicate that to others when required
Needs to be able to speak the language of the street – but also communicate with the victim, the official, the soldier or the CEO
Needs to know where to get a meal and a drink that won’t upset your stomach or your wallet
Needs to be able to translate subtleties when required – from you or your subject
Needs to know who’s who, who will know what you want to know, and who will let you in or kick you out
Needs to know enough technical stuff about your industry to get what you need – and get it right away, and at a reasonable price
Needs to be able to improvise and suggest solutions
Needs to be able to navigate – roads, relationships and boundaries

Ok that’s enough for a start… any additions?
Tobie

by BignoseTW | 19 Dec 2008 05:12 | Taipei, Taiwan | | Report spam→
Thanks so much for the excellent ideas. I’ve come up with an early draft document for the fixer… but that’s a great point, Bignose, we should have 2 documents. One for the fixer (or production coordinator, thank you Tomoko), and one for us on how to select and work with a fixer.

Actually I drafted this early version before I saw the replies from Will, Preston, Tomoko and Bignose, so I haven’t incorporated everything… I did paste in a couple of Bignose’s ideas.

So please have a look (the early Word doc draft is herefixed) and offer up your suggestions for changes. The photography section is pretty much blank at the moment, since I’ve primarily worked with fixers on radio projects thus far, so I included more stuff on interview translation.

I’m also curious to know what you think of the payment section. Of course people can always customize it to their own situation…

This is the document to be given to the fixer / local coordinator. Haven’t started putting the other one together yet.

Will: about #4 – can you clarify that? Are you saying the fixer should be able to accept PayPal or have a bank account? Seems kinda difficult in a lot of cases.

Preston: You’re right, lots of people (including or maybe especially cab drivers) can work as fixers in a pinch, but if you’re investing in a trip, let’s say, or are getting into a touchy situation where you’re gonna need a translator who’s also watching your back, a local journalist or other professional is often a good bet. Of course that’s not the fixer everyone needs in every instance, but I was originally of this document for that kind of fixer.

by [former member] | 02 Jan 2009 06:01 (ed. Sep 11 2009) | Dharamsala, India | | Report spam→
In Japan I use two fixers with lots of experience. They have great connections to NHK, the heavy industries, sports, the offices of politicians, entertainers, sex clubs and gangsters. All very well organized and done properly. They earned about as much as I was being paid, Y40,000 per day.

In South Koreas I had to photograph some pre-Olympic strife between police and demonstrators, and police and striking laborers, my driver/fixer told me that he would kill any police that threatened to harm us because he hated them. It sounded scary extreme, but he did have to pull us out of situations that had become dangerous. So, from my limited experience, a fixer is smart, tough, diplomatic, and has a good network.

by Joel Sackett | 02 Jan 2009 06:01 | Puget Sound, Washington, United States | | Report spam→
A very interesting topic! Let me give you the view from the other side too! To begin with, I am also a film maker, having directed many commercials and documentaries, wrote for feature films.

I am ALSO a Fixer/Producer and very proud to be one. I usually work with News networks, TV projects where the term for the fixer is “Local Producer”. I don’t have problems with any term as long as the work gets done.

I have worked with many photographers during my college years but in the last 3-4 years, I’ve been only working for TV and film projects with the exception of the project with Albertina D’urso as it was very challenging and exciting. Yes, I ONLY work for interesting projects.

Many above have detailed what makes a good fixer so I won’t go in there. But according to me, what makes a good fixer is the person he is working with. Luckily for me, almost all the people I worked with turned out to be very good except a TV team I worked with recently.

The production house sent two completely inexperienced producers from the US and they made life hell for me. Usually my clients involve me right from the concept stage and I ALWAYS get what they want. These two producers who came, both women tried to play the good cop, bad cop with me. Putting any ego’s aside, even though I was more experienced than both of them combined together, I tried to clear the mess they created.

They did not consult me during the Ministry permission process which usually everyone does and made a complete mess of it. Thankfully with my contacts in the Ministry, I was able to get new permits just one day before the shoot…It was a nightmare. Was I appreciated for this? haha No! In fact, one of the producer wanted a location which I knew was NOT suitable at all but she made me run around to get that location. When the DP came in later for the shoot, he said that location would not work and wanted another location!

There were two units and I put my assistant in charge of the other unit. There was a major incident during the shoot and instead of calling me to take my advise, they just left the location and it would have created a big issue but luckily for us, did not! Anyway, the shoot was completed well but it was the worst nightmare for me.

