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.

10JOD Per Diems


Acting on behalf of Talal, Fozan just this minute ushered Abdul into the quiet of the boardroom and tried to persuade Abdul to accept JOD$10 per day per diems when he goes to Doha.

I had already calculated that the minimum required is $65 per day, and Abdul’s salary is much lower than the international crew’s. At that rate, I’ve calculated that Abdul would actually be losing money if he went there. In fact, by the end of the first month, he would be in debt.

Talal has been to Doha enough times to know this. Fozan must know this as he’s worked abroad himself. It’s at times like this that I am very disappointed in Fozan and he reminds me that he cannot be trusted either.

As for Talal…?

To Doha Or Not To Doha – Part 3


Yesterday, Abdul got a called from Majid, telling him that ATP needed his passport and that he was going to Doha. He wasn’t asked. He was just told. Abdul wasn’t very happy about that.

Fozan has also been told he is going. Yesterday, he sat in a secret meeting with Talal and Ibrahim. I know because I was told by someone else about it (someone who should not have known). In fact, Talal was still supposed to be in Doha and – this is not the first time – he had lied about when he was coming back.

This morning, Chris, Ray, Smithers, Andy Dunn, Terry and I had a meeting to discuss our needs if we were to go to Doha. It was a bit unfocused but we got there in the end. Fozan turned up midway through the meeting and asked if he could join us. Chris politely agreed but from that point on everyone believed we had a spy in the room.

Anyway, the list is below. This is a reasonable list. In fact, on a show of this scale everything here should already be provided. The international industry knows this but apparently not ATP:-

CREW NEEDS

WORK DAYS, WAGES AND PER DIEMS

  1. Five day weeks for pre-production. (we’re doing six)
  2. Eleven day fortnights during filming with 11th day as prep.
  3. Crew wages adjusted so all crew paid on Sunday.
  4. Proof of pay emailed out each Sunday.
  5. Wages paid at end of each work week – not one week in arrears. (I’ve calculated they are on average 12 days late)
  6. All wages and per diems up to date before departure to Qatar.
  7. Per diems paid at the start of each week. (they’re always late too and are paid in arrears)
  8. Per diems USD$65 per day. USD$455 per week. (Doha costs six times more than Jordan and per diems of $100 per day is perfectly normal so this is far from being an unreasonable request)
  9. Shatat and Emad to go and two have per diems same as rest of crew. (we’ve heard rumours they would get less)
  10. USD $50 financial penalty for each day wages or proof of pay or per diems are late.
  11. Clarity on what per diems are for.

ACCOMMODATION & TRANSPORT  & FACILITIES IN DOHA

  1. Breakfast included in accommodation cost.
  2. Lunch paid by company during prep and shoot.
  3. Hotel min four stars. Own room or personally serviced apartment.
  4. No room or apartment sharing.
  5. Shatat and Emad in same hotel as rest of art dept.
  6. Accommodation approval before plane tickets bought. (clearly, we do not trust them)
  7. All transport costs covered in Doha to and from work, work-related places and airports. (as above)
  8. Minimum of five new vehicles (two being 4WD pickups) and one driver for exclusive use by Art Dept.
  9. 100% reliable Internet everywhere. Every crew member to have own company-paid dongle with minimum 15GBs per month and no service interruption due to pay-as-you-go schemes. (to date, the internet has been very very unreliable and ATG’s IT department seem clueless about how to fix it – oh, and they use pay as you go)
  10. Company phones for all crew members supplied on first arrival at hotel. (this has been a problem previsously)

INSURANCE AND PERMITS

  1. Written proof of medical insurance. (we don’t have any yet)
  2. Written proof of equipment insurance. (we don’t have any yet)
  3. ATP responsible for sorting out all Visa, work permit and residence permit issues on time.
  4. Upon termination of a crew-member contract by any party for any reason, ATP to sort out Exit Visas and to provide economy flight home within two week and to continue paying wages and per diems until they leave. (given they are holding Natasha ‘hostage’, the idea of them controlling exit visa’s does not appeal at all)
  5. ATP to ensure crew will not be asked to relinquish passports at any time.

FLIGHTS & HOLIDAYS

  1. All excess baggage to and from Doha paid for at airports by ATP rep. (still don’t trust them)
  2. ATP to arrange access to reduced cost flights.
  3. Ten days paid leave inclusive of flight every six months, starting from our start dates.
  4. EID paid holiday.

To Doha Or Not To Doha?


I was ill yesterday so didn’t go into work. Not that anything would be happening.
Today was supposed to be crunch day. After listening to Ibrahim promise repeatedly last week that timber, steel, tools and consumables would be delivered last Thursday, then Saturday, then Sunday, today nothing had arrived.

So I went to see Ibrahim this morning and he told me “in confidence” what has happened. According to him, he received a call last night from Ahmed saying that the production now had to be moved to Doha. Specifically, there were two options;

Episode 12 continues to film in Jordan but the rest of the series shoots in Doha (in which case episode 12 would not shoot until about August 8th)

  1. The entire series moves to Doha.

As a result of this conversation with Ahmed, everything was now on hold.

