The Aftermath … So Far

This is where we or at…

Last night, Andrew and Chris accompanied Dominic Smithers to the airport via dinner at a restaurant. Chris was supposed to let me know where they were going, but either he forgot or he had already told me but I had not heard him. Either way, I didn’t go and neither did Ray or Terry as I was supposed to call them. After the dinner, Dominic got on the plane and the rest returned to the hotel. Then first thing this morning, Chris got another plane back to London.

That evening, I received an email – I won’t say what was in it as it would get someone into trouble – but I realised then what ATG might be up to. ATG would not want me to be in charge of the art department because they know I say it “as it is”. I realised that ATG might be planning on making Fozan the new designer. They of course would tell Ahmed that this was a temporary arrangement, but such arrangements are never temporary with ATG, and once Fozan had the post of production designer ATG would have full control of the art department and any hope Ahmed had of this being a proper production with money spent on the sets would have been killed then and there. (No offence to Fozan, who I like, but he is an ATG employee).

The above was all the more likely because of something Terry told me yesterday. Terry had told me that Abdul had mentioned to him the idea making me the construction manager. This amazed me at the time because Abdul had already made this offer to me before and I had turned it down on the grounds that it was ridiculous idea because a person cannot be the art director and the construction manager on a show this big. I also wondered why Abdul suggested it to Terry and not me. Terry said he had replied by saying that he thought that was a bad idea, and that I should remain as supervising art director because I would keep a tight control on any expenses and account for every penny – something Terry seems to think I’m very good at. According to Terry, Abdul looked rather displeased by this statement. Terry felt Abdul’s reaction had more to do with the prospect of me keeping a close eye on the budget rather than the idea of me not being the construction manager.

Anyway, I asked Terry if he thought that Abdul was suggesting I be the construction manager instead of the art director. Terry believed this was the case. I don’t know if he is right, but he could be.

It is now Friday — our day off — and I shall have to wait until tomorrow when I meet Ahmed to find out what happened today. Because although it is Middle East’s day off, Talal, Ibrahim and Abdul have a habit of using Fridays to plot their shenanigans. All too often we have come into work on a Saturday to find out what they have been up to the day before.

I am also meeting Simon tonight. I shall see what he has to say but it is my understanding that he plans to leave the production in the middle of September, and that Andrew will follow. This morning Terry was very unhappy. Although yesterday afternoon Ray and Terry had decided they would stay on, this morning Terry clearly wanted to go. He was fed up with the substandard hotel, the lousy food, per diems of only $40 per day when Doha is one of the most expensive cities in the world (currently he knows someone in Hungary on $70 per day and that’s on a low-budget film and they are staying at the Hilton), the constant lies by ATG, their total disregard for other people’s happiness and well-being, their paying wages on a date best designed to mess with your head, their total ineptness at actually producing a show, and their incredibly blinkered belief that they are always in the right.

This coming week shall be, without a doubt, another week when things really kick off. ATG has not mentioned insisting on paying us monthly yet. Maybe that was not true. Maybe they’ll mention it soon. Maybe they are so stupid they will mention it tomorrow.

When I meet Ahmed tomorrow, I plan to tell him changes need to be made. For one thing, a system has to be implemented by the end of this month to make sure that all crew are paid on time and without penalties. It’s time for a change. Let’s see if it can be done.

Chris Quits – Part 2

Today wasn’t off to the brightest start. Chris had told ATP he was quitting and heading back to London on Friday (tomorrow). Dominic Smithers had booked his flight for this evening. Terry was determined to go and he told Ray to start phoning around for new jobs.

I’d also heard that ATP were combing through Chris’s contract trying to find loopholes to force him to stay. I was a bit baffled by that as it was my understanding Chris never signed (see earlier blog entry on this). I guess I’ll find more out about this later.

But shortly after breakfast, Terry gave me an update. Andrew McEwan and Simon had told Ray and Terry that Talal had called Chris and was of the impression that Chris would be back in two weeks. This, despite Chris having sent him an email last night saying he had quit.