So, it’s not just the fixer but the person working with him too makes all the difference. These days photographers want to hire the cheapest but don’t realize that the concept of “Pennywise pound foolish” still holds. They hire people who work for as less as $30 to $40 a day who don’t have a clue about journalism. Please don’t call them “Fixers” and degrade the rest of us who have worked all our lives in Media and were trained for it. You can call them “Guides”.

by Uday Sripathi | 23 May 2009 08:05 | Mumbai, India | | Report spam→
As for the payment process, genuine fixers are comfortable either with delayed payments by wire or cash-after-project(I take cash rarely as I have to be clear in my money transactions for my Income Tax purposes). I NEVER take advances and only take a final payment. There have been many instances where I have spent money from my own pocket when the client is falling short and would wire the money to me later. Again, this is only for my regular and referred clients.

by Uday Sripathi | 23 May 2009 08:05 | Mumbai, India | | Report spam→
This is a spectacular discussion — it shows the power of these forums for serious, informed conversation among working pros.
A few suggestions, other than those above
1. The fixer must have a very good command of spoken English. Speaking the local language is never a problem. However, I’ve had to dismiss numerous fixers who were recommended by my clients because their English is sub-par. If possible, talk with them on the phone before confirming the gig.
2. They don’t bring friends to accompany them on the shoot
3. They clearly understand and accept their “bodyguard” function in high risk areas eg slums. It’s simple — they don’t walk in front of you, rarely alongside, almost always behind.
4. They do not direct the actions of the photo subjects. Usually, this means not even speaking with the subjects, unless you ask them to interpret instructions.
5. They are active in “crowd control” — discouraging onlookers while you’re shooting.
6. Should own a basic digital camera. With it, they take the model release ID photos. If there is location scouting required, they should e-mail to you their suggestions of locations before you leave home.
7. Either the fixer or your driver should be willing and capable of helping to carry some of your equipment.
8. If the fixer is a photographer, under no circumstances are they to photograph on the shoot. When this is unavoidable, they must undersatnd that they shoot only after you have finished a scene. Also — they should not expect to get a photography lesson from you — asking why you did what when, etc. They have to allow you the space to keep your thoughts without interruption.

Please do keep me on the list for the final document.

by Richard Lord | 23 May 2009 11:05 | Virginia and NYC, United States | | Report spam→
http://www.fixerdoc.com/about.html

by teru kuwayama | 23 May 2009 18:05 | Islambad, Pakistan | | Report spam→
Also very interested in the final version!

by Anja Krieger | 27 Aug 2009 19:08 (ed. Aug 27 2009) | Berlin, Germany | | Report spam→
Maybe for the likes of Richard Lord and a more equal world, you could write something like, treat them with the respect they deserve. Encourage them in their art. Spend some time to share your work. Humble yourself a little, you’ll take better pictures.

by duckrabbit | 29 Aug 2009 16:08 | UK, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Give example of people like Raza Khan if you ever need. Teru can explain better.

by Faheem Qadri | 30 Aug 2009 16:08 | Srinagar, India-Administered Kashmir | | Report spam→
Sounds like a good fixer is more valuable than the photographer.

by Barry Milyovsky | 30 Aug 2009 19:08 | lost in the, United States | | Report spam→
Peter thanks for starting this discussion. It has been very informative for me as I start my first big overseas assignment in Moscow. I was wondering whatever became of the word document? I tried to download the one you linked to but it is no longer on your site.

by Neal Waters | 11 Sep 2009 05:09 | Moscow, Russia | | Report spam→
I think the document got removed by mistake — it’s back up now. I haven’t had time to work on this lately, but I welcome your suggestions… You can either keep posting them here or e-mail me the same document with tracked changes.

I found what Teru wrote about fixers on Gizmodo interesting… Two snippets: “They do journalism’s heavy lifting” and “I avoid fixers because so many of the ones I’ve worked with are dead now.”

by [former member] | 11 Sep 2009 09:09 | Dharamsala, India | | Report spam→
Very sobering thought, that, by Teru.

by Nayan Sthankiya | 11 Sep 2009 11:09 | Delhi, India | | Report spam→
Also a very good read in the NYT concerning Sultan Mundai written by Khaleeq Ahmad.

http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/colleagues-remember-sultan-munadi/

“I spoke to his closest friends. They were all furious and deeply saddened by his death, especially when his body was left behind and not flown back with the international journalist who was rescued. For them it didn’t matter who killed him, whether he was killed by the Taliban or the British special forces, what was important for them was why a sketch or picture of Sultan was not given to the Special forces, and also why did they have time to bring back one of their own soldiers who died, and rescue the British journalist, but left Sultan’s body to rot at the house.”

by Nayan Sthankiya | 11 Sep 2009 11:09 | Delhi, India | | Report spam→
Another interesting article IT’S ALWAYS THE FIXER WHO DIES

by [former member] | 11 Sep 2009 19:09 | Rome, Italy | | Report spam→
thanks for this discussion, which is certainly valuable, and instructive. If I can redirect the conversation slightly, I would point out that most of it has focused on the responsibilities of the “fixer” to their client.

The recent deaths of Sultan Munadi, Raza Khan, and Ajmal Naqshbandi underscore another question – what are the responsibilities of the journalist (and their news organizations) to the fixer?