Let’s backtrack…

Last week, it was common belief amongst the crew that a large tranche of money was due yesterday from the Qatari investors (ATG told us this – of course, there’s always the possibility they might be lying). This money was needed to pay for everything that was to be purchased this week. However, it was also common knowledge that Talal had allegedly massively screwed up by telling Ahmed (who visited last week) that the fortress set was going to cost USD$250,000 (!) when Ahmed already knew it was only costing USD$8,000 because the designer had told him so!!! That was when the penny appeared to drop with Ahmed just how big a crook Talal might be. So Ahmed returned to Doha last Wednesday, and it looks like he reported back to the investors who then decided to move the whole shoot to Doha to put a leash on the now underline;”>very suspect ATG.

So now we jump forward less than a week and everything could be about to fall apart.
Ibrahim told me that if we move to Doha then we need to go there as soon as possible and get a sense of what resources really are available. Ahmed has told him everything is available there. Ibrahim is sceptical. I said I was certain Ahmed was wrong.

Ibrahim also expressed his misgivings about the budget – insofar as it has gone wildly out of control. I was amazed when he alleged that he had worked out the budget with Ahmed. And that Ibrahim had relied upon Ahmed’s word because Ibrahim had not read all the scripts (!!!). Ahmed allegedly told him there would only be a handful of effects needed and between them they would work out a VFX budget of USD$280,000!!! I’d say that’s 1/20th of what is needed (and that’s me being conservative).

That’s when the penny dropped with me: that if Ibrahim is telling the truth, Ibrahim really has no clue how to do a budget and if what he says about working the budget out with Ahmed is also true, then Ahmed knows even less (I hadn’t known up till then that he had been involved in the budgeting).

I offered to help Ibrahim in any way I could. At this point I see no point in being difficult. And it might help me to get to the bottom of what might really be going on.

The entire English crew has struggled to understand the bizarre logic of ATP. I could guess, but I don’t think I need to. It seems pretty obvious what might be going on. But again, the question is why? I mean, if we can all see it, who won’t?

Right now, Simon Hunter and Chris Richmond are meeting with Ibrahim to discuss what is happening and to demand their wages. Chris has not been paid for something like five weeks. Simon has not been paid for something like nine weeks. Issam has not been paid for something like three months! I believe this is because ATP ‘controls’ people by not paying them. And they are relying on these three guy’s commitment to the show to not quit. But that may be changing right now.

Curiously, Ibrahim told me as I was leaving the office that I would definitely be going to Doha because I’m the most experienced person on the show. Was he flattering me? Of course he was.

I like Ibrahim in principle. As the saying goes, “Innocent until proven guilty”. But as Abdul keeps telling me, “Trust no-one at ATP”. So I’ll wait and see.

Today may really be the day…

Still Nothing Happening?


Both Ray and Dominic Smithers were very unhappy yesterday.

Ray still has no props or dressing and Ibrahim still has not given the go-ahead for Ray’s man in Romania to make the weapons. And Dr Hattab (he runs a company that makes fibreglass products and we wanted him to make our shields, etc.) is not answering our emails because he is clearly fed up with ATG messing him about which means he may now refuse to make shields and stonework for us.

Dominic was furious because the woman in the UK who is supposed to be supplying us with fake corpses has not been paid despite Ibrahim promising absolutely that she would be paid last week.

And despite the fact our deal memo states we must be paid within seven days of a working week ending, we were again paid two weeks late (we got a transfer slip emailed to us last thing Thursday to show that the wages that should have entered our accounts Tuesday/Wednesday had not been paid in till Thursday so won’t be in our accounts now till next Monday). But at least we did not have to threaten them this time to be paid.

I, on the other hand, had correspondence with Ibrahim in which he suggested we meet Saturday at 2pm to start speeding up the process of getting things done and that we meet every day thereafter to maintain this. I said that was a great idea and we agreed 6pm each day starting Sunday. Currently, he is behind on getting payments made to the timber and steel companies Fozan has organised and he has not even begun to approve construction crew which we need to start on Monday.

Honestly, I just think I’ll get more bullshit. But since I’m working closely with Fozan (and they know Fozan gets things done cheaply) it’s remotely possible they’ll cooperate with me.

Even then, the UK Art Dept and Jordanian producers may not be able to work together. But if I can find a way to make the construction work, that’s good for everyone (unless ATG just uses it as a way to squeeze the construction budget to almost nil).

There’s a reason ATG’s efforts to “divide and conquer” the Art Dept have not worked so far.

  1. Their methods – as are their goals – are too transparently obvious.
  2. We’re not ATG and we don’t assume everyone can be bought and be manipulated to stab everyone else in the back – which based upon their behaviour so far, ATG seems to believe.

I don’t hate ATG. They’ve lost their contracts with NBC and Dubai, they refuse to understand that the industry is changing, that everyone wants to watch shows with “Game Of Thrones” production values now, and that screwing the budget isn’t always the easiest way to get richer. They’re the ones who will have to live with the error of their ways.