Global Production House NeedaFixer Under Lockdown?

“There’s an unprecedented shortage of work and I don’t know what the future holds for us.”

CEO and founder of NeedaFixer Sofia Panayiotaki

NeedaFixer is a global end-to-end production service and a go-to company whatever stage of production you are at wherever you are in the world. Sofia Panayiotaki is the CEO and founder of the company and she talked to The Presenter Magazine about how her business has been affected by the global pandemic.

Sofia set up the company 15 years ago after working for some major TV stations around the world in Asia, India and Europe. Whilst she had been working as a correspondent for a Japanese TV station she was asked to set up a company to take on the International Broadcasting of the assets for the Olympic Games in HD to help produce and fix stories at the Games. This was quite a big deal as you can imagine and the company went from 2 people to employing 800 people fulltime at the Olympics – quite a start for a new business.

“We have been operating for over a decade now and the last 3 – 4 years we’ve been working with all major broadcasters and all the big brands, in terms of our clients name any broadcaster and we’ll be working with them  from the BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, Discovery Channel, Netflix to brands like Apple, Samsung, Google, and Booking.com.”

The company, like so many businesses, was ticking along nicely until the Pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020.

“We have been traditionally doing on average almost 400 shoots a month all over the world. Everything was agreed, contracts signed, and then Covid hit, international travel was banned, and the 400 shoots in the first week became 40, 40 became 4, and then 4 became 1. Funnily enough, if it can be funny under the circumstances, this one shoot did take place in Alaska, which was one of the places not hit by the coronavirus.

It was a very big shock. We work with many employees, contractors and freelancers who are very dependent on us for work and we had to suddenly stop.  We had to find solutions, how we could keep our industry going and pay our people?

There’s an unprecedented shortage of work and I don’t know what the future holds for us.”

As she says, it’s not been just bad, it’s been horrific – millions of jobs have been lost, companies have been going bust and this is just the glaring impact on the economy. 10s of thousands of people losing their lives, a continuing increase in the number of virus cases and the hospitals and care homes working as hard as ever and putting their lives at risk along with essential workers to cope with the crisis. In the face of all the horrors caused by the pandemic, there are still business decisions that have to be made by companies and people like Sofia, whatever the size of the organisation. 

“But the show must go on and we have to find ways instead of complaining and not taking action, we have to see what solutions we may find…we need to find in order to move forward. It is a crisis management situation. 

I keep on saying that creativity is the only thing that can save us all – and creativity could mean what else can I do to survive, how can I cope with the situation, what other solutions can be found whether you are a corporation or a freelancer?

All the people working in the film industry have creative minds and I think with every crisis there is an opportunity.”

Sofia has seen a shift in her business from filming on location to post-production. Obviously filming on location is now impossible, so her clients are looking to complete projects in other ways and this has meant seeing what can be done from home, under lockdown, using the technology available.  

“70% of our business is on location with film crews in 100+ countries around the world and only 30 % is postproduction. We saw a very big request from our clients to work on postproduction – meaning either recreating with CGI or special effects or moving everything onto a digital, virtual site filming using our presenters and using our crews in virtually designed studios.”

Sofia is normally a traditionalist when it comes to filming believing real people and real locations should always be preferred over CGI – but as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of creation, and she is prepared to sacrifice a little of her beliefs in order to keep the business going – and fortunately for her business is geared up to do it.

“Because you are not able to go on location and see great scenery can you still do this online?  And the answer is yes it can be done.

A game that we play in our studios on a weekly basis is showing an actual photo or actual footage along with a CGI/doctored one and the challenge is to choose which one is the real one. With the technological capabilities we have at the moment it is very difficult, believe me.”

The company is also now working with a TV channel on vox pops but not your typical vox pops out interviewing people on the street to get their opinions but interviewing people at home. So this can be done whilst under lockdown, remotely, giving their opinions from their living rooms, their kitchens, bedrooms and gardens.

These are the kind of practical workarounds Sofia wants people to know about to show that the business is still going and developing work. Even her young son has questioned why mummy was working even more than usual when all the businesses had closed? She’s been busier than ever, unfortunately for the wrong reasons, trying to recuperate the lost salaries and re-creating the business in the current climate.

“We created our own alternative normality by bringing everything into a virtual world. We have our own offices in 20 locations all over the world, we operate in hundreds of countries with our contractors in different parts of the world – all working seamlessly – we have weekly meetings in different time zones, and everything happens on time.”

Technology such as Zoom has enabled her to keep in touch with staff day and night and this has worked for her clients too where she is able to show them test samples and still get their opinion and reaction live, face-to-face albeit virtually.

“Being busy at work keeps our sanity going because we don’t want to see a black canvas in front of us, we want to see a blank canvas in front of us.”

Sofia likes the fact that social media is now finally being used for what it was designed for, to be able to communicate with family, friends and communities for both work and pleasure through either its earlier forms of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Skype or through some of the newer social media options of Whatsapp, Facetime or Zoom. These are now being relied upon more than ever to get people through the pandemic.

Besides the impact on work, the pandemic has changed home life too with the imposed lockdown for all non-essential workers, which has included schools, families have had to look after their children 24/7. Being a working mum Sofia would normally find herself travelling 2 to 3 times a month but is now at home with her son whom she can spend some quality time along with her husband. Whilst they are able to keep in touch with teachers and friends via social media and do activities together, like every parent she is concerned about their education and general psychological well being as the children face the same anxiety and fears as us all with regards to the uncertainty of what the future holds.

“I really feel this is not going to end next month, not for a year to come potentially until we have a vaccine in place will we be able to go back to a normal life, where once again we are going to have different normality to get accustomed to.”

“So when we say the world will go back to normal? I don’t know how we can define what normality is anymore.”

Sofia still maintains a positive line of thinking. She has to remain optimistic, her company and her employees rely on it in these unprecedented times.

“I try to pass on this message and it is me reiterating what we do in our daily lives, at a family level and a professional level and it is not to give up, to keep on being creative, to keep your spirits up, to keep your chin up because better days will come. 

In all crises there are opportunities. It is not the opportunity to make money for business people now per se but how can we get much more creative in a digital world, what the film industry can do, not with a lot of money, but with creative ideas. It is another world. A virtual world.

  • Julian Gaskell