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.

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.

Madness Is A Place Called ATG


Each Friday I would like to summarise the week’s macabre events (there are no other kind of weeks here) in a few posts but often it feels like too many things have happened. Last week was no exception. Bizarre – and sometimes sickening – events included;

  1. Confirmation we were relocating to Qatar after Talal was caught by the Qatari investors with his hands in the till. But that they cannot get rid of ATG yet due to clauses in the contract.
  2. Farah being cruelly fired at zero notice on account of our relocating, and Chris being told to tell her. He refused because he thought ATP’s approach was appalling. So ATP was forced to do it — meaning they told poor Sari to do it instead.
  3. Me having to reformat episodes 1 to 5 because after about 18 months ATP still can’t figure out how to format scripts properly. And they’re too cheap to hire a Script Supervisor to help them do it (the knock-on affects to us are very very time-consuming).
  4. Wages being more than a week late.
  5. Per Diems being just three days late (they would have been a week but I finally lost it and told the useless accountant, Omar, who is responsible for our Per Diems, that if he didn’t get them before midnight, I’d make his life hell. (I think Chris was a bit shocked because I literally started screaming at the poor guy (Omar) on the street).
  6. ATP at first refusing to take Abdul to Qatar but then trying to employ him full-time on a shit salary (and I bet they would charge the investors at least two times more). On this note, we suspect ATP is guilty of huge ‘mark ups’ on crew wages. We have been told NOT to discuss our salaries with Ahmed. I wonder why? (if you’re reading this Ahmed, I have a spreadsheet with everyone’s wages on it that you are welcome to have).
  7. Issam continuing to be held hostage by ATP who haven’t paid him for about three months (and consequently forcing him to do all their nasty work).
  8. Issam telling us our budget will double despite the fact we have established Qatar costs 6 to 8 times more. (I’ve already worked on the Art Dept would be at least six times higher).
  9. Natasha, the charming Russian make-up artist, who is still being held hostage by ATP who don’t pay her Per Diems, haven’t paid her wages for over a month, and refuse to pay her plane ticket out of the country.
  10. The minivan driver who, though a lovely guy, is still here after killing a dog, and nearly killing us.

And the list goes on.

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.