Traveling Abroad – Why Fixers are So Critical

Excellence is earned… And I imagine that to get to this point you have worked hard as a freelancer, collaborator, and/or intern. But with all this training, what everything boils down to is the need to rely on others for support in your creative endeavors. On a recent project I produced in Cuba alongside Brent Foster, the fixer played an integral role in our final piece. If it wasn’t for him, we would not have been able to produce what we did. In this post, what I want to do is talk about why a fixer is important for any work you do abroad.

What is a fixer?

Fixers are individuals who make arrangements for another person. Fixers have a thorough knowledge of their local customs and procedures and use this knowledge to help make things happen. The duties of a fixer may include providing translation services, making arrangements for transportation, hotel accommodations and more.

For the film we produced in Cuba, our Fixer acted as our translator, driver and friend by the end of the trip. He helped us coordinate with our Casa and made any arrangements we needed during the shoot.

Why do you need a fixer?

Fixers fill many roles when they are assisting you. The main thing is keeping you safe and out of danger – or acting as people who will help diffuse the situation if one was to arise.

What was great about our fixer is that he went above and beyond what we could have ever expected. We definitely feel like this story would not have come together the way it did without meeting Yadir. He taught us so much about the culture and landscape of Cuba, and really lead us into the heart of our story

How to Find a Fixer

There are a few different ways to find a fixer. The first way is to reach out to others who have worked in Cuba before. This is a great strategy to find someone who is reliable and is able to get things done for you. Another way is to use the platform, Lightstalkers. This resource was developed for photo journalists as a way to simplify the process and make it easier to look for support.

For this project, our initial fixer was a no show so we were forced to find a fixer while we were in Cuba. Initially, I thought this would be a challenge but it ended up being much easier than expected. We simply headed out into the streets and on one of the days, we happened to run into a taxi driver who spoke great english so we asked if he had any interest in hanging out with us for the rest of the week.

What makes a good fixer?

Finding a fixer is much easier that you would expect. Finding a GOOD fixer is the challenge. Good fixers are problem solvers and are people that make your life easier. You will usually have to pay more money for professional fixers but you will also usually get better results. For the short film. ‘A Place to Call Home’, we got lucky and were able to find someone that was extremely cheap. We wanted to have a driver for a portion of the trip so by simply paying a bit more than we would have paid for a normal taxi, we were able to secure someone who was able to fill multiple roles for us. On one of the days, we needed to find a local band to play for us in the streets. We asked our fixer and he was able to find a band to play for us for the next day of shooting. He didn’t ask for extra money. He just made it happen.

Fixers should have a mastery of the local languages including knowledge of the various dialects and slang. It is especially critical that the fixer is able to communicate in English if that is the language you speak. He should have thorough knowledge of the local customs, geography of the terrain, means of transportation and the ability to foresee the nature of events. A good fixer should also have hands-on experience of the subjects to be covered in the project you are producing.

When trying to find a fixer, there are a few things to watch out for. You are hiring them for a job so think of it as a business relationship where you are the employer. If they aren’t able to help you out with everything you need, don’t be scared to let them go and find someone else. Their job is to make your life easier and if they are able to fill these needs completely, they aren’t doing their job.

For us, I am so glad our initial fixer was a no show as things could not have worked out better than with Yadir. He not only made our lives easier but allowed us to produce a better project than we would have without him. For that, I am forever grateful!

If you have any questions or would like to find out more, make sure to comment below!