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.

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.

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

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.

And The Crisis Just Keeps On Rolling (Unlike Our Cameras)


There’s been lots of discussion today.

Turns out the reason Chris was not in the office is because he was on Skype all morning to Ahmed who continues to be very angry. Ahmed is insisting that it is the studio who are insisting the production move to Qatar.

I feel strongly that the focus should be on making Ahmed feel better. He has invested a lot of time and his professional name in this show. He may only be 26. He may not be that experienced. But that is when it matters most. Once you are established, you can afford to mess up and move on and rely on past credits and experience to bail you out. But when you have neither, that is when it threatens to destroy your career and it is no surprise you feel angry and in jeopardy.

I recall how when I was 26 I faced a similar experience and had to sue a producer named Simon De Selva for attempted copyright theft. I won. He declared his company bankrupt and I got my script back. But it was several years before I felt like writing again. At that age, these things can matter and they can matter a lot. I wonder if the people on this show know that?

Which is why I’m sceptical the right approach is being taken on fixing this. Bob told us an hour ago that right now neither episode 12 or 17 is being filmed. The show has ground to an absolute halt. Ahmed wants to know why we are not packing.

This is crunch week. By the end of it we will be moving to Doha or not. If we are, we have massive budget problems to face because this show cannot be filmed in Doha with the budget that has been allocated for Jordan. Today, Issam told us that when the contract was negotiated between Talal and the studio, Talal had to do due diligence to be certain that the show could be done in Qatar. It was Talal’s job to factor in the very hot summers (55 degrees C) that occur there, the lack of suitable terrain, and so on. Now Talal is saying we cannot shoot there because it is too hot and Ahmed is rightly saying that Talal has no choice because he agreed to it.

But no-one in this crew will agree to that. Right now the only two people who have said they will go to Doha is Ray and myself. And, of course, ATP. But Chris is convinced that Ahmed wants ATP out, and I’m inclined to agree. Why else is Ahmed writing out a list of ATP’s contractual obligations and demanding that they be met? Amongst them is the August deadline to begin shooting something and the November 1st deadline to begin shooting specific parts of Medinah.

I think we can meet both deadlines but only if ATP sorts out their accounting and procurement procedure. If they do this, I’ll do whatever I can to help ATP. Some big changes need to happen in the next week. But ATP seems clueless (or is pretending to be).

And the studio is Qatari.

This is a country that currently has some of the most expensive engineers in the world sitting around for months doing nothing when they should be building a bridge because the Qatari’s are appear unmotivated to advance the project.

Ahmed needs a guiding hand that he can respect, trust, and know has the show’s best interests at heart (and by proxy, Ahmed). Right now, there is a not a single HoD who can do that because either they’re incompetent (ATP) or ATP won’t let them (everyone else).

My next blog could easily be called It’s “A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.”

In ‘ATP land’, it really is.