Interpreting for six months with a team of Chinese engineers and workers in 2012 was an eye-opener – the group, from a company which sells heavy machinery to industries worldwide, brought two enormous coal-ship unloaders to Brazil on their vessel, and four interpreters shared the duties as they unloaded, installed, tested and commissioned these huge cranes, with a lot of relay interpreting – Brazilian Portuguese passed into English to one of the chief engineers, and passed on by them to their workers in Mandarin, and back again.
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It was during this time that I really got a taste of “fixing” – we accompanied our friends through medical check-ups; health and safety training; meals on site and the occasional dinner out; trips to the Federal Police to address visa issues; private medical treatment, shopping centres and so on. You inevitably become a fixer - not only interpreting but doing other work to ensure things run smoothly – forward thinking and good planning become the watchwords. It was a thoroughly enjoyable learning experience and I relished the constant challenges that it presented – so much so that I began to market myself as an interpreter/local fixer in Brazil, which in recent years has seen increased numbers of overseas businesspeople working, prospecting or investing here.
Having updated my professional profiles with such new attributes and invested time and resources in attending conferences, networking and making contacts, last year I was invited to work as a fixer for BBC Sport when they came to film features and cover the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw in December 2013. This was a six-day job at seaside holiday resort Costa do Sauípe, 70km north of Bahia’s state capital Salvador.
The work involved arriving before the presenters, news and commentary teams and quite literally smoothing the way – airport meets; coordination of transport; identifying useable cashpoints; helping with queries at the hotel, getting accreditations and lots more – I ended up interviewing the manager and goalkeeper of a local football club on camera, and working with the very capable driver was able to find a small fishing village to film some typically Brazilian images. Along with the chief fixer Ben Kohn, director at Quesco Brasil, who arrived from Rio with a second wave of production staff, I accompanied filming for Football Focus around the resort and an interview with England manager Roy Hodgson prior to covering the draw itself. Essentially you become a production assistant/runner/organiser as well as providing on-the-spot linguistic help.
The BBC were pleased with our work and I was invited to accompany a BBC Sport commentator and his team as they covered a mixture of games up to and including the quarter finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. As a keen football fan, my lifelong dream was about to come true.
So on Sunday 8th June I flew to Rio, picked up my WC accreditation and settled into our hotel in Ipanema, taking time to make friends with as many of the hotel staff as possible – our team would spend the first five days there and also return later to cover matches, so getting the staff onside seemed an important investment. The requests for poached eggs and porridge at breakfast every morning were duly attended to!
The next day was spent at the BBC’s production office, a rented apartment overlooking Copacabana Beach, catching up with staff I had worked with during the draw and meeting others for the first time, helping with the purchase of some official Brazil shirts and footballs for celebrities to sign.
That night I met my commentator Jonathan Pearce who flew in with his floor manager and sound engineer, grateful to receive the cold beers I put into their hands as they came through Arrivals – fixing is as much about the smaller details as it is about the interpreting. In the bus en route to Ipanema I was able to brief them on the hotel and its general location, distances to the BBC office, TV studios and International Broadcast Centre.
We already had a schedule of flights, hotels and stadia for the group stage of the competition, and I had been able to do a lot of planning in advance based on that – it was a busy programme, flying every two or three days - sometimes straight after a match – during our five days of preparation in Rio I quickly learned that my job was to do all the organising and worrying so the team could concentrate on their job. The commentator spent hours preparing for each match, studying every player in each squad, every member of the refereeing staff and every stadium and host city so he could give interesting facts on them during live commentary, and one of my tasks was to give him a sheet of paper every day with facts and figures on the cities and titbits I gleaned from local newspapers.
It was also important to find good places to eat and watch games we weren’t covering. A commentator needs to see as much football as possible during a tournament like the World Cup as part of his ongoing preparation. Thankfully, Ipanema has several excellent bars and restaurants, almost all of which had several TV screens and showed games throughout the day, and we quickly identified a couple of places close to the hotel where we could eat, sit and watch matches and the commentator could make notes. On many occasions I would actually go alone to a bar/restaurant and hold a table until the others arrived, as football supporters from different nations packed in to watch their teams.
So, during the first five days we got the team’s accreditation badges, did some radio work on Copacabana Beach, other work at the IBC, watched football when it all started on the 12th of June, and even managed to squeeze in a couple of hours sightseeing on Rio’s picture-postcard Sugarloaf Mountain.
The next two weeks saw us travelling to and covering games in Porto Alegre, Fortaleza, Natal, Cuiabá, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo and back in Rio. Exhausting but also great fun – I had the great privilege of watching all our games in the stadia. Partly through planning and partly through sheer luck, we made all our flights - with no delays – were met and transported by the drivers at the right times and places, got checked in relatively quickly to hotels, found great places to eat, drink and watch football, looked after the co-commentators – two ex-players from the UK who would individually join and then leave our team as we travelled around covering different matches, and even managed to get some washing done as we went.
I have to say looking back that I’m astonished at how smoothly things went, especially considering the fact that our floor manager forgot his i-phone in Porto Alegre and we managed to track it down in the hotel and get it back to him, and the commentator left his tablet on a plane on arrival in São Paulo – which we also managed to track down and recover. Add to that the fact that we were given tiny rooms with no windows in our hotel in Cuiabá, and I managed to get us upgraded to something much more pleasant, and you’d have to agree that our luck was in throughout.
During the second phase we returned to Rio for Colombia v Uruguay and had a rest day on the following Sunday, perfect for a trip up to Christ the Redeemer; covered Argentina v Switzerland back in São Paulo on the Monday and then spent our last few days back in Ipanema ahead of the France v Germany quarter final at the iconic Maracanã stadium on 4th July – our third visit there and my commentator’s last scheduled match. We managed an hour or two to enjoy the beach by day and one or two bars by night over that weekend before I did my final piece of fixing – getting the team to the airport for their flight back to the UK before I myself flew home to Vitória.
As a linguist I enjoyed the interpreting side of things, of course – but fixing for TV is so much more than that – schedules are unforgiving, things move at a very quick pace, and the travelling in those first two weeks was gruelling, but the BBC production staff are excellent organisers, we had schedules and driver lists to work from which were issued early enough for me to identify potential problems in advance and even make contact with people I knew in most of the host cities, just in case we would need local help. All the fixers were praised for their work, and I look forward to working with the BBC again during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Once again I have cause to be thankful for ProZ.com, as it was at a ProZ.com conference that I made the contact who put me in touch with the man who offered me this job.
If you’re an interpreter who’s a quick thinker, good organiser, have tact, diplomacy, patience and are good at getting people onside and keeping them happy, why not sell yourself as a local fixer? It worked for me, and I just lived a dream.