That’s a question I encourage all journalists to face up to.

by teru kuwayama | 14 Sep 2009 13:09 (ed. Sep 17 2009) | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
A very important point, Teru. What do you think the journalist’s and news organization’s responsibilities to the fixer?

by [former member] | 14 Sep 2009 13:09 | Dharamsala, India | | Report spam→
the Committee to Protect Journalists has given the subject some consideration, and I think the words from Elizabeth Farnsworth and Ann Cooper make sense -

http://cpj.org/reports/2004/10/fixers.php

“I consider it one of my prime duties to look after the people working for me” – Elizabeth Farnsworth, PBS Newshour

http://www.cpj.org/online_discussion/stringers.html

“if that driver or translator comes to harm while working for your news organization, you need to step up and take full responsibility for his or her well-being—including meeting medical needs and helping take care of family that may have lost its means of support.”
Ann Cooper, CPJ

To my mind, common sense, and common decency dictate that when you knowingly hire someone to do something dangerous, you incur a responsibility for what happens to them.

News organizations that employ people for dangerous assignments are responsible, whether those people are their own staff or freelancers — or the fixers, translators, and drivers hired by their employees.

The international press simply couldn’t function without this grey force of local workers. And yet, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of clear understanding of our responsibilities to them – or much appetite for the discussion. News organizations would rather leave the most dangerous jobs to people who they pretend don’t exist.

The New York Times “At War” blog has a long roster of journalists paying tribute to Sultan Munadi, but it also might be worth asking how much financial support Munadi’s family can expect from the company he died working for.

In the case of Raza Khan, who died while working for the NY Times and Newsweek, the money donated to his family (by those news organizations and a long list of journalists he’d worked for over the years) wasn’t even enough to replace the used toyota he was driving.

by teru kuwayama | 17 Sep 2009 05:09 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
If you need a good fixer who has an excellent knowledge in languages or works with qualified interpreters, fast on the uptake, able to make deal with government officers, ministries, local authorities, NGO, organize the accommodation, transportation,emergency evacuation, bodyguards,doctor, making sense of time management, provide adequate information for the photographers or film crew about the condition of cooperation, contract, prices,dangers, etc … choose carefully. Less headache.
Note:
1. don’t hire a fixer just because cheep.
2. at developing countries always calculate with bureaucracy, corruption and the slow procedures.
3.listen the fixer suggestion . No is No, No Problem is No Problem, pack and live the country asap if getting dangerous.
3. Don’t risk the fixer and your crew life just because of the awards and sincere.
4. Provide all the necessary documents in time.
5. Make a contract.
6. The fixers also has family who waiting back home in time and safe. Fix the working time, working over time and payment, try to keep yourself for the schedule.

He or she will take care and look after you.

Janos

by Janos Kis | 18 Sep 2009 09:09 (ed. Sep 21 2009) | Phnom Penh, Cambodia | | Report spam→

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Participants

Tom Van Cakenberghe, Tom Van Cakenberghe
Kathmandu , Nepal
Will Seberger, Photojournalist Will Seberger
Photojournalist
(Freelance Visual Journalist)
Tucson, Arizona , United States ( TUS )
Tomoko Yamamoto, Multimedia Artist Tomoko Yamamoto
Multimedia Artist
Vienna , Austria ( VIE )
BignoseTW, Videographer/Photographer BignoseTW
Videographer/Photographer
(Tobie Openshaw)
Taipei , Taiwan
Joel Sackett, photographer Joel Sackett
photographer
Puget Sound, Washington , United States ( AAA )
Uday Sripathi, Fixer / Line Producer Uday Sripathi
Fixer / Line Producer
(Made in India!)
Mumbai , India ( BOM )
Richard Lord, Photographer Richard Lord
Photographer
(Worldwide Corporate and NGO Ph)
Nairobi And Kisumu , Kenya
teru kuwayama, I/O teru kuwayama
I/O
New York , United States
Anja Krieger, Journalist and Fixer/Coor Anja Krieger
Journalist and Fixer/Coor
Berlin , Germany ( SXF )
duckrabbit, Journalism duckrabbit
Journalism
(sparks may fly)
Uk , United Kingdom
Faheem Qadri, Photographer/fixer Faheem Qadri
Photographer/fixer
Srinagar , India-Administered Kashmir
Barry Milyovsky, totally unprofessional Barry Milyovsky
totally unprofessional
(emperor of ice cream )
New York , United States
Neal Waters, Photojournalist Neal Waters
Photojournalist
San Jose , United States ( SJC )
Nayan Sthankiya, Visual Journalist Nayan Sthankiya
Visual Journalist
Saskatoon , Canada
Janos Kis, photographer, fixer Janos Kis
photographer, fixer
(photographer)
Phnom Penh , Cambodia


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