Award of Excellence – The Fixer (USA)

Title: The Fixer
Runtime: 16 min
Country: USA
Director: Michael Schilf
Placement: Award of Excellence
Competition: September, 2020

Synopsis: THE FIXER is a crime, action, drama about an extorted Mafia enforcer who must partner with the femme fatale hired gun who murdered his wife in order to save his daughter and liberate himself from a sadistic Los Angeles crime boss.

FILMMAKER Q&A – Michael Schilf – Director, Writer and Producer

GS: What was the inspiration for your film?

MS: I’m always looking for good stories. Sometimes the plot presents itself before the character, and at other times, the character evolves before the story, which was the case for “The Fixer.” I was eating lengua tacos at a local Mexican stand in Los Angeles, thinking about family, acceptance and forgiveness. My wife is Mexican, and as a Caucasian of European descent, I had experienced first hand the intricate process of acceptance into a large ethnic family. Then I wondered, could an outsider be accepted into a mafia family? And with that, the character of Jack Cross was born.

GS: When did you conceive the idea for your film and how long did it take before it was realized?

MS: After the initial inspiration to create the character of Jack Cross while eating those lengua tacos, the next step was to write the script. The first draft was written in twelve hours over Memorial Day weekend in 2019. I did five more revision drafts over the next week and created a visual pitch deck for the project. 

One week later I presented “The Fixer” pitch deck, along with another sci-fi series deck I had completed to BOLD / MP, a management and production company, and two of their top managers signed me on the spot, one for literary and one for directing. Securing representation was huge because I never would have been able to reach out to such a high profile actor like Danny Trejo without it. 

Six weeks later in early August, Mr. Trejo signed on to play the supporting role of Benito ‘Benny’ Sanchez. However, he was only available for one day, limited to 4 hours, on September 7th. So that was it. We locked our 2-day shoot for the first weekend of September. Now I had exactly one month to cast the other three roles, secure locations, crew and additional funding. There’s nothing like a deadline to make things happen. 

We shot “The Fixer” over two days on September 7 and 8, 2019. Post Production began September 18 and was competed two months later on November 20, 2019. Three months later, “The Fixer” had it’s World Premiere at Mammoth Film Festival on February 28, 2020, just a few weeks before all festivals were cancelled or postponed due to Covid-19.

GS: What was the most challenging aspect of working in a short film format?

MS: For me personally, the largest challenge working in a short film format was casting. Because “The Fixer” is a proof of concept film for “The Fixer” TV series I’m currently pitching, I wanted to cast high-profile actors, so securing Danny Trejo was key because not only did his name help to attract more A-list talent, but it also helped to market the film.

GS: What was the most challenging aspect of your production?

MS: Securing Danny Trejo to star in “The Fixer” was a definitely the biggest challenge. While writing, it often helps to have a particular actor in mind, and as I was creating Benny, I envisioned Trejo, never expecting to actually get the Hollywood legend to play the role. It’s not like you just call up ‘Machete’ and ask him to toss on an apron.

So I wrote Mr. Trejo a personal letter, which my manager sent to his agent. The process, which was like a courtship through messengers, took almost two months before Trejo said yes. In the end, it came down to the script. He loved the quality of the writing and the character. Getting Mr. Trejo was a huge win, yet a win that came with a different problem. A high-profile talent like Danny Trejo does not come cheap. It was a good problem to have, though, because not only did his name and face help to market the film, but once we got Danny Trejo, it was easier to get more investors. In fact, all I had to do was mention Trejo’s name, and people wanted to give us stuff for free. We called it ‘The Trejo Effect.’”

We were able to attract a more experienced crew and top notch cinematographer, and many key department heads were willing to lower their standard rates, mainly because they wanted to worked with Danny Trejo. Having Mr. Trejo attached to the project also made it easier for my manager to go out to A-list talent for the lead role of Jack Cross. We had a lot of interest and a handful of meetings with several high-profile actors considering the lead role. 

GS: Do you have any advice for first-time filmmakers?

MS: The two most important parts of making a film are the script and the money. If you have money but your content is not great, you will be able to make something; however, you will fail because the narrative was defective. Conversely, however, if your script is amazing, that will help to attract amazing talent, both in front and behind the camera, and when you have better talent, it is easier to secure more money. Make sure you have written the best script possible. Do that, and everything else becomes easier.