The Truth Is Out……


So I’ve been promising a major bit of news and here it is.

After it all went off over the wages, Issam, Chris and Simon decided we should all have a meeting to discuss the email that we had sent (see below).

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 13.39.34

As you will see, the email was to the point, factual, and decisive. It was written by more than one person, sent from an anonymous account so ATG could not victimise anyone, and signed alphabetically so they could not pinpoint a hierarchy.

The next day, ATG had a crisis meeting and on the Sunday they responded with this email;

Praxino Mail – Unpaid Wages

(click link above to see full email)

Praxino Mail - Unpaid Wages copy

It runs for several pages (4) and is remarkable in that it manages to turn our “to the point, factual, and decisive” email into something else. ATG clearly put a lot of work into this email. They must have, because there are so many lies. Not one thing in it is true. But let’s start with the rather bizarre insinuation that our email represents a conspiracy! Why did they do this?

The answer to this question is best represented by how Abdul began the meeting. He started by labouring the fact that ATG was concerned about the email because it suggested a conspiracy intended to sabotage the show (!) and that if we had problems he would rather we approach him one-on-one. Why did he say this? Because ATG like to bully and while they can bully individuals, they cannot bully a group. So Abdul’s statement had nothing to do with fixing problems and everything to do with “fixing us”.

But all of this is nothing compared to what happened half an hour into the meeting.

I think it was me who initially pushed the point about the fact that Abdul was compromised because ATG owes him US$40,000+. I pointed out that he was supposed to look after the investors’ interests but how could he when ATG owed him so much money? He asked me what it had to do with me and why did I care? I said I cared about people doing what was right and ATG were not doing what was right by him. It was then that things started to unravel.

Abdul explained that he did not mind being owed so much money because he could afford to take “a hit”. For example, he said, “If four payments are owed, two to me and two to Ray, I’m happy for him to be paid.” At which point Chris said, “Well that obviously means there is a cash flow problem.” Abdul then said that was not the case, at which point we started going round in circles as Chris, myself (and I think Terry) started to question his logic;

“If there isn’t a cash flow problem, why aren’t they paying you?”
“Well, because they can’t right now.”
“So there is a cash flow problem?”
“No, there isn’t.”
“So why aren’t they paying you? If they have the cash, what is stopping them?”
“Well they have had a problem making payments.”
“For four months! They’re paying us. How come they can’t pay you?”
“Because they can’t.”
“Then there is a cash flow problem?”

Or words to the above affect. At which point a studio representative, who had been quietly listening said, “I don’t understand, Where is all the money we just gave you?”

We could all see that Abdul knew he was in trouble. He tried to make excuses, then the studio rep dropped the final blow.

“This makes me think ATG must be spending Medinah’s money on it’s other shows.”

Terry and I both saw a look of utter horror flicker across Abdul’s face. He quickly made excuses. But at that point everyone around the table knew – the studio rep had just said he knew what ATG was up to. It was out there. And Abdul was cornered.

But it was at that point we backed off.

We all know Abdul is cornered. ATG owes him $40,000-plus and they are using it to control him. He is their puppet, and they can make him dance as much as they like.

While we have no actual proof that ATG is embezzling money and everything I say in this blog is alleged only, Abdul signs contracts and agreements and payments. If ATG is up to no good, and we all firmly believe that is the case, he is directly in the firing line. It’s no accident ATG sent Abdul and Majid to Doha alone. Majid has no authority and Abdul is expendable. Chris and I have discussed the fact that if ATG do get caught, we believe Talal and Fadi would go to jail. The same could be true of Abdul.

For anyone who would like to deny the above conversation ever took place, well, I recorded it.

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

What Do You Get When You Combine An Art Dept With ATP?


It’s very difficult to write this blog. So much happens (or should I say, “Does not happen”) that it’s hard to keep track.

Today I refused to go on a recce because the new driver is dangerous and nearly got us all killed yesterday.

Today, we have not been paid.

Despite my asking Fozan to bring the sample window and shutter in this morning, he did not. Instead, he arranged for the new driver to bring them this afternoon. It is now 7:15pm. They are not here.

But the main reason for this entry is the hell that has become construction.

Normally I like to keep an eye on every little detail. It means I can maintain quality. It means I can stay on budget. It means I can look after my crew. I do this by centralising as much work as possible in one place. And by having transport to regularly visit other construction facilities. I have everyone’s email address and phone number. I send copious emails. I work more hours than asked for. But with ATP, that is different.

I have no idea who our construction people are because they’re all third parties hired by Fozan. I have no budget. No workshops. No tools. No crew that I know of. No email addresses or phone numbers. No-one I can send emails to. And just now I told the Production Coordinator I won’t be doing any overtime for ATP because they are spying on us, tracking our hours, and knocking off wages for any hours they think we have not done.

My exact words to the PC were as follows:-

“I’ve accumulated 135 hours over the 12 hours. Normally, I’m very charitable about my time. Last job I was working between 16 and 19 hours a day despite an agreement of a 12 hour day. Job before that I was doing an average of 15 hours a day on a 12 hour day. Job before that an average of 17 hours a day on a 12 hour day. All of which I did as a favour. For free. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a job in my 28 years in this industry where I didn’t volunteer time for free. That ATP have succeeded in making me decide not to do any overtime for them really is quite an achievement.”

But my main concern is how am I going to build the sets? When I asked Fozan today what had happened with the fireplace test set which was supposed to be finished over two weeks ago, he told me he had seen the sample, did not like it, so was going to get someone else to do it. He should have told me this without my asking. He should have sent photos. He did neither. And he told me nothing. He is operating in a vacuum without seeking our feedback or input. The work his people deliver is consistently no good and off-brief. No-one here looks at our drawings!!! So given that Fozan is not a team-player, given that we have no workshops, give that we have no construction crew that I can see, how are we supposed to build anything?

