State Of (Non) Play


As I expected, nothing is happening.

Two weeks ago (on the Saturday) Ibrahim promised me the scaffolding would arrive the next day. It did not.

Last Sunday (he was here in Doha), he promised it would “be here today or tomorrow”. Again, on the Monday, Ibrahim promised it would “be here today or tomorrow”. And on the Tuesday, he again promised “today or tomorrow”.

By the end of the Wednesday, it had not arrived. Nor did it arrive Thursday.

The only thing that happened is that on the Wednesday, I had an email from Neil saying that Ali (from Innovation) had come over and that he had forced Majid to supply the list of scaffolding so that a supervising rigger that Ali had arranged to be at the hangar could assess if it was enough.

Apparently, Majid ran off looking very panicky to make a phone call. At that same time, I was in a meeting about the bus crash sequence. Ibrahim was there. He got a call, answered, leapt out of his seat and suddenly vanished.

Back at the hangar, Majid reluctantly handed over the list and the supervising rigger said there was plenty of scaffolding on it although some essential parts were missing.

This would be a step in the right direction if it were not for Majid’s odd behavior and Ibrahim suddenly vanishing at the same time.

That same day, Joel and Ahmed had a long chat. Joel has always stood by the Art Dept saying we cannot build sets without money (for some strange reason Ahmed has been blaming us for not building sets despite our not having any money to build them with – go figure).

Anyway, Ahmed apparently asked Joel what he thought and Joel told him he thinks that ATP are holding back funds to try to force the show back to Jordan so that they can collect their monthly fee for longer. Joel thinks if the show goes back to Jordan it will fall apart. I think Ahmed may have acknowledged this possibility. I 100% believe Joel is right.

Anyway, sets.

We had a big meeting about the Oasis last Monday. Weil was there to meet Ibrahim. Afterwards, Ibrahim took him to one side to discuss money. That was the last we heard from Weil.

On Thursday, I asked Ibrahim what happened since Ibrahim has not volunteered any information. He told me the contract was being updated as he’d persuaded Weil to recce the contract length from 90 to 75 days. How that is possible I do not yet know. You can’t make plants grow or root faster.

When I asked about the buses last Wednesday, Majid told me he was getting Scar to sign the contract “today”. But Scar refused. Apparently, the contract included various penalties he considers unreasonable. Also, it said he had to deliver in 24 days and he said he could not.

The next day, I asked Majid about it. He said it was fine and Weil had agreed to deliver in 22 days! I expressed surprise saying the Art Dept had just spoken to Weil who said 24 days was not enough. Majid looked awkward and said he was getting Scar to sign the contract “today”. Clearly, he was lying.

The Patrols. These are two cars Ray needs. For over four weeks now, Majid has been promising Ray he will buy them “tomorrow”.

The rocket launch control room needs a steel framework for the mezzanine floor and steel handrails. We gave Ibrahim a quote from our chosen supplier. He wanted to know exactly how they would build it. They refused to supply more details until they’d been paid (maybe they’ve heard about ATP?). Since I heard Ibrahim had been badmouthing us about not doing things the ATP way, I sent him two more quotes (which we had previously emailed to him on October 20th anyway). I have not head back.

Joel is right. ATP has everything it needs to release funds for all the sets and they do nothing. The only reason anything is happening down at the hangar is that one of *our* crew (not ATP) is using petty cash to buy supplies. And because the one thing ATP bought is timber.

Today, the construction boys ran out of screws. And we have run out of petty cash. So they are waiting for screws to turn up so they can continue building.

How utterly ridiculous.

To Doha Or Not To Doha – Part 2


I went down to breakfast today and bumped into Dominic Smithers, Ray, Terry and Andy. They told me that Simon and Chris had been in the lobby last night and Simon said that Talal had called him and told him we are definitely relocating to Doha. And that we are doing so ASAP.

I had a long chat with Andy who wondered, like me, if ATP might insist we sign the contract before leaving. So I texted Chris and asked him to send me his BBC contracts (which he had previously offered to do) and his revised ATP contract (if he has it). Chris texted me saying he’d sort that out. He then called saying I should suggest to everyone that they make a list of their ‘demands’ tomorrow. Things like higher per diems. Five day weeks during prep. Proper transport around Qatar. Paid holidays and flights. Basically, all the stuff any normal production company would have already given us.

So tomorrow we will be listing our collective requirements, possibly revising the contract accordingly, and – well, that’s it.

Of course, Qatar costs a LOT more than Jordan. If the Studio really wants it shot there, they need to spend a LOT more money. But there’s the slightly sticky problem of that contract ATP signed where they promised to deliver for about $40 million regardless of where they shoot. So we may be back here in a month when they realise there is no way they can shoot it there for the budget they have.