Then Chris went to tell Ahmed the news. Ahmed didn’t yet know any of this. An hour later Andrew saw him out on the street shouting into his phone. Then not long after this I bumped into Simon and Dominic in the hallway. Simon asked me my plans. I said I was staying for now to see what happens. I asked him his plans. He said he was “terrified” after what he’d just heard was happening to Chris.

He then wandered off and Dominic told me that Simon had just told him to be ready to go to the airport at a moment’s notice. That seemed very dramatic, I thought, and I asked why. Dom said that ATP (and he thinks Ahmed) had just come down on Chris like a ton of bricks. I asked how that was possible. Dom added that he did not know but that Simon had told him that ATP might demand to have our passports to stop us leaving.

He then told me that Ahmed had been stunned by Chris’s statement. Apparently, he had not seen it coming. We both marvelled at how naive Ahmed can be. I want to say this in Ahmed’s defence. He is 26 and out of his depth. He needs good people around him on this job, looking after his interests, but all he has is ATP.

As Dom told me this, Issam came wandering up – all casual – and said to Smithers, “Here is what I can do for you. I can offer you work back in Jordan on Malik.” At that point, I wandered off. We all know what a farce Malik is. And this for a company that has no morality at all. How could Dom possibly say, “Yes”?

Clearly, it is really going to kick off big time over the next few days. We are supposed to be paid on Sunday. That may be in jeopardy as ATP attempt to force control over us with whatever they have.

On an unrelated footnote, I heard yesterday that a few years ago when this was all starting up, the Qatari investors paid ATP US$3 million to do a feasibility study into shooting “Medinah” in Qatar. Such a study would normally cost about $80,000. So where did the rest of the money go?

Oh, one last thing; I have heard several times now that ATP thought they did not have to provide audited accounts because it was private money. But it is not private money; it is the Qatari governments money and, as a consequence of ATP’s failure to deliver, they have been ordered to provide audited accounts. The problem ATP has is that they have received over $10 million and there is no way they have spent more than $3 million on the show. At a meeting earlier this week which I shall talk about tomorrow, Ahmed was finally compelled to say to Abdul, “Where is all the money?” What happened I’ll explain tomorrow.

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.

Art Dept List

The following makes for interesting reading. It is a list of all the things that are supposed to have been done to date. Each is followed by a recent comment by the art department on progress, which is in turn followed by a comment by ATG’s rep, which is finally followed by a comment by the art department. Note how the ATG rep tries to twist every single point around to make it look Production is dealing with it or the art department is at fault. This is then “shot down” by the art department’s final comment.

This is the censored version. The uncensored version isn’t quite so diplomatic in calling the ATG rep a liar.

