Chris Quit’s

Chris called a meeting in my room today. Attending was Ray, Terry and myself. Dominic Smithers showed up at the end.

Chris told us he had written an email to ATP and Ahmed telling them that he was quitting and would be returning to London Friday. His email was polite. But he told us the reason he is leaving is because after ten months of being here, ATP have done absolutely nothing.

He said that if we’d stayed in Jordan we would have been half way through shooting episode 12 now. Personally, I don’t believe that. But he’s right to believe it was possible because it should have been. But now? It’s unlikely ATP will shoot anything. Ever.

Since we have arrived here they have done absolutely nothing.

A lot more has happened this week and there’s a rumour that tomorrow ATP will be emailing us to tell us that we are going on to monthly payments despite our having a deal memo with them that states we are to be paid weekly. ATP doesn’t like that they cannot control us right now. And now Chris has quit.

If they have sense, they won’t send us that email tomorrow. What they do not know is that Smithers has already decided he will quit for certain and that Ray and Terry are almost certain they will. Further, Simon Hunter has decided he will quit mid-September. And Andrew is probably leaving too.

The only person who might stay is me. But more on this — and other news from this week — on Friday.

Proud To Be An Arab Telemedia Slave!

In response to Abdul thinking our ‘strike’ was funny and Bob 2 quitting I have designed the following t-shirt. Maybe we should have them printed and wear them all. The irony is that Abdul should be the first to wear it. No-one must know better than him what it is to Talal’s foot up your arse right now.

Sian’s Contract

Yesterday, Sian told me that her contract with ATG states that if she quits without their consent she must pay them $100,000.

She apparently asked them to remove it and they refused. They assured her that this clause was only to be used if she vanished without explanation and no advance warning. But it did not say that.

Why would they add this clause to her specific contract? Because Sian is very chummy with the Jordanian Royal Film Commission and they are encouraging her to direct and I suspect ATG wants to own her because of it.

But that’s okay. Because Sian isn’t likely to disappear without trace or an explanation.

Unless she drops down dead in the middle of a desert of course.

In which case she’ll have to become a zombie and drag her rancid corpse back to Amman so she can pay ATG the $100K she owes them.

But hold on a minute … if she does that, she hasn’t disappeared without a trace so she doesn’t owe them the money.

What was the point of the clause again???

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!


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.