Unless of course, they realise that giving more money to ATG is just throwing money down the toilet.

Embezzle? Fly? Repeat?


Talal flew out to Qatar Tuesday night. I believe he comes back today.

Wages are late again. I should have been paid Wednesday, Dominic and Ray, Tuesday. Andy on Saturday.

I emailed Jude (politely) and she emailed me back saying Accounts were promising two payments on Sunday. I had to ask if that was two people (entirely possible with this company) or two payments per person. She said the latter.

Chris then emailed Fadi. Perhaps he had not noticed that I had already emailed Jude. He wanted a promise we would be paid. Here is his email and Fadi’s response.

Fadi's Replay re Wages

Click to enlarge

So, no answer then to the question actually being asked. Can’t say I was not surprised. I’m coming to realise this is standard practice for ATG.

The fact is we do not know if we are going to get paid Sunday because it is entirely possible even Talal does not know right now. Why? Because the way I see it there are two options;

  1. Everything returns to normal, the Studio gives Talal the next tranche of money, we get paid, and everything carries on as before.
  2. Talal does not get the money and we do not get paid.

Either way, there’s a problem. Because while we may get paid now, the show will still be in trouble.

I think it is blindingly obvious now what the problem is.

Historically, ATP gets paid to make a show. Say USD$2 million. They pocket their 20% fee of $400K. Then they run up nonsense expenses for a further chunk of the budget. Then they hand over the remainder to Ibrahim who must then shoot the show like a student film^ on what’s left.

They then tried to apply that formula to this show, but there’s a problem.

This week, I was told by Ibrahim that the first season’s budget was done by Ibrahim and Ahmed. Ibrahim told me he hadn’t even read the scripts (don’t forget that this guy is the Producer and here he is telling me he did a budget without reading the scripts!!!). He then claimed he relied upon Ahmed telling him what was needed. As I understand it, they then arrived at a budget of about $37.5 million then applied a $10 million fee. On this basis a deal was struck and ATP were committed to making the show for $37.5 million.*

Only problem was, this budget was for Qatar and when they brought in the professionals to re-budget the show, the budget shot up. Specifically, the art dept cost was about $11 million and visual effects about $6 million. Once all the other departments were added, the budget was way more than $37.5 million.

As a result, Talal pushed to have as much of the show moved to Jordan as possible and then, while production dragged, he began taking his fee and syphoning off whatever else he could get away with. Only problem was, they needed $37.5 million to do the show in Jordan too. So Talal and Fadi allegedly embezzled what they could, while leaving Ibrahim minimum resources to produce the show.

What doesn’t make sense is why they started misappropriating funds when they needed it all to make the show. I can only assume that either;

  1. They really did not believe it could be done for the money – in which case they are idiots because clearly it could.
  2. They never cared about the show and just set out to plunder every dollar they could. Which is even more idiotic because they would have made a lot more money if they’d set out to make the best show possible and had run it for five years.

Anyway, whatever their excuse, Ibrahim now acts like he is paralysed. He will not  commit any funds. Meantime they have spent $3-6 million (possibly more) and shot nothing.

Now the studio is demanding the production move back to Qatar. Chris and I have done the math. Qatar is about 6 to 8 times more expensive than Jordan. So if the show is going to cost $37.5 million in Jordan, it is going to cost about $250 million in Qatar!

ATP signed a contract.

ATP *has* to deliver.

ATP is screwed.

Maybe this is why ATP seems to be quietly planning the set-up other service companies. They may mean to transfer all assets to them. They have local crew on miniscule wages. They might be abandoning ship!

As for Ahmed? Chris and Simon are not talking to him. They found his emails to be offensive so they are giving him the silent treatment in the hope he’ll learn some respect. But Bob told me that Qatari’s don’t do respect because they do not have to. I suggested to Chris that if Talal fails they should get on a plane and visit Ahmed to talk friend-to-friend with him.

So it’s wait and see time again. All we can do now, is see what happens on Sunday.


^ I don’t say this lightly. Aside from going to film school in my 20’s, I also taught at film school for several years, so I was very aware of the intriguing similarities between ATG’s work ethic (and misplaced arrogance) to those of many film students that I taught.

* There follows an audio recording of the conversation I had wth Ibrahim in which he blames Ahmed for the ill-conceived budget, explains why the budget does not work (not his fault, of course), and states that he never read the scripts!

audio

Money! Money! Money!


So Talal claims that today he is meeting the investors and their advisors to convince them to continue shooting episode 12 in Jordan and to give us more money to do it. The problem is they might very well say, “You’ve already had enough money to shoot the first episode. What have you done with it?”