  1. Buses Not Purchased – further explanation is needed from Production due to conflicting information. ATG: We have finalised the purchase back when we were still in Jordan right After Eid. We are now waiting for your team to finalise their choice and inspect the actual buses while in Qatar and having Ahmad’s approvals. Art Dept: Since the Art Dept was not told a deal had been done by Production until last week, the Art Dept could not finalise their choice. Update:Production and the Art Dept have now viewed and chosen buses. Production is now finalising purchase.
  2. Deal Not Confirmed With Shatat & Emad – conflicting information on this. Latest is that Ahmed is happy for them to come but for some reason Shatat still has not been offered a deal and Emad has turned down his offer. Shatat will continue to work in Jordan but he is needed in Doha ASAP as his skills are integral to the caves and other sets being built. ATG: The general direction on this subject is to hire local Qataris with the same experience as Shatat and Emad in order for them to gain expertise and your department should train these crews just like they did train Shatat and Emad in Jordan. Therefor, Shatat and Emad should no longer be considered for this project. Art Dept: The Art Dept did not train Emad or Shatat in the skills they were hired for. It is not possible to train people to Shatat’s standard on SketchUp given we need someone of his standard now and he has years of training and experience behind him. Working with him remotely is proving inefficient. Until he is here the Art Dept cannot do its job properly. He is required in Doha immediately.
  3. Head Carpenter Not Pencilled – Cannot be done until a CM has been secured as the CM will choose his own HoDs. ATG: Till today, we still have no contact info on a foreign CM from your end or Dom Devine. Once we receive a valid  CM option with the right standards and rate, we will proceed to contact him and make a deal. Then all his crew will be hired. Art Dept: This isn’t true. You were emailed the details of a suitable CM, Ben Corless, three times. Production has been told, both verbally and by email, that Medinah is out of options for the CM and that we will have to accept Ben’s terms or there will be no sets.
  4. Head Painter Not Pencilled – cannot be hired until Production does a deal with Ben Corless.
  5. Head Sculptor/Plasterer Not Pencilled – cannot be hired until Production does a deal with Ben Corless.
  6. Large Tools In Qatar Not Purchased – delayed until we are there. We have time as workshops are not set up. As agreed, we decided to buy all these tools from Doha and as mentioned we still have time. ATG: Who should make the decision on these lists? You or the CM? So the production can move forward to buying them. Art Dept: Production has had a list of equipment for nearly two months. It was agreed back in Jordan that that equipment would be bought upon arrival in Doha. That has not changed.
  7. Crew Deals Done – see above re CM and his HoDs.
  8. Macs Bought – Ibrahim said this will be bought as soon as we get to Doha. ATG: Now that we are in Doha, we are ready for their purchase. Art Dept: Can we be arrange a purchase date?
  9. Wacom Bought – Ibrahim said this will be bought as soon as we get to Doha. NOTE: Very unlikely it can be bought in Doha. ATG: Now that we are in Doha, we are ready for their purchase. Can we be given a purchase date? Art Dept: This can be bought at iShop in Doha. Can we arrange a purchase date?
  10. Large Tools Delivered To Studio – not done because Aspire have not sent list to [ATG] re contractors. This is regarding the 3rd party contractors we would like to hire to upgrade the hanger to a more usable studio. ATG: I have asked Mosanada for the contacts, They will share with me once they have approval to share these contacts from Aspire. The approval is still pending from Aspire. Last e-mail I received from Mosanada about this issue was an auto reply that they are back in office on the 4th of August. Art Dept: It is now August 8th. Has there been progress on this?
  11. CM To Begin Construction Breakdowns – not done as no CM attached yet. ATG: CM options not provided as mentioned above. See above. Art Dept: Not true. Ben’s details provided three times already. [ATG] to attempt deal with ben. Meantime, Dom is waiting for contact details on two local CMs from [ATG rep].
  12. Car For Devine From 28/7 – not done and no mention of whether it will be. ATG: 2 cars are now available in Doha from Day 1. They are available for use for the team. One of which has been with Devine most of the time. Art Dept: Devine had it for three hours at the time this comment was made and the team had had the cars for 2 1/2 days by then. The Art Dept currently requires a minimum of two cars to do its job properly.
