As most fixers know, the profession is extremely demanding. International travel, irregular working hours and often physical danger are all part of the job description.
Tight deadlines and complex logistics can be incredibly time consuming; and if a client suddenly decides to revise the project, you better be ready! There never seems to be a chance to catch your breath.
Most fixers love the job. And who wouldn’t? Meeting new people and exploring awe inspiring places, every day is new.
Nevertheless, coordinating professional and personal commitments can prove exhausting. Many have young children or elderly parents to care for and being away for long periods of time can strain relationships.
It is easy to dismiss this as the nature of the job; however, the ability to balance priorities can be the difference between make or break for a fixer.
Juggling the family and the shoot
For working parents in any profession, juggling a career and childcare is a recurrent nightmare. Throw in weeks filming in distant and remote locations, operating across international time zones, and incredibly tight deadlines, you’ve got the daily challenges of life as a fixer.
“Managing work and personal life is definitely an issue I have to contend with, it is a very tough job mentally and physically,” says Ghassan Salti, a Jordanian based fixer.
Salti struggles accommodate family demands on top of his fixing career.
“I see my kids in the elevator going to school while I am coming home or vice versa,” he admits.
Salti is not alone, other fixers across the world face similar difficulties.
“I struggled to coordinate childcare with work at the beginning of my career,” says Andrea Gordard, an Australian based fixer and producer.
“I found it incredibly difficult to pursue some of the terrific jobs I was offered.”
Balancing childcare has been recognised as a major challenge by several industry bodies. A survey conducted by Raising Films- an industry charity- found 79% of female media professionals believed caring roles had a detrimental impact on their careers. While both the male and female fixers we spoke to share childcare, women undoubtedly shoulder a large proportion of this responsibility.
Travel is frequently required and means long periods away from home.
“I often work away from home for more than two weeks at a time,” says Brazilian Fixer and Journalist, Thomaz Cavalieri.
Cavalieri has worked with international production companies, travelling across Brazil, filming in remote corners of the country.
“I have two young daughters and a wife, so balancing family time and work is essential; In fact, I had to travel to China 3 days before the birth of my first child, I almost did not make it back in time for her birth!”
However, the Cavalieri family are accustomed to this lifestyle, and have learnt to adapt to Thomaz’s work schedule.
“I love my job, and in certain situations the client is a priority, my next project involves filming in a remote part of Brazil for a French production company, so contacting the family will not be possible,” he says.
Fixing and journalism roles often offer the opportunity for flexible working hours, and many operate from offices based at home.
“When I am working at home in Sao Paulo I try to be present in family life, sometimes working from home so I can help looking after my daughters,” says Cavalieri.
However, this flexibility can be a double-edged sword. In an era of hyper connectivity and social networking, round the clock working hours are the norm for a large proportion of fixers today.
“It is hard to switch off from work, our main office is in our basement, so it is easy to nip down on a Sunday evening when the kids are watching television,” says Nikki Knight, a fixer based in South Africa.
Knight and her husband run Film Fixers Africa, and have worked on documentaries, reality television shows and fashion shoots across South and East Africa.
“This job doesn’t know any time zones, we work with production companies across America, so you have to be prepared to answer calls day and night,” Knight reflects.
Balancing this unpredictable work schedule and family life requires patience and understanding.
“Working with my husband means we understand the hard work and commitment required to be successful in this industry,” says Nikki Knight.
While Nikki manages the administrative side, her husband oversees shoots out in the field and will often be away for up to twenty days each month.
“Our children have also been incredibly understanding and as they have grown up we have tried to include them in our work, our eldest- now 22- is keen join the media production industry,” she says.
Cavalieri shares this sentiment.
“My wife is a journalist too, so is all too aware of the time commitment necessary to conduct this role to the highest standard.”
Nevertheless, sometimes tough decisions between work and family must be made.
“My work is really demanding and I am away much of the time, perhaps up to 10 months of the year!” says Indonesia based fixer, Shinta Retnani.
“However, several years ago, I had projects in West Papua and few days before the 4th shoot, my mother was hospitalized so I had to cancel my trip,” she remembers.
“That was interesting part of the journey as a fixer. I remember my clients insisting I should stay with my mum, I know I made good decision, I didn’t regret it.”
Dangers in the field
The balance between family and work is placed under further strain when the job places a fixer in physical danger.
Fixing can be a high-risk profession, from sub-zero temperatures to war zones, dicey situations are the norm for many. In 2017 alone, 34 journalists were killed, 15 of them in Syria and Iraq. Venezuela, Mexico and Turkey have also been identified by Reporters Without Borders as some of the most dangerous regions to work in, and many have paid the price for investigating government corruption, organised crime and armed conflicts.
Nigeria has also been identified for dangers posed to media personnel in the country. In 2016 Nigeria was featured on the Community to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered, and their killers go free.
“Of course, my family are always concerned and prayerful whenever the project requires going into hostile or an insecure environment to carry out an assignment,” says Nigerian fixer, Kingsworth Bolade.
“But I try my best to put their heart at rest and do my best to ensure that I and my crew are working under the safest condition possible, sometimes we even hire security professionals to keep us safe while we do our work.”
In many such regions threats not just to the fixer, but also their relatives. Here, balancing family and work becomes even more strenuous.
This is certainly the case for one fixer in Venezuela, a country where the media face physical threat from the government’s increasingly antagonistic attitude towards the country’s press.
“I have a young daughter and a wife, at the moment they have not faced danger due to my work, however, if this does happen, I will have to consider leaving the country,” said one Venezuelan fixer and journalist who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of government reprisal.
Despite these challenges, fixers, journalists, crew members and other media professionals across the globe are successfully balancing family and work demands.
The fixers we spoke to emphasised that while on shoot, work required one hundred percent of their attention. However, when returning home they tried to play an active role in family life, even engaging their children in their work.
“When my husband is on shoot we make it clear to the children he cannot take personal calls,” says Nikki Knight.
“But the kids have been actively involved in our businesses and have enjoyed the excitement.”
“I try to involve my daughters in my work by bringing them pictures from my travels,” agrees Thomaz Cavalieri.
“Flexibility and honesty are critical,” says Ghassan Salti.