Bob joked that Talal was taking a big risk going to Qatar. He might get arrested at the airport then the Qatari’s might investigate ATP under Jordanian law and that might be it for Talal. The scary thing is, Bob could be right.

Simon said this morning that he is going to Qatar tomorrow to also meet the investors and advisors to also pitch shooting episode 12 in Jordan still. He understands that he also needs to assure the Qatari’s that we can begin work in Qatar. I told him there is plenty to do there. There is, but everyone keeps going on about how we should have started building the oasis set in Qatar back in April when Chris tried to convince ATP this should be done. Chris was right. But for everyone to be going on about what should have been done is not progressing what should be done now. I’d like to get out there now and take a look at the stages and figure out how we can make them hospitable so we can start building the cave sets. Let’s be clear; I don’t believe for one second we can shoot season 1 in Qatar. That would be absurd as there just isn’t enough money (especially with the way ATG is spending it all). But we can shoot the pilot. Maybe even the first five or six episodes.

Today I am going to re-read episodes 1 and 2 and start reading episodes 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 to see what can start prepping in Qatar now.

Meantime, we are waiting for news from Talal and construction has been put on hold. No payments are being made. Except, curiously, for Dominic Smithers’s dummies. That is happening today. So it seems that while we are not buying materials for sets on the assumption we shall move to Qatar, we are buying props and dressing (however few).

Meantime, people are saying that Ahmed has burnt his bridges and ruined his reputation. I think this is a bit unfair. Just because he is young and naive, and doesn’t know *how* to lose his temper, doesn’t mean he deserves to be ‘kicked out’ (some people are acting as if he should be). He has kept his temper under control for months when he had every right to lose it. So who can blame him for losing it now in such spectacular fashion and for such a good reason? But instead he has suddenly become the bad guy.

I don’t know him. I’ve only met him a couple of times. But he seemed reasonable enough to me. He needs time to calm down, a reason to calm down, and a means to save face.

By end of today, or end of tomorrow, we may know more.

And The Crisis Just Keeps On Rolling (Unlike Our Cameras)


There’s been lots of discussion today.

Turns out the reason Chris was not in the office is because he was on Skype all morning to Ahmed who continues to be very angry. Ahmed is insisting that it is the studio who are insisting the production move to Qatar.

I feel strongly that the focus should be on making Ahmed feel better. He has invested a lot of time and his professional name in this show. He may only be 26. He may not be that experienced. But that is when it matters most. Once you are established, you can afford to mess up and move on and rely on past credits and experience to bail you out. But when you have neither, that is when it threatens to destroy your career and it is no surprise you feel angry and in jeopardy.

I recall how when I was 26 I faced a similar experience and had to sue a producer named Simon De Selva for attempted copyright theft. I won. He declared his company bankrupt and I got my script back. But it was several years before I felt like writing again. At that age, these things can matter and they can matter a lot. I wonder if the people on this show know that?

Which is why I’m sceptical the right approach is being taken on fixing this. Bob told us an hour ago that right now neither episode 12 or 17 is being filmed. The show has ground to an absolute halt. Ahmed wants to know why we are not packing.

This is crunch week. By the end of it we will be moving to Doha or not. If we are, we have massive budget problems to face because this show cannot be filmed in Doha with the budget that has been allocated for Jordan. Today, Issam told us that when the contract was negotiated between Talal and the studio, Talal had to do due diligence to be certain that the show could be done in Qatar. It was Talal’s job to factor in the very hot summers (55 degrees C) that occur there, the lack of suitable terrain, and so on. Now Talal is saying we cannot shoot there because it is too hot and Ahmed is rightly saying that Talal has no choice because he agreed to it.

But no-one in this crew will agree to that. Right now the only two people who have said they will go to Doha is Ray and myself. And, of course, ATP. But Chris is convinced that Ahmed wants ATP out, and I’m inclined to agree. Why else is Ahmed writing out a list of ATP’s contractual obligations and demanding that they be met? Amongst them is the August deadline to begin shooting something and the November 1st deadline to begin shooting specific parts of Medinah.

I think we can meet both deadlines but only if ATP sorts out their accounting and procurement procedure. If they do this, I’ll do whatever I can to help ATP. Some big changes need to happen in the next week. But ATP seems clueless (or is pretending to be).

And the studio is Qatari.

This is a country that currently has some of the most expensive engineers in the world sitting around for months doing nothing when they should be building a bridge because the Qatari’s are appear unmotivated to advance the project.

Ahmed needs a guiding hand that he can respect, trust, and know has the show’s best interests at heart (and by proxy, Ahmed). Right now, there is a not a single HoD who can do that because either they’re incompetent (ATP) or ATP won’t let them (everyone else).

My next blog could easily be called It’s “A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.”

In ‘ATP land’, it really is.