April 1, 2008

A Day in the Life of Film: Interview with Michael Fix

Michael Fix has a long history in filmmaking, both as a freelancer and more recently as the head of Managed Chaos, a production company based out of New York. He began as a best boy on a movie set and has taken on different roles in his career, settling most happily into his current position as producer. His current project is the independent comedy,THE MARCONI BROS, which had its world premiere at the South by Southwest Interactive, Film, and Music Festival.

What's your title?

I’m a producer now although I still do freelance work; so I wear many hats depending on the client.

How do you explain your job to your mother?

Well, I have a colorful past. I’ve done all sorts of other things and based on that history, she gave up on understanding what I do a long time ago. I have a passion for learning and teaching. I guess the best way to describe what I do is that I help individuals or entities get their message out there. In film my strength is interpersonal skills. I help make sure that creative types can focus on their job and I translate their goals to the number types and make sure they understand so that they get what they need and there’s some semblance of balance.

How did you get started?

Through my sister’s boyfriend, (now my brother-in-law). He was a gaffer on a film set and he brought me in as his best boy. I had no experience. I mean, sure, as a kid I ran about with an 8mm camera and shot my own version of The Six Million Dollar Man but I was completely inexperienced. He knew I had an interest in movie making and brought me on and gradually I learned – I didn’t stay in my own place, I’d ask questions – “Hey I want to learn how to do that, can you tell me how I should do this?”

What was your last project?

My last and latest project is a feature film called The Marconi Bros. It came to me through acquaintances who knew two writer/directors that were starting a project and they were looking for a producer. That was four years or so ago and we met and had great discussions and I came on as a producer, not in title, but in all other functions: supervising the crew, interacting with investors, etc. The project was already running when I came on board. John Turturro had signed on but then his schedule got moved around and we lost him at which point my schedule got conflicted so I became a production coordinator instead. Over the next few years the project moved forward. I’d come back in from time to time to do various things while they raised funds, did editing, did re-shoots. I’d help in the office and we would reconnect. The movie was accepted to the South by Southwest Film Festival as a world premiere, which is a great honor, and the team asked me to come back in and continue my role as production coordinator.

Describe a typical day (or week) in your life when you're working.

When I was freelancing more – it can drive you crazy, you love and hate it, you have no work, you have no calls, and then you’re booked for 3 weeks locally or perhaps for a convention in Las Vegas. It’s busy and working with 40-50 people is intense. Your hours shift and the days are generally long and you’re sleeping in foreign places and then you crash. Then you’re back in that, “What do I do next?” Freelancing is not for everyone. If you like the stability of a full time job, something Monday to Friday, freelancing is not for you. As a freelancer, every day’s activities is dependent on the job; you may work in the office for pre-production, then go out to shoot in the field, build a city in Bryant Park and then people disappear when the job’s done. Now I’m in a place where I have to create the project for myself – finding the funds, getting a budget to the investors and to the production group. The pressure is on me to move the project forward. Then we get into the production world and I may deal with 50 to 60 people who are all over the place. It’s managed chaos (hence the production company’s name).

How do you sharpen your skills continually?

I try to be open to new experiences and opportunities in working with folks. Even if I’ve done it before there’s often the challenge of doing it better. Who can I meet? How do they work? Who has more experience? I listen to people. I read a tremendous amount – everything from blogs related to the economy to books about screenwriting, editing, and directing. I read the NY Times, The Guardian and other newspapers. Last year I took an intensive editing course at The Edit Center as I felt I needed to better understand the process of cutting a film.

How do you build your network?

The law of six degrees of separation; if I know someone then they may know someone, etc. I’m a firm believer in staying in touch with friends and past co-workers. Additionally, I attend screenings, shows, theater productions, and film maker events. Websites like the IFP,, are great especially if you don’t live in a metropolitan area.

What advice do you give to those who want to join the profession?

Any profession, not just this one, is like a book: you have to stick it out for at least 20 to 30 pages before you can determine whether or not you really like it. If you don’t after reading at least the first few chapters then find something else. Always do your best until you’re done with the job and THEN go complain when you’re not on the set or in the office, but always be a professional. It’s a small business. People know each other and they talk. Don’t be unproductive on the set. Walk away or quit, or finish it as best as you can and if you have a grievance then take it to the correct individual so it can be resolved.

How did you get into the business?

Well, you may have to work for free sometimes. Even if you have a four year degree from a Film School some jobs you might initially have to do for free because the business is so competitive. However, I don’t recommend that you do that for more than a year! The hard part is knowing when to say no to the requests to work for free and the requests to work for low money. Be open to all sorts of roles and opportunities: learn as much as you can from people who are willing to teach, and build your network.

A series of questions:

What motivates you most about your job? What do you hate about your job?

The satisfaction of knowing that I’m helping to get someone’s vision out there. On the perfect job, I share that vision and get it out to a larger audience; there’s nothing like the feeling of seeing something you’ve been so intimately involved in on the screen and seeing how it affects other people. On the bad days, I try to remember that. What I dislike are haters! They seem to pop up everywhere and can make the job so unpleasant when it doesn’t have to be.

Favorite job to date? Nightmare job that still haunts you?

Well, the answer to both questions would be being a producer on a movie called The Sound. It was an incredibly difficult job and did not end well, yet, I really learned during that job and knew I wanted to make more films and am willing to make any sacrifice, okay, almost any sacrifice. I would love to work with that creative a person again in a healthy environment.

If you could go back in time and meet your pre-professional self, what would you tell him?

Follow that little voice that tells you what’s right and wrong. Lead with your heart – oh my God, I hear the orchestra, sorry it’s a cliché– but it’s the truth.

What's your motto?

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.