The Plot Thickens


imagesI’ve just been told – in confidence – about an argument that was witnessed between Talal and Ibrahim before Christmas. During the argument, Talal and Ibrahim argued about the fact that the show’s budget was $45 million, they had so far received (and spent) very nearly $30 million, and there was $15 million left which they did not yet have.

The nature of the argument was a how do we “get the other $15 million, spend it, blame it on everyone else, and walk away”. If true, this fits rather neatly with Bob having been told off last week (that he was to keep his mouth shut or he would be blamed for everything from now on), and the rather interesting choice to now make Simon and Ahmed sign for and authorise every decision in future.

In case I’m not being clear…

ATP may be planning on blowing the rest of the money. But they need to blame someone else for its all being wasted. So they get Ahmed and Simon to sign on every Art Dept expense (and others?) so that when the money runs out, they can say that it is Ahmed and Simon’s fault. Rather neatly tied up, I think.

Of course, while I have it on good authority the above was the nature of the argument had, I wasn’t there to witness it. So I can’t be 100% sure. It’s an alleged argument. Nothing more.

Now let’s see what happens.

One last thing. I sent the following email to Ibrahim just now. I did it to see if I could smoke him out because it’s clear he is blocking every attempt he can to get things done right now.

The way I see it;

  1. If he responds, his intentions are not clear.
  2. If he doesn’t respond, they are.

BTW – none of the crew have been paid since we got back.People are now owed around three weeks wages.

Hi Ibrahim,
I am putting together a list of Art Dept/Construction/Props crew with the help of Ray, Neil, Tim, Stephen, Dave and Lucy — a list of people that are essential for the Art Dept to reach its targets. We want us to discuss it with you because we know Production has budget issues. So we need to work together to figure out how to create a streamlined effective Art Dept. And what we will do if we can’t.
I was thinking about the caves and RLCR today. Both sets were supposed to be finished by now. If they were finished, some of the Construction crew would have left by now. Instead, the RLCR is about 30% finished and the caves are about 20% finished. At that rate, it means the RLCR may not be finished for another six or seven months and the caves could take longer. That’s over a cumulative year of unnecessary wages, hotel fees, per diems and hire fees for some equipment.
Obviously this is not good for the show or Production as it’s money better spent elsewhere. So the question is, “Why is this happening?” The answer is that the Construction team is not being provided with funds and crew when needed. We do not know why this is happening – they are issues outside the Art Dept’s control – but if we did know why, maybe we could help?
For example, perhaps Production had an idea there wouldn’t be funds in place to complete the caves for another five months? If so, wouldn’t it have been better to hire people later on when the money was all there and Construction could work fast? The scaffolding is a case in point. It took eight weeks to arrive (in the UK, it would have arrived within 48 hours and been erected by the end of the week) so maybe we could have saved money by hiring Neil Cromie once it was here and not before? (we would have hired him for one week to plan the scaffolding then only brought him out once the scaffolding had arrived).
Normally the Art Dept manages its own crew and funds. We are the experts after all. The Art Dept is also much more organic than, say, the Camera/Lighting Dept. With Camera/Lighting, you always use the same lights, lens, etc., (readily available from hire companies) to achieve different results. There is a finite number of choices. The Art Dept is different because every set is different requiring new solutions for every problem. The choices and problems are infinite. So there is no way a Production Dept can efficiently manage an Art Dept. It’s hard enough for the Art Dept to do that! 🙂 This is why we are better placed to manage how Art Dept money is spent and crew dispersed. If we had control, we would be working MUCH faster. The caves and RLCR would be built. The buses would have been finished in November. Everything for Block 1 would be ready. And we would be well on our way to building more sets AND be on budget (whatever that budget might be). We would be SAVING money. While I really do admire your willingness to take on the huge burden of trying to micro-manage our dept, especially since yours is understaffed too, it simply does not work. It is costing money; money (and time) the Art Dept could and would save if left to its own devices.
Case in point — currently, all the international Construction crew are ‘supervisors’ who would normally have teams under them. But they do not so they are having to do everything themselves (including driving around buying materials because the current buyers don’t have the knowledge or experience to do it). We would have not done it this way if given the authority we normally have because we know from decades of experience that it just does not work.
We can carry on this way if you need to — just let us know if you have no choice and if you want we can work together to figure out ways to manage things together. But so long as we — the Art Dept — continue to push for urgent action and it does not happen it is not doing anyone any favours. Currently hundreds of thousands of dollars are being lost doing it this way but maybe that is because you don’t have a choice?
I’m only mentioning the above because I want to help. We all do.
Currently, I am dividing my time between managing sets other than the Oasis while also trying to find time to get control of Art Dept scheduling and therefore costs. Normally I’d have a team of about 25-30 people to help do this. Doing it alone on a 20-part show is impossible but I’ll have a go. Meantime, Kristine is focusing on the Oasis and a few other things like Rajeh’s tent for the Rocky Balls location. 
I’ll have a crew list worked out (missing positions, etc.) in the next few days. I’d like to suggest a meeting between the Art Dept and Production to review these positions (to let you know why certain people are needed) to come up with a scenario that works for all sub-depts within the Art Dept. If we can’t make it work, at least we know that and we can try to look for a Plan B. We need to work together more or the Art Dept will never be able to meet deadlines or be cost-efficient. And we need a budget. If for whatever reason you don’t want to give us one that is fine. We just cannot be expected to stick to a budget if we have no idea what it is.
Shall we do a crew meeting later this week and see how things go from there?
This email is in no way a criticism of Production’s efforts to manage the Art Dept. We know that you are trying your best under difficult circumstances. But the odds are stacked against you as they are against us as we are both very short-staffed and under-funded. We need to see if we can work together to find a way to make life easier for everyone (especially you as I know you are really up against it) and circumstances better for the production.
We welcome your feedback on the above. 
Very best and thanks,

Dominic

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