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 Instead, I got the list they used to buy it — a list that had been confirmed to be out-of-date weeks earlier; a list that did not list all the individual components needed because it was based upon detailed conversations between the Construction Dept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

The Cardboard Box Story


Last week, Bob went out to find cardboard boxes to pack up the Art Dept for the move to Qatar. He found around thirty boxes for $14 JOD. He sent this information to Ibrahim.

Ibrahim then emailed Bob telling him that before ATP bought the cardboard boxes, Bob had to go back to the supplier, photograph the boxes, email the photos to Procurement, then await permission to buy them assuming ATP did not find a better deal.

So Bob left again to do this. He measured the boxes. Photographed them. Then emailed the measurements and photos to ATP. He wasted a whole day on this. 

A week later, and Bob has now been told he can go get the boxes. We now have them.

Good news is, ATP got a discount. About £2 JODs.

Bad news is, if you factor in the amount of Bob’s time ATP wasted, plus that of their own Procurement team, Bob and I reckon the $2 JOD saving they made must have cost the investors over $400 JOD in wasted man-time.

Priceless.


UPDATE – May 19th, 2016

More recently, there was the story of the workbench that should normally cost about $200. But which, due to ATP’s behaviour, ended up costing $50,000. This will be detailed in a blog entry in a few weeks.

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 – Part 2


I went down to breakfast today and bumped into Dominic Smithers, Ray, Terry and Andy. They told me that Simon and Chris had been in the lobby last night and Simon said that Talal had called him and told him we are definitely relocating to Doha. And that we are doing so ASAP.

I had a long chat with Andy who wondered, like me, if ATP might insist we sign the contract before leaving. So I texted Chris and asked him to send me his BBC contracts (which he had previously offered to do) and his revised ATP contract (if he has it). Chris texted me saying he’d sort that out. He then called saying I should suggest to everyone that they make a list of their ‘demands’ tomorrow. Things like higher per diems. Five day weeks during prep. Proper transport around Qatar. Paid holidays and flights. Basically, all the stuff any normal production company would have already given us.

So tomorrow we will be listing our collective requirements, possibly revising the contract accordingly, and – well, that’s it.

Of course, Qatar costs a LOT more than Jordan. If the Studio really wants it shot there, they need to spend a LOT more money. But there’s the slightly sticky problem of that contract ATP signed where they promised to deliver for about $40 million regardless of where they shoot. So we may be back here in a month when they realise there is no way they can shoot it there for the budget they have.

Unless of course, they realise that giving more money to ATG is just throwing money down the toilet.

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