A Day in the Life of… A Fixer
We recently spoke to fixer Roland Quesnel, now based in Spain and running film-it-in-spain.com. For all kinds of projects, including film, TV, HD video, stills or online, he makes sure everything is in place to make productions run smoothly. We asked Roland to descibe the background to his career, and his day-to-day life as a fixer.
I remember first hearing the word ‘fixer,’ and finding it exotically utilitarian - which is kind of an oxymoron, but that's a bit what the job is like sometimes: contrasting, unlikely and contradictory tasks can sit alongside each other.
I live in the south of Spain, between Malaga and Marbella. Somewhere between old Spain with its catholic, stolid tradition and Latin, elastic approach to anything commercial, and the new, cosmopolitan Spain of loud, dubious money, real estate and abundant cosmetic surgery.
Becoming a fixer
My path to becoming a fixer has been quite long and winding. I originally worked in the performing arts, where we were very high on aesthetic ideals and very low on budget. After many years of taking myself terribly seriously and being mostly broke, I bumped into the production industry almost by accident.
Spending time down in Spain once as a 'resting' thespian, I saw a huge TV commercial being filmed and was instantly bitten by the bug.
So the family moved to Spain and I received a crash course in TV commercial production as a PA, co-ordinator, first AD and line producer, all in fairly rapid succession.
Such was the volume of work in the early noughties, a lot of people and companies moved very fast indeed, as did the whole of the Spanish economic bubble. Once things started to crumble, the production business became a tangle of budgets, concepts and formats. Although by this time, I had built up a vast amount of useful production experience, I lacked the desire to re-visit the stress of working in fullscale production services. So I became born again as a fixer.
Life as a fixer
On a big service job there are many layers and chains of command and responsibility. As a fixer I soon found I could be doing anything and everything. Previously, my work had centred very much on the Soho-based, commercials producers, but now I found a variety of companies of all shapes and sizes on my radar, particularly television.
Whereas once I had admired the location manager for being the sole interface between a production crew and the ‘real world’ we were using for the shoot, I now found myself sifting and digging through the very underbelly of Spain. I have had to cajole, bamboozle, persuade and ingratiate myself with everybody from goat herders to politicians, millionaire villa owners to market stall holders.
From being in charge of a crew of up to one hundred, I now deal with tight-knit groups of professionals, all of whom are busy multitaslking. Not only was I getting my hands dirty, I was learning by suddenly becoming the translator for interviews, documentaries and reality shows.
In the seven years since I became this bizarre production polymath, I have had some of the most intriguing and enthralling experiences. I have met some enormously talented and fascinating people from every possible walk of life. And I have discovered and experienced Spain, its people, culture and history with an intensity that would be impossible in any other job I can think of.
Apart from the obvious dealing with locations and permits, I have interviewed a wide range of people, from academics and historians to champion ham cutters and Michelin-starred chefs. I've eaten like a king. I've driven tens of thousands of kilometres, which never gets boring in Spain. It is almost infinite in its variety of climate and topography.
I speak only one of the six or seven languages used here, which fortunately has never been a handicap, as my Spanish is accpetable to all, whether in the Basque lands, Catalunia or the heavily accented pueblos of Andalucia. I have held the boom, changed the batteries, stepped in as a second camera, run timelapses in freezing mountain villages, and have never stopped learning about the world that my clients choose for filming, and about the medium they use.
Downsides and disasters
As with every job, there are down sides. The location you lost because of some crossed wire that screwed up the whole day, or the production that can't make up its mind and makes you call on superhuman reserves of patience.
Then there are the random disasters, as was the case with The Real Hustle for example. We set up to do our fake camera snatch on the hapless ‘mark’. So far so good. However, a well intentioned local then stepped in, introducing a friendly policeman into the equation - the wheels of justice then threatened to derail the whole morning’s shooting. It was time for me to intervene: it took a 60 metre sprint down the street to explain to two very sceptical policemen how we came to be scamming people on the streets of Malaga, while the PA led the confused victim away for an interview, to avert disaster.
What I like most about this job is that I can have it all. I'm not the line producer or the production manager nor the camera assistant. I'm right there, in real time, with no boundaries. I respond and fix, so stuff gets shot and stuff gets made. I can see so much life in a day: it’s a privilege to do this job when you're doing it in Spain - which has no equal.