  13. Car for Smithers & Rita from 28/7 – not done and no mention of whether it will be done. ATGTransportation will be available in due time. Art Dept: When is “due time”? Please supply an approximate date.
  14. Plant Hire Gear Delivered To Studio (for blacking out skylights) – not done. ATG: How do you expect to do this remotely? Now that we are in Doha, we can move to achieve this. Art Dept:It could have been arranged through contacts the Art Dept made last time they were in Doha. This has been mentioned previously.
  15. Buses Delivered To Studio. – Not done. See first point above. ATG: See above regarding buses issue. Art Dept: See above re Production not telling Art Dept a deal had been done.
  16. Deal Confirmed With UK Head Carpenter – cannot name or hire until CM has been named. See above.
  17. Deal Confirmed With Head Scenic Painter – See above.
  18. Deal Confirmed With Head Sculptor – See above as explained.
  19. All Prop Sourcing Trips Confirmed (Prague, Egypt, Morocco, Dubai) – Smithers is waiting to hear this has been organised. No news as yet. ATG: Egypt’s trip was scheduled before Eid and was placed on hold because of the political situation right after the bombing their. We still need to both work on scheduling these trips. For the rest of the trips, we need to get your final lists and then we will schedule them in correct order based on the latest action plan for pre prep. ATG:Refer to Smithers for feedback.
  20. Deal Confirmed With Concept Artist – to be followed up in Doha but Jason Human pegged for this post. ATG: Awaiting for an updated date from your side to present to production. We have not received any. Awaiting an Art Dept first. Art Dept: Awaiting an Art Dept office for us to work from so we can decide on a date for him to start.
  21. Deal Confirmed With Draughtsperson – will sort upon arrival in Doha as proving impossible to do in Jordan. ATG: Let us know if you need help. Art Dept: Awaiting an Art Dept office for him to work from.
  1. Materials & Paint Not Ready For Shipping From Amman – Paints paid for. Consumables need to be shipped to Tony for shipping to Doha. Ray sorting this out. ATG: Please provide update. Art Dept: Please speak to Ray for update.
  2. Cave Making Kit Not Ordered – Chris organizing this now. Chris – can you supply latest update? ATG: Awaiting your feedback on this subject. No update from Chris to date. Art Dept: Update was provided to ATG rep over a week ago. To repeat, Johnny Mann is currently working out costs and a schedule. We will let Production know when this is ready.
  3. Art Dept Offices & Workshop Tents Not Ready – Drawings have been submitted to contractor, Al Baddad. Al Baddad is to produce plans and costings. ATG rep to forward plans to Art Dept so we can specify racking and partitioning. Al Baddad reposts  Budget then approved by ATG rep. Then two weeks to build. Currently waiting for Al Baddad to send drawings and budget to ATG rep and on to Art Dept. Temporary offices to be located at hotel until the offices are ready. In progress, Baddad has sent their offer and we are in negotiations. I have told ATG rep I need information back from Al Baddad before finalising internal details of the builds (shelving and other requirements). Since he has not gotten back to me, I should I assume their quote is provisional? Update: Art Dept met Al Baddad reps at office and discussed need for racking, sinks, etc. It was agreed that the Art Dept should attend future meetings with Al Baddad. Not heard anything more. Awaiting news from Production.
  4. ME Spec For Hangar – Last heard, ATG rep was waiting for Aspire to supply Aspire-endorsed contractors. ATG rep was going to email Aspire on Monday to chase this up. ATG rep to provide update. ATG Rep: See as above mentioned. Art Dept: Awaiting feedback from Production as it is now past Aug 4th.
  5. CM Not Pencilled – currently there are three options – Perry, Hugo and Ben.
    1. Ahmed has authorised $??? but Perry will very likely ask for more than $??? on account of all the delays. Dominic expecting an email from him in the next 24 hours. Dom has forwarded his questions to ATG rep. Update: Perry is no longer interested.
    2. Ben is interested and has asked about deal terms. ATG rep needs to speak to Ben. Update: Ben is still free but not for much longer.
    3. Hugo is available he is first checking if he has the crew we need. Update: Hugo is no longer free.

