The Madness Of Medinah


I’ve once again been a bit slack with entries, but not for want of news. There’s been plenty. Let’s start at the beginning.

Crew were supposed to fly back around January 4th to the 7th in time to shoot January 16th. The international crew all knew the shoot date was absurd. Maybe it could have been pulled off if there were professionals running this show, but not with Arab TeleMonkeys (Abdul told me they’re often known in Jordan by this nickname). Anyway, ATP did not fly us back on the 4th. Nor did they fly us back on the 6th, 7th or 8th. At this point, the international crew were bombarding them with emails asking if we were coming back. ATP said “Yes” but of course no-one believed them. Something wasn’t right.

To make matters worse, the Australian crew were being offered work on Prometheus 2, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s last ‘Alien’ prequel. Finally, flights got booked and we all flew out on the 9th and 10th, but by then ATP’s handling of the situation had once again caused ill-feeling.

So we all arrive back and it is immediately obvious we will not be shooting January 16th. For a start, various props and bits of construction had needed to start on the 4th to be ready in time. But they had not. In fact, some of them still haven’t because ATP still hasn’t paid for the materials!

The new Assistant Director, Ralf Eisenmann, was thrown in at the deep end. Suddenly, he had to generate a new schedule. Everyone was asking when the new shoot date would be ready. ATP refused to tell us. I estimated it would be mid-February and started working on that basis. I created a new schedule of my own with the start-date of February 13th. But when I asked why we were not being given a new date, I got this reply from Bob, “Do you really want to miss another start date?” I replied, “No. I want ATP to miss another start date.”

Bob seemed okay at the start of the new year. He was actively discussing set design issues with me (although I am still the Art Director and we still have no designer). But then suddenly last week he stopped. I asked him for his opinion on something. He looked very sour and replied, “I have no opinion on anything.” The next day Kristine asked for an opinion and got the same response. Something had clearly happened. A few days later, I asked Abdul about it. He told me that Bob had been called to a meeting by Talal in which he had been told ATP was going to blame everything on him and he would be fired if he did not keep his mouth shut. No wonder Bob looked so angry.

A few days later still, we went back to the Oasis location for yet another recce. The design had been changed again. (as a reminder, the Oasis was being funded directly by the investors and a man called Yasser was their spokesman. He had promised us that the Oasis set would start on time and be delivered on time, without fail. I did not believe it. Nothing on the job has been on time. And I was promised by Ahmed that ATP would have nothing to do with the Oasis set. I have not yet seen one promise kept in the ten months I have been here. Not. One.)

So there we were, back at the Oasis, and everyone proceeded to talk at once saying what should be changed, where the lake should go, and so on. Three hours later, I lost my temper:-

Me: “This is ridiculous!”
Bob: “Well the Art Dept is in charge.”
Me: “Really? The why are none of you listening to the Art Dept?”

It went quiet at that point and people started to listen to the Art Dept for the first time since arriving. Kristine – the Art Director I’d put in charge of the Oasis – ended up drawing the Oasis in the sand (a ‘sand castle’ oasis!) so the crew could understand what she was saying. By the end everyone was agreed on the vision. And we walked away. Only for them to change their minds again.

Two of the construction crew were on the recce. They had been quietly pulling their hair out this whole time. They could not believe what they were witnessing.

We returned to the offices. Kristine and I were very concerned. Now new plans were needed which then had to be signed off by Wael (the contractor), Ahmed (the series creator) and Yasser, before work could begin. I estimated 10 days-plus to do this. Ahmed insisted it would not have to take so long. I reminded him – as I have been doing for the last two weeks – I want the bulldozers in and levelling the site no later than this coming Saturday (30th January). Ahmed promised me this would happen but I just did not believe it. Constant changes by Ahmed were pushing the start date back further and further. We were already missing the start date promised by Yasser (not his fault – the contractors and investors were ready – this was all Ahmed’s and ATP’s doing).

This meant we would not be able to deliver the set on time to finish filming before the Spring heat encroached. I began to wonder why ATP seemed so unhurried about the whole thing. There comes a point when just START. You just DO something. That point had past weeks ago. Why was no-one acknowledging this? Were they so inexperienced or naive they just didn’t know this? Or was there another agenda?

Then a bomb was dropped on us this Saturday. Ibrahim walked up to Kristine and told her he wanted all the plans for the Oasis and he wanted them within 24 hours. That would be impossible given the changes Ahmed and ATP had just made. Was he intentionally sabotaging the oasis set?

We don’t have the staff. Even if we did, it would be too little time. Kristine asked why he was asking for them since ATP had no authority with the Oasis. He told her that he did and he would not sign off on anything unless he was 100% happy.

This made no sense.

Ahmed had promised me back in early November that ATP would have no involvement in the Oasis. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

He said they would be involved in the huts and dressing and props, but that was not a bad thing. The way I saw it, if the investors delivered the lake and greenery on time to a high standard and ATP delivered shit and it was late, that would reflect badly on ATP. The whole point was for ATP to not have any involvement in the lake and greenery. Ahmed had acknowledged that repeatedly. But now Ibrahim was telling us he had to sign off on everything?

WTF!?!?!

On the Monday, I asked Christof about this. He seemed baffled. He told me I was right. ATP had no say. But that afternoon, Kristine had a meeting with Ahmed and Ibrahim and Ibrahim asserted his claim and Ahmed backed him up. Apparently, ATP had somehow managed to get authority over the Oasis (possibly had even gotten hold of the money for it). Kristine was furious. How come we never knew about this? Why hadn’t we been told?

I was livid. The way I saw it, that meant the Oasis was now dead in the water. ATP would never allow it to be built if it showed them up. They would find ways to cut costs, force Wael to lower them or worse, force him to quit. As a result, the Oasis could not be shot here.

As if on cue, Bob asked me yesterday how things were going. He asked about the Oasis. I told him it was a mess. He replied, “I’m quietly hoping you will drop it.”

Me: “What?”
Bob: “I’m hoping you’ll drop it?”
Me: “You’re telling me you don’t want us to shoot it?”
Bob: “Of course I do.”
Me: “Then what are you saying?”
Bob: “I can’t possibly say.”
Me: “Okay, you do want us to shoot it but not at the location.”
Bob: “Maybe. Maybe not.”
Me: “So what are the options? Shoot it in a stage? On the backlot?”
Bib: “God no. That would be terrible.”
Me: “You’re saying there’s a 4th option.”
Biob: “Maybe. I can’t say.”
Me: “Oh jeez. You’re saying you want us to shoot in another country. You want us to go back to Jordan.”
Bob: “I can’t possibly comment on that. But I was quietly hoping you would drop it.”

Great. So that’s the plan. Drag out development of the Oasis long enough to force it back to Jordan. Syphon off the money meant for that set for other costs (no doubt some on ATP’s other series). Then keep the rest of the shoot back in Jordan where ATP can squeeze the life out of the show and the budget.

From Bob’s perspective it sort of makes sense. If Abdul is telling the truth, the week before Talal had told him he would be blamed for everything that is going wrong. Since ATP have managed to squander a huge chunk of the budget (current rumours are they have spent over $25 million but I find that impossible to believe – even for Arab TeleMonkeys). But if that is the case, the only way anything will ever get shot is if the show goes back to Jordan.

And, personally, I have always agreed with that. Qatar is not an easy country to work in, especially with a company like ATP at the helm. But this project should only go back to Jordan if it returns without ATP. They’ve already done unfathomable damage to the show. They’re idiots. Probably crooks. Going back to Jordan under ATP’s authority would be no less a disaster than carrying on here.

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