It’s Being Processed…


I’ve been trying to avoid saying or thinking it, but I think we’ve reached the point where I have to accept that we will never film in Qatar. If anywhere at all.

It’s been six weeks (around Sept 19th) since we first presented quotes to ATP for scaffolding so we could begin work on the caves and rocket launch control room. And after all that time we still do not have any scaffolding.

Last Wednesday morning, I called a meeting between Production and the Art Dept to ask why no-one seemed to agree on who was responsible for sorting out the scaffolding. At the time, I was being told that Azmi was saying Hamad was doing it and Hamad was saying that Azmi was doing it. Hamad said it was not his job because he is not an expert on scaffolding and that that was the Art Dept’s job. At which point, Jude informed us that scaffolding had been bought from a company we had not recommended. I asked for confirmation they would be providing what we had asked for but she could not do that. Hamad then tried to justify it being bought without the Art Dept being consulted, to which I pointed out that he had just said the Art Dept was the experts so why was he justifying Production buying scaffolding without our input?

Expressing concern that we had no way of knowing what had been ordered, I asked for the supplier’s list. After three days I still did not have it. Instead, I got the list they used to buy it — a list that had been confirmed to be out-of-date weeks earlier; a list that did not list all the individual components needed because it was based upon detailed conversations between the Construction Dept and another contractor. Put it another way, Production had fucked up once again.

Ibrahim then emailed me asking why the Art Dept was causing problems. Antony pointed out to Ibrahim that we were trying to prevent problems. Ibrahim said we should wait until the scaffolding arrives and then see if anything was missing and that, if it was, he would buy or hire replacement scaffolding immediately.

And that is what it has been like for the last seven and a half weeks.

Nothing New?


A lot has happened. Then again, it has not.

Chris quit. Smithers quit. Andrew quit. Someone new called Terry Royce started. And not long after, he quit. We moved offices. I got promoted to designer. And I haven’t been paid properly since. The Art Dept recruited a whole load more new staff, but no money has been forthcoming to build anything. Weeks have gone by. We are still no closer to shooting anything. What more can I say?

A lot actually.

For one thing, I just wrote an email to Jude, Antony and Ibrahim refusing to communicate with the production until my wages are paid up. But more on that, and everything else, tomorrow.

Jordan or Qatar

Do The Right Thing!


Yesterday’s meeting lasted over two-and-a-half hours.

It revolved around two things;

  1. Ahmed’s decision to move to Qatar.
  2. Where we shoot episode 12 and why.

Ahmed has apparently insisted the whole production be moved to Qatar with the intention of filming episode 12 in October. He does not seem to understand that this is not possible.
What he is forgetting is that we have no locations there, we have not recced them (and since Qatar’s oldest building dates back only 65 years it is doubtful we will find a suitable courtyard for episode 12), that we have no crew ready there, that if we move Simon and Chris may quit because they will have had enough, that we will could lose our DoP, that because it is so much more expensive there our budget will effectively be slashed by about 80%, the list goes on. But I do understand that Ahmed is desperate, and I fully understand why.

At the meeting, Talal asked everyone (international and ATP crew) – one at a time – what everyone thought and everyone agreed: Episode 12 *has* to be shot in Jordan. He then asked what people would do if the shoot was moved to Qatar. Everyone said they’d quit with the exception of Ray and myself. Ray said he wanted to stay. I said I was undecided but would back up the quitting story if Ahmed asked me directly because we need to appear unanimous on this point.

I was told by people who have had more meetings with Talal, that this was the first time one of Talal’s meetings was a discussion and not a lecture. I can believe that; after his $250K fortress screw-up, he needs us on his side.

Talal told us he will be going to meet the studio (investors) on Wednesday. He suggested that Simon and Chris and Anthony also fly out and try to meet the studio (obviously a ploy to make it look like we are on Talal’s side). Talal’s ulterior motive aside, my personal feeling is that this is inappropriate.

Going to the studio instead of going to Ahmed will look like they are trying to go over Ahmed’s head when they should go to him first. Yes, Episode 12 needs to be shot here, but instead of focusing on that — and I feel, perhaps wrongly, that that is what everyone is doing — they should focus on making Ahmed feel better because there are genuine reasons for him to be upset.

Ahmed is young but he’s no fool. He will know he has over-reacted (though he was right to react). The international crew needs to let Ahmed off the hook. They need to say that they’re impressed he did not lose his temper before now. They need to talk to him like one human to another and say, “Yes, there are problems, but they can’t be solved overnight. So how about if we continue to shoot episode 12 in Jordan while setting up episode 1 in Qatar? That way the investors will see movement”.