    NOTE: This task could easily slip back to THINGS NOT DONE.

ATG Rep: Waiting confirmation from Devine regarding availability to contact them. Art Dept: ATG Rep was provided with contact details by email for Ben Corless and told he was available a week and a half ago. ATG rep was told that Perry no longer wants to work on Medinah and that Hugo is busy.
  1. Confirmation Of UK Prop Painter & Prop Carpenter – Nearly done. ATG rep sending new amount once it has been agreed. ATG rep: once CM is hired .. will take action. Art Dept: This has nothing to do with CM. It’s a different division of the Art Dept.
  2. Payment To Ray For Romania In Progress – An invoice has not been submitted to ATP with the correct company number. Ray will chase this up once in Doha. ATG Rep: Awaiting the final invoice from Ray.
  3. All Alabaster Purchases Underway – Details sent to Ibrahim by Smithers and payment approved and underway. ATG Rep: Payment approved and ready .. awaiting transfer address from Smithers
  4. Deal Confirmed With Art Dept Runner – Sent Rawda’s name to ATG Rep but she came back asking for QR6000 per week!!! Have meeting with Lolwa Sunday or Monday in Doha at hotel. May hire her instead. ATG Rep: Devine to let ATG rep know. Ahmed has replied to this point . Art Dept: What did Ahmed say? Lolwa is ill and has so far not be available to meet. Rawda did not get back with a better offer. There has been a noticeable lack of interest from local crew. We are investigating the reason for this.
  5. Deal Confirmed With Asst. Art Director – have sent Tayeb’s name toATG rep. ATG rep to arrange deal once in Doha. In progress. ATG rep: Updates please. Art Dept: Tayeb is another person that has not gotten back to us. Will attempt to contact him to ask why.
  6. Deal Confirmed With UPVC Specialists (Johnny Mann) – Chris arranging. Update to come from Chris. ATG rep: Still awaiting update. Art Dept: See above.
  7. Deal Confirmed With Graphic Designer – sent Dawood’s name to ATG rep and vice versa. ATG rep to do deal with Dawood as soon as ATG rep is in Doha. ATG rep: In progress. Art Dept: Dawood told Dominic his interest was on hold while he considered another job offer. And that he would know what he was doing this coming week.
  1. Deal Done With Rita – Done. And She Will Start Aug 8th. ATG rep: Only MOU was signed, she asked for 18,000 QAR  which is over the budget. We will in negotiations. Art Dept: She has apparently started.
  2. Water Tanks Waiting To Ship To Doha – water tanks are at the workshop awaiting shipment to Doha along with all the other gear. Apparently they cannot ship until at least August 5th due to problems with the shipping process. ATG rep: Waiting for Katara to provide us with the required documents for shipping. We met with katara representative and the clearing company and we are working on it. Art Dept: Tanks no longer at workshop as ATG. Terry knows where they were sent to. Art Dept now waiting for shipping to happen.
  3. Jordan Prop-Making Tools & Consumables Purchased & Delivered To Ray – Done. Packing up now to go to Doha. Art Dept: Items at workshop now spread out over Jordan awaiting re-packing so they can ship.
  4. Jordan Purchases (Set Dec) Completed – Yes. Packed to ship to Doha. Art Dept: Items at workshop now spread out over Jordan awaiting re-packing so they can ship.
  1. Tents finished – since they have not even started this deadline will be missed. Ahmed: Who are “they”.? Art Dept: Obviously “they” are Al Baddad.
  2. Blacking out of Studio Skylights Finished – since they have not even started this deadline will be missed. ATG rep: Who’s “They”? Production is waiting for offers from contractors. Art Dept: Waiting for update from Production.
  3. Offices Finished – since they have not even started this deadline will be missed. ATG rep: finalizing with Al baddad. Art Dept: Finalising what exactly?
  4. Car For Ray Perry – no mention of this happening. ATG rep: Same issue again. Art Dept: We are told above they will be supplied in “due time”. But not told when “due time” is.
  5. Prop Trucks Supplied in Doha – no mention of this happening. ATG rep: Will happen upon request and once needed. Art Dept? *Who* will decide when they are “needed”?
  6. Construction Consumables Ordered – to be sorted once there. ATG rep: Awaiting list. Art Dept: Awaiting Production doing deal with CM.
  7. CM Flies To Doha – not possible as no CM has been contracted. ATG rep: See CM issue above. Art Dept: See CM issue above.
  8. Hangar Sound Insulation Done – since they have not even started this deadline will be missed. ATG rep: Deadline was set with no consultation. Art Dept: Not true. Chris sought feedback from Production. None was given.
  9. CM Starts Work – not possible as no CM contracted. ATG rep: See CM issue above. Art Dept: See CM issue above.
  10. Construction Materials Ready At Workshop – no workshops so not possible. ATG rep: Deadline was set with no consultation. Art Dept: Not true. Chris sought feedback from Production. None was given.
  11. Cave Making Kit Shipped From UK – In progress. Johnny Mann and Sam Stoakes to supply. ATG rep: No details have been sent to production. Art Dept: ATG rep has been updated on this but has apparently forgotten.
  12. Construction Consumables Delivered To Workshop – no workshops so not possible. ATG repWhat consumables? Art Dept: Those mentioned in 43.