The fact is, I don’t believe Talal and ATP *want* us to build anything. Dominic Smithers just emailed Ibrahim pointing out that all the stuff he asked to be ordered for the last *ten weeks* has not been ordered with the exception of a few cheap rugs. When you consider that ten weeks is usually enough time for a Hollywood feature to fully stock its prop and dressing department, we should have a substantial prop store of stuff by now, but instead we have this;

Our Dressing Store After 10 Weeks

Our Dressing Store After 10 Weeks

You have to wonder what on earth these ATP people think they are doing.

We (the international crew) all think that – for whatever reasons – ATP thinks they can make this show the same way they make all their other shows. Why they think this or why they would want to, given they have around 20 times their normal budget and the potential to make a show that could run for five years (think of all the money they could make out of that!), we cannot work out. But it would seem it can only fall into one of three categories. Either;

  1. They’re stupid.
  2. They’re crooks.
  3. Both.

Honestly, we don’t know which it is. We just can’t figure it out.

The DoP is supposed to turn up about June 8th. His name is Larry Smith. He did “Bronson” and “Only God Forgives” for Nicolas Winding Refn. He’s a contact of the director and he’s very good.

I have been wondering if ATP wants us all to quit, then they can blame “Medinah’s” falling apart on us, shoot it their usual cheap way, and keep the rest of the money for themselves. If that’s true, they must be so frustrated that we have not left. And wondering what else they can do to try and get rid of us.

I should add that that while their contract with the investors requires them to hire international crew, that refers only to HoDs. I’m not an HoD. Neither is Dominic Smithers or Ray Perry. So why hire us? Are they charging a big fat commission on us and using that to get more money out of the investors? We have all wondered this. Personally, I really do not know.

Battle Of The Construction Manager & Bob’s Unpaid Wages


While I got on with a provisional schedule in the absence of a Construction Manager, various things happened today. First, Ibrahim failed to pay Bob  his wages despite the fact Ibrahim had promised Bob they would be paid before the 10th May. This is the second time Bob’s wages have been late. This morning Bob decided not to work because of it. I told Bob to go right ahead.

Meantime, Issam promised to deal with it and he spoke to Ibrahim who promised that Bob would be paid by Friday at the latest. But since Ibrahim has broken promise after promise about wages being paid on time, why would we believe him?

By the afternoon Bob was doing work for Ray Perry anyway. He’s a good egg, is Bob.

Currently Talal (ATG’s owner) and Ahmed (Medinah’s original creator) were in town. Ahmed is usually in Qatar where he lives. I’ve been told he does not like being away from home. The fact he really needs to be here is a problem.

Talal, on the other hand, seems to rarely be in Jordan. Instead he likes to spend his time travelling from place to place. London. Paris. I’m not sure where else but this is the first time he has been here that I know of since I arrived back on March 17th.

The first description I heard of Talal was, “angry child”. Though I have not sat in one of his meetings with his staff yet, everything I have been told indicates it is painful for his employees.

The reason Talal is here is allegedly two-fold; First, because Ahmed is here (I have been told Talal needs to, “keep a reign on the show’s creator and money-channel” – no comment on what this means – I’m just quoting what I’ve been told). Second, because another show has been thrown into chaos.

I have been told ATG is producing three shows. The first is of course “Medinah”. The second is a show called “Malik”. The third, well I don’t even know what that is. But “Malik” was plunged into total chaos last Thursday when the designer, photographer and director all quit. Just to give you a sense of how bad that was, consider this;

ATG has a clause in its freelancer contract that states that if a freelancer quits they must refund all of their wages!!!

I’m going to say that again because you won’t believe it. If a freelancer quits, ATG’s contract demands that they refund all their wages.

“Malik’s” director was so fed up with ATG he agreed to go to the bank and refund 1/3 of his wages there and then.

So ATG staff marched him to the bank and took back his money.

Meantime, “Medinah” is also in chaos. Talal is refusing to meet the show’s designer. Why, I’m not sure.

ATG hired international crew for “Medinah” not out of choice, but because it’s part of ATG’s contract with the financiers: ATG must use international HoDs in order to make sure “Medinah” is of a greater standard than their usual shows because ATG has no experience of making a show of this scale. It’s become clear that ATG is not happy about this.

(There’s also another rule that anyone working on “Medinah” must not be working on anything else. But I have heard that the production manager, production coordinator, make-up artists and location manager are all involved in “Malik” and – possibly – the other unnamed show. It has also been often alleged that “Medinah’s” budget is funding the other two shows to some degree. Last time I checked this was called “embezzlement” – but so far it’s just a rumour).

Anyway, Talal is refusing to meet Chris because Chris wants a UK Construction Manager and other UK crew. Now the show will be better for it. But Talal insists that local crews are just as good. However, ATG has shown me local crew work that they commissioned and frankly it’s atrocious – so while there may be good work somewhere in Jordan, ATG doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it.

ATG acts like this does not matter, but it does. It matters because just as an audience member can often tell good acting from bad without knowing why, they can also tell when something looks real or like a set. And that destroys the ‘reality’ of fictional drama.

So back to tonight. Chris – the designer – has been trying to meet Talal since yesterday but Talal has been ducking and diving. He’s finally, supposedly, meeting Chris today. But only because Ahmed is here so avoiding Chris is nigh on impossible.

Earlier today, Chris told Issam that if Talal isn’t allowing him a UK Construction Manager he might as well quit. And if he quits, Simon Hunter – the director – has said he will quit too.

It has come to the point that we may all be quitting tomorrow. So anther ATG show will have gone down the toilet in under 7 days due to their useless bloody-mindedness. You got to hand it to them; at least they’re consistent.