I shared my thoughts with Andrew. He felt I had a good point. I also said that by focusing on just getting Episode 12 shot back here, and aiming for six weeks to start shooting, we were just setting ourselves up for failure again if ATP did not deal with their cashflow and their procurement problems. If this is not done, six weeks from now we would be exactly where we are now. But now we – the English crew – would also look like fools for having suggested it could be done in the first place when; that given events of the last three months we should know better.

Chris has vanished. He is not answering is phone or Skype. Simon has been asking where he is, either to draw more attention to his absence or because he is genuinely worried.
Everything is on hold today. Nothing is moving forward. All we can do is wait and see.

My Meeting With Anwar & Anthony & Jasmine


I like Anwar and Abdul but the fact is this company breeds distrust and so I find it hard to believe their motives.

Last week, I got a call from a rather nervous sounding Abdul telling me I was needed over at the ATG headquarters (ATG1). Was I about to be fired? I asked him why. Rather oddly, he told me that Talal had recommended that Ibrahim and Anwar seek my advice over the design for a new Art Dept in the basement of ATG1 because, “he’s good at that sort of thing”.

Now how would Talal know that I’m good at anything considering he has never once spoken to me? But being curious to know their real intentions, I agreed. Now I happen to know there’s a subtle mind-manipulation technique that states if, you want someone to like you, ask them to do you a favour. So my first thought was that they had two goals;

  1. Create a division between me and the rest of the Art Dept and especially Chris since I seemed to be siding with him too much.
  2. Get me on their side a bit by playing the aforementioned mind manipulation technique on me.

So I decided to go along with it to see what they might do.

Half an hour later I’m with Abdul and Anwar in the basement advising them on what to do with the basement. Fifteen minutes after that, I’m outside with Abdul, Anwar and Anthony and I’m being invited to the pub that evening to watch a football match.

Time to back up. The inclusion of Anthony is significant. As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I sat in on a meeting with Talal about the fortress wall that did not go well. The thing I noticed most was the complete breakdown of communication between the English and Jordanian crew. With one exception. Anthony. Somehow he has become ‘friends’ with Talal. I wanted to know how he did it in the hope that if there were bridges to be built between ATP and the international crew, he might offer a solution.

So a few weeks ago I emailed him asking to meet to talk about how I might work better with ATG so that “Medinah” could be the show it is meant to be. I then had to postpone meeting him because my family came to visit for five days. But I did not follow up and a week after they had gone I found myself standing outside ATG1 being invited to the pub by Anwar and Anthony after just having a subtle manipulation technique played on me. Coincidence? I’m not sure.

I decided not to go to the pub, but that evening,I was Skyping my family when my ATG cell phone rang. I didn’t know the number so I answered it and asked who it was. It was Anwar. He was coming to the hotel to pick me up. Hmmmmm…….

Since I was Skyping, I persuaded him to let me meet him at the pub. Which I did. Anwar was there. We chatted about ATG, Talal’s secret but no doubt smart mission, about ATG’s good intentions, and Anwar’s desire to quit producing and focus again on development (but Talal wouldn’t let him). Then Anthony turned up. I had a long chat with him about ATG. I told him that I had calculated that (comparatively) ATG had more money to spend on “Medinah” than was spent on “Game Of Thrones” – that made him somewhat silent as I don’t think he’d thought about that. Anyway, the evening wet well, I was made to feel welcome, I was invited to Anthony’s place the next time he does a bar-b-que and told that Anwar does a mean “leg of lamb”, and it all seemed rather good.

Of course, next day back in the Art Dept there was a few jokes about my going over to “the other side” (plus a possible hint of genuine suspicion from Dominic Smithers). I told them that I suspected this was a set-up. Chris agreed.

Later the next day, I went back to the basement because I felt the floor-plan Anwar had emailed me for the basement was wrong. It was, so I took new measurements. But as I was leaving I bumped into a young woman called Jasmine – who was loitering in the stairwell – who works for Fadi. She asked who I was. I told her. Then she asked me if I knew Anthony and started going on about how much she liked and respected him. She then said, “He’s a really nice person. You’re a nice person too. I can tell”. She then complimented me on my sunglasses which she loved. She was she flirting with me! But why? Was she a plant? Had Talal put her up to this? Was ATG really this transparently conniving?

I told Chris about this later on and said the discouraging thing was that I have never thought like this before. ATG has succeeded in making me paranoid. I can’t even bump into a woman on the stairs and not suspect she was put there deliberately! But it did seem very strange that I was constantly being reminded about Anthony – the person I had contacted to see if he could advise me on how to work better with ATG.

