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 Instead, I got the list they used to buy it — a list that had been confirmed to be out-of-date weeks earlier; a list that did not list all the individual components needed because it was based upon detailed conversations between the Construction Dept and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.

Another Fun Week With ATG


It’s been another ‘fun’ week at ATG.

Talal visited last week, and while he seemed to be at a bit of a loss as to what to do, looking like a lost schoolboy, his presence still caused its own fair share of chaos. After three weeks of atrocious Wi-Fi in the office, Talal instructed the runners to go and buy a 4G mobile internet modem. Our pleasant surprise was short lived. After half an hour of actual proper Internet access, we suddenly lost access when Talal had the password changed (unannounced) so only he could use it. But on the plus side, we got paid on time, no doubt the result of Talal not wanting to sit with a group of people pissed off at not being paid wages. This also meant that Andrew’s reply (sent while Talal was with us) to Ibrahim’s email encouraging us to accept monthly wages was met with an extremely brief, inarticulate, and equally ambiguous reply from Talal.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 10.42.37

Somehow, I doubt Talal’s email will be the end of the matter. And indeed, Terry’s email to Jude this afternoon, reminding her that our wages are supposed to be paid today, was met with an unsurprising silence.

On Thursday evening, I was dragged out on a recce to the hangar with Talal, Majid, Issam and Ahmed. When it became apparent that using the actual hangar as an office was a ridiculous idea, Talal proposed that we go to Katara village (where Ahmed has an office), and that we aim to get some office space there. For a moment, as we were sitting with the manager of the entire Katara Village facility and a rather lengthy conversation took place in Aramaic, I actually thought Talal was asking to rent an office. But as we left, I discovered that Talal had in fact been trying to blag an office for free on this $50 million production!!! As a result, we were offered the use of the unused canteen — an area that included a corridor through which people traipsed on a constant basis.

Talal then took us for dinner. Conversation fluctuated between animated Aramaic conversation and awkward silence. When it came time to pay the bill, the waiter handed it to Talal who promptly shoved it towards Majid so that he could pay out of the show’s budget. The food was good though, and we eventually left.

The other bizarre thing that happened was that after a few days of listening to Issam and Ahmed talk naively about hiring production designers like Gavin Bouquet (Star Wars) and Stuart Craig (multi-Academy award-winning designer whose credits include Harry Potter movies), Talal decided that we did not need a designer since Chris had already designed the show.

Well, never mind the fact that only about 5% had been designed and none of it locked! It cannot be overstated what a moronic thing this is to say.

Aside from the fact that not all of the sets have been designed, a designer is needed to see the designs through to completion of their construction. And let’s not get onto supervising design during the shoot! I can only assume that they do not want a designer because that way the art department has no real authority. And given that we have been such a nuisance with our constant requests to buy props, dressing and materials and crew to build sets and so on, (you know, the kind of stuff that a show usually has), well, who can blame them? 

Today there was a new development. This morning Bob emailed me to tell me that he had sent an email to ATG informing them that he had contacted a barrister who has told him that ATG has repeatedly been in breach of contract due to its failure to pay his wages on time, its failure to pay his last few weeks wages, and also that they had doctored his contract and gotten him to sign it under duress, and because of this if they do not pay him the rest of the money that he is owed by the end of this Wednesday the copyright of all his work will revert to him. They’re so stupid they may not pay.

Today, when I proposed to ATG that we hire the construction manager I had found if we were not getting a designer yet, it was suggested to me that maybe I could be the production designer, the art director and the construction manager! It would be funny if it weren’t so ridiculous. Needless to say, my answer was brief and it was a very short conversation….

The last thing to happen today, Ahmed emailed me saying that he would like to talk about how some of the old designs were no good. He asked me if he should give me his notes on the set or give them to the new designer once one had been appointed. Clearly, he does not know that they do not intend appointing one.

Or were they lying to me (I actually found out through Bob as they did not even bother to tell me), when they said they were not going to get one? And if so, why…?

FOOTNOTE APRIL 21st, 2017

Since I never signed a contract with Arab Telemedia AND I’m owed money, the hi-lighted text above (bold and italics) would mean that all work done by me on Medinah remains my property. As such, ANY attempt by the show’s owner’s to sell or broadcast it shall be illegal and subject to a potential major lawsuit by me.

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

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.