Unpaid Wages & Strike Action

Ever since I got here, ATG has intentionally paid wages late (if at all) as some sort of passive-aggressive “don’t forget who’s boss” tactic. This has resulted in almost weekly arguments with them that eventually leads to Ibrahim shouting at his staff and telling them to get us paid “immediately”. If we don’t remind them, they do nothing. They say nothing. No apology. No explanation. Nothing. It’s pathetic.

Before coming to Doha, the UK crew sent Abdul a list of expectations. One of them stated that instead of all UK crew getting paid based on their arrival date on the job, we all get paid the same day. For example, my pay day was Tuesday. Smithers’s and Ray’s was Monday. I’m not even sure when the rest were meant to be paid.

The intention behind our idea was that if we were all to be paid the same day, ATG couldn’t hide behind the complexity of payment dates.

The list was ignored. However, about a week later, Abdul sent out an email suggesting we all get paid at the same time.

So apparently it was his idea!!!

Anyway, everyone humoured him, pretended it was his idea and we all agreed it was a fabulous idea of his that we all be paid Saturday. As a result, it was agreed that we should all submit our invoices up to that date so that our wages could be cleared in full for Jordan before the move to Qatar.

We have now been in Qatar for a week.

And we have not been paid.

To put this in perspective…

Smithers, Ray and I are now owed three weeks wages.

Andrew McEwan is now owed four weeks wages.

Chris Richmond is owed about six weeks wages.

Simon Hunter is owed two months wages.

Now Abdul may be owed four months wages but there is a difference of sorts. We always tell ATG to pay up. He does not. So when Simon and Chris went to him last Wednesday and had an argument with him about their late wages and he laughed, he did not get our sympathy.

Simon has now told ATG that he will be flying back to the UK on Sunday and that he will not return until;

  1. He has been paid in full.
  2. He has been put up in a better hotel.
  3. There are proper offices to work in. (more on that later)

As for the rest of us?

We are on strike. Sort of.

We did not go into the office on Thursday. Abdul emailed Chris and I asking where everyone was. We did not answer. I was out on the road most of the day looking for supplies to make the model caves with. The rest were working in their rooms. So it wasn’t a strike in the sense we had “downed tools”. Later that evening we sent the following email which will help to clarify what ind of strike it was.;

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 10.06.26

So we are working. But in our rooms. And we are not sharing the ‘fruits of our labour’ with them. We had to make the point that any problems that occur as a result of not talking to them would be their fault because we know the first thing ATG would do is say we are “ambushing the project”. They are extraordinary. I have never come across a more obtuse self-righteous arrogant cold bunch of people in my life. Omar looked genuinely wounded when I shouted at him about a month ago because he thought it was funny when he said we’d (maybe) get our per diems on the following Sunday despite the fact they should have been paid already. How stupid can people get?

Anyway, it is now 10:30am on Saturday and we have not heard from ATG yet. They’re likely going to call our bluff. Ignore us and see what we do because, ironically, our per diems are supposed to be paid today. But I have said to Ray and Andrew that we should not chase up our per diems. We are owed them. That’s a fact. And if we go to collect them ATG will use that to make them look like the good guys and us look like the bad guys. They are not simple-minded. So I said let them bring our per diems to us without us bothering to remind them. After all, we should not have to remind them.

Tomorrow, we shall send out a second email stating that from now on wages must be paid on the day they are owed or we will not come into work the next day. By then we shall all be owed last week’d wages too.

As a footnote, word has it ATG received a $5 million payment from the Studio after Talal got back from Doha. So it’s not like they are short of cash.