I should also mention that I have been told by Abdul that ATG spies on its employee’s emails. How do they do this? Anyone who has an ATG email account is not given the means to change their password. This means ATG has their password and can log in at any time to read their emails including emails sent to them from other accounts (such as emails I have sent to Anthony). So even if Anthony had not told Talal that I’d emailed him, Talal probably knew.

I emailed Jude a few days later (another email Talal would have seen) asking if I could get Jasmine’s email address and phone number. The reason I emailed Jude asking this was because I figured if she gave me the details without asking why I wanted them, Jasmine was probably a plant. And if Jude did ask why, it meant either she was not a plant or that Jude didn’t know what Talal was up to. A few days passed before she emailed me back saying she would need Fadi’s permission so could I explain why I needed Jasmine’s details. So I don’t yet know if Jasmine was a plant.

But I am expecting an invite to Anthony’s place soon. I’ll go. I like him. But I don’t know if I can trust him. We’ll see.

ATG’s Hidden Agenda?


It’s difficult to keep up with this blog.

Typically, a blogger may have a few things to report each week. But with ATG there’s usually an avalanche. The last week has been no exception.

Three times in the last week, I have been told the exact same thing by Anwar, Sari and Fozan; “Talal is smart. He has a mission. No-one but him and Ibrahim know what it is but it’ll be smart.”

Abdul (a pseudonym I am using to protect the identity of certain ATG employees) – as much as I have come to like him – has an ego and he cannot help but tell more. Yesterday, he told me that Talal had called him the night before and over 45 minutes had proceeded to tell him that he aims to shoot episodes 12 (with Simon as director) and 17 (with Ahmed as director) and to use episode 17 to prove how incompetent Ahmed is so that Ahmed will then be fired.

At which point, Talal will have complete control. He can then fire the English Art Dept crew, get rid of Simon the director, promote Fozan to the position of designer, and promote Anwar to the position of show director.

Abdul told me this in strictest confidence of course. He also said he told Talal that the only three people he respects in the English Art Dept are Dominic Smithers, Ray Perry and myself. Of course, none of us are HoDs, and Abdul has to say this because he can’t say I’ll get fired! But of course I know I will.

None of this is news to me though. I’ve believed for weeks that Talal is plotting to get rid of Ahmed and then he can fire us as well (Talal cannot fire us without Ahmed’s consent) and promote Fozan to designer and someone else to director.

Something else happened yesterday which only adds to my conviction that the above is true. A DoP turned up a few days ago to work on “Malik” but he found out – much to his surprise – that “Malik” already has a DoP!

I met the guy at the pub last night. He was there despite the fact “Malik” is filming because he has nothing to do! So I asked him if he’d signed ATG’s contract and he said he had.

This is the same contract we had been given and it says an ATG employee must work on any and all productions they are told to. And indeed, Ibrahim told him yesterday that he should not worry that he is not working on “Malik” because he will be doing “Medinah” soon.

The problem is that “Medinah” already has a DoP.

Larry Smith has worked with Stanley Kubrick, Nicholas Winding-Rehn, and has done some very excellent work. He got here earlier this week. And yet somehow Ibrahim is already telling this other (unknown) DoP not to worry because he’ll be doing “Medinah” soon.

Am I surprised? No.

This is the point where Simon may quit, Chris will follow, and the shoot will be thrown into chaos and Talal will come to the rescue. Will Fozan step in as designer? Maybe.

It’s possible that this is Talal’s real game-plan: force out the English crew, appoint Anwar to direct episode 12, Fozan to design the show, leave Ahmed to direct episode 17 and make sure he goes over-budget and has something unworkable, and then Talal will be perfectly justified in telling the Qatari financiers that they must give him full control and let him do it his way.

But Talal has a problem. First, as rumour has it, he has recently lost contracts with NBC and the Dubai people which will make it difficult for him to sell his most recent show (which should be a reason for him to make this show work his way all the more), and there is a substantial email and paper trail to show that his handling of “Medinah” has been less than professional.

Although Talal and Ibrahim have made it impossible for the Art Dept to realise Chris’s and Ahmed’s vision, this does not mean there is no vision.

And we can prove it. Unlike ATG, we have strived to create the show the Qatari investors are expecting in terms of scope and audience expectation and we have the ‘paper trail’ to prove it. Meanwhile, ATG are trying to squeeze it, to save money left right and centre. But why?

I come back to my point – and I’ve told Sari, Fozan, Anwar and Anthony Bluff this – $37.5 million ($45 million if you include ATG’s fee for producing a single season of the show) for 20 episodes of “Medinah” in Jordan is worth more than $100 million for 10 episodes of Game Of Thrones in the UK.

The fact is that, comparatively speaking, we have a bigger budget per episode for “Medinah” than “Game Of Thrones”, so why is it Anwar and Talal and Ibrahim are all saying there is not enough money?