ATG’s Hidden Agenda?

It’s difficult to keep up with this blog.

Typically, a blogger may have a few things to report each week. But with ATG there’s usually an avalanche. The last week has been no exception.

Three times in the last week, I have been told the exact same thing by Anwar, Sari and Fozan; “Talal is smart. He has a mission. No-one but him and Ibrahim know what it is but it’ll be smart.”

Abdul (a pseudonym I am using to protect the identity of certain ATG employees) – as much as I have come to like him – has an ego and he cannot help but tell more. Yesterday, he told me that Talal had called him the night before and over 45 minutes had proceeded to tell him that he aims to shoot episodes 12 (with Simon as director) and 17 (with Ahmed as director) and to use episode 17 to prove how incompetent Ahmed is so that Ahmed will then be fired.

At which point, Talal will have complete control. He can then fire the English Art Dept crew, get rid of Simon the director, promote Fozan to the position of designer, and promote Anwar to the position of show director.

Abdul told me this in strictest confidence of course. He also said he told Talal that the only three people he respects in the English Art Dept are Dominic Smithers, Ray Perry and myself. Of course, none of us are HoDs, and Abdul has to say this because he can’t say I’ll get fired! But of course I know I will.

None of this is news to me though. I’ve believed for weeks that Talal is plotting to get rid of Ahmed and then he can fire us as well (Talal cannot fire us without Ahmed’s consent) and promote Fozan to designer and someone else to director.

Something else happened yesterday which only adds to my conviction that the above is true. A DoP turned up a few days ago to work on “Malik” but he found out – much to his surprise – that “Malik” already has a DoP!

I met the guy at the pub last night. He was there despite the fact “Malik” is filming because he has nothing to do! So I asked him if he’d signed ATG’s contract and he said he had.

This is the same contract we had been given and it says an ATG employee must work on any and all productions they are told to. And indeed, Ibrahim told him yesterday that he should not worry that he is not working on “Malik” because he will be doing “Medinah” soon.

The problem is that “Medinah” already has a DoP.

Larry Smith has worked with Stanley Kubrick, Nicholas Winding-Rehn, and has done some very excellent work. He got here earlier this week. And yet somehow Ibrahim is already telling this other (unknown) DoP not to worry because he’ll be doing “Medinah” soon.

Am I surprised? No.

This is the point where Simon may quit, Chris will follow, and the shoot will be thrown into chaos and Talal will come to the rescue. Will Fozan step in as designer? Maybe.

It’s possible that this is Talal’s real game-plan: force out the English crew, appoint Anwar to direct episode 12, Fozan to design the show, leave Ahmed to direct episode 17 and make sure he goes over-budget and has something unworkable, and then Talal will be perfectly justified in telling the Qatari financiers that they must give him full control and let him do it his way.

But Talal has a problem. First, as rumour has it, he has recently lost contracts with NBC and the Dubai people which will make it difficult for him to sell his most recent show (which should be a reason for him to make this show work his way all the more), and there is a substantial email and paper trail to show that his handling of “Medinah” has been less than professional.

Although Talal and Ibrahim have made it impossible for the Art Dept to realise Chris’s and Ahmed’s vision, this does not mean there is no vision.

And we can prove it. Unlike ATG, we have strived to create the show the Qatari investors are expecting in terms of scope and audience expectation and we have the ‘paper trail’ to prove it. Meanwhile, ATG are trying to squeeze it, to save money left right and centre. But why?

I come back to my point – and I’ve told Sari, Fozan, Anwar and Anthony Bluff this – $37.5 million ($45 million if you include ATG’s fee for producing a single season of the show) for 20 episodes of “Medinah” in Jordan is worth more than $100 million for 10 episodes of Game Of Thrones in the UK.

The fact is that, comparatively speaking, we have a bigger budget per episode for “Medinah” than “Game Of Thrones”, so why is it Anwar and Talal and Ibrahim are all saying there is not enough money?

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.