photo: Flavie Trichet Lespagnol.
We will now be regularly profiling some of the members of World Fixer to find out how they started, what they’ve been up to and what makes them tick. We hope these interviews will be useful for other fixers, those looking to break into the business or clients keen to know who’s out there.
There are many fantastic professionals in Paris on the site but intrigued by two fixers in the same family we decided to chat to Virgile and Cleo Demoustier, a brother and sister team gaining great reviews for their work across numerous media formats.
Q. What is your background?
Virgile: I moved to France at the age of 15 after living 9 years in Asia with with my family, in the Philippines, Cambodia and Yemen. I studied humanities at La Sorbonne where I got a BA in History, then went on to pursue a MA at Sciences Po in International Relations. Upon graduating I moved to Argentina where I lived for four years, working as a cultural journalist for French speaking websites, and as a communications manager for Citroën Argentina. I moved to France in 2013 where I eventually became a fixer for the Washington Post, and then started working with other news outlets.
Cleo: I grew up abroad also with my parents and my brother in The Philippines, Cambodia, Yemen and Kenya. I started my undergrad studies in Paris, but I quickly moved to Canada to study International Affaires at HEC Montreal. I spent one year in Chile and Argentina as an exchange program. After graduating, I started working in marketing and sales for media outlets in Montreal. I also took a journalism class and discovered the universe of documentary through a festival. I was hooked and eventually quit my job, ended up travelling and started my own documentary project.
Q. What attracted you to fixing?
Virgile: I liked the idea of working with a journalist as a team, and of being a part of the making of the news. It’s important to me not to just be a passive recipient of what is going on in the world. Also you get to meet all sorts of interesting people and go to places you’d never go to otherwise (ie the Calais jungle).
Cleo: I was really interested in working with experienced journalists or producers and learning from them. Being a fixer brings a variety of projects with very different teams and ways of working. I also like covering a story in France from a foreign perspective.
Q. How did you get into fixing?
Virgile: A friend of mine, Slate.fr editor Charlotte Pudlowski, recommended me to the correspondent of the Washington Post who needed a fixer in the winter of 2014. From the start I was hooked! Cleo joined us during the Charly Hebdo attacks in January 2015 .
Cleo: My brother was working with the Washington Post and they needed a second fixer to cover the Charly Hebdo attacks.
Q. What have you found are the key skills you need to be a fixer?
Virgile: It does help to be good at languages, we both speak English and Spanish fluently, but the most important part is to be relentless about the information you want to get, whether it be a contact or a piece of information. You know it’s out there, and there’s nothing stopping you from getting it as long you’re resourceful and inventive. Being able to improvise is key, since a lot in this job has to do with learning as you go.
Cleo: Three main skills: being bilingual, resourceful and having a very good understanding of what the journalist / producer needs. Of course, curiosity must be part of your DNA. Being able to build trust with all your interlocutors is very important.
Q. Do you like the term fixer? What better describes what you do?
Virgile: I call myself a free-lance journalist, as well a local producer when it comes to working with television. I don’t mind using the word fixer although people don’t always know what this means.
Cleo: I like the term Local Producer. But I don’t mind the term fixer.
Q. What was your first job? How did it go?
Virgile: I worked with the Washington Post’s Europe Correspondent Anthony Faiola on the rise of a French Tea Party in February 2014. This went really well as we started to work together regularly after that.
Cleo: My first job was with Griff Witte from the Washington Post. I will never forget my first day. It was the day of the Hyper Cacher hostage taking, two days after the Charlie Hebdo attack. We ended up a 100 meters away from the hostage taking doing live reporting and making the news under a lot of tension.
Q. What range of jobs do you pick up these days?
Virgile: I can work with general print news outlet on covering French politics, or for TV channels on the migration situation in France. Anything that ranges from politics to terror attacks to cultural affairs to environmental issues.
Cleo: I work for news (French elections, migrants, terrorist attacks…), for TV show and feature length documentaries.
Q. Are the skills needed for fixing journalists the same as those for TV?
Virgile: The basics are the same, although working for TV requires a higher level of organization and anticipation, as you have to secure shooting authorizations and identify filming locations. I often go on a recognition trip before to do just that. It also requires in depth investigation beforehand as you want to have an extensive view of the situation before starting the shoot. Once the shoot has started, flexibility and improvisation are just as important.
Cleo: Fixing for journalists requires a higher attention to facts and being able to provide a lot of context. Having a large network of contacts among politicians and experts is an advantage. Fixing for TV requires more organizational skills and having a good understanding of production needs. It also helps to be connected with local DoP, drivers, PAs and equipment rentals.
Q. Does it help having another family member in the same job?
Virgile: It helps to work with someone you can count on and you can trust with your contacts and job opportunities. There’s a lot of competition and working with someone you can rely on unconditionally really makes a big difference.
Cleo: Couldn’t have said it better!
Q. The past few years have seen some huge international stories hit France – can you tell me about some if the jobs that have come in?
Both: In recent years we’ve worked on the 2015 Paris attacks of January and November, on the COP 21, on the evacuation of the Calais Jungle, on the French Presidential elections. These have 3 very busy years and this has given us an accelerated insight on what this job is about.
Q. Now you’re getting well known is it difficult keeping up with demand when a big story breaks?
Both: We always managed to address the demand as we’ve developed a network of highly skilled and reliable fixers we can count on when both of us are already committed to other assignments.
Q. What would you like clients to know about France when putting together their projects? Are there common things they slip up on all the time?
Both: Never plan a shoot in Paris in August, everybody is gone for the holidays.
Q. How do you guys work together? Do you just pass over jobs when you’re busy or do you bounce ideas off each other?
Both: We pass jobs to each other, we share contacts, we identify people we can work with, we make sure we’re on the same page before recommending anyone, in short we work as a team!
Q. Do you have any amazing stories you want told?
Both: We’re thinking of the migrant situation in France, which is still a hot topic despite the lack of coverage. Migrants are back in Calais, still crossing the Alps to get to France and the so-called humanitarian camp in Paris is completely overwhelmed. Definitley a story worth coming to France for.