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.

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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.

The Aftermath …


A few things have happened this week. All interlinked. Some good. Sort of.

We received an email. Here it is;

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By sending this, ATG have unwittingly made life difficult for themselves. To understand why, see our response;

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In a nutshell, ATG really did not think this through. It doesn’t surprise me. As manipulative as they are, they aren’t very smart. They clearly did not realise the real meaning of what they were writing. But there was another element to the email that made ATG’s position even weaker.

SIMON NEVER AGREED TO MONTHLY PAYMENTS AND HE WAS OUTRAGED.

To explain, Simon got a call from Ibrahim the night the email was to be sent. Ibrahim told Simon about the above email and asked Simon to say that he had agreed to monthly payments so it could go in the email. Simon said absolutely not. Ibrahim said something like, “Come on Simon. Help us out here.” Simon refused. Ibrahim push the matter but Simon continued to refuse. Ibrahim then said it was too late, the email had already been sent, and laughed! Simon was furious.

So Simon then sent out an email of his own.

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After which, he started getting calls from Talal and Ibrahim giving him an earful about how it was not their fault (!), and he was just being difficult!!!

This, of course, undermined their entire email.

But this email had another unexpected benefit — it was written by Issam, a fact we all knew because Ibrahim can barely string a sentence together in English and the writing was too masculine to have been written by Jude, so when we sat down with Issam and started to ‘joke’ about who it must have been written by, as much as Issam denied it, will all knew it was true. In fact, he looked very down.

Afterwards, I learnt from a third party just how much Issam is in trouble. He is owed over $40,000 by ATG. Further, in order to live in Qatar (which he does because his wife has a job here), he required a sponsor and that sponsor is Ahmed, the series creator. As Issam’s sponsor, Ahmed can prevent Issam from leaving the country. And since Ahmed and ATG are at loggerheads, Issam is caught in an impossible position.

I now realise Issam does what he does because he has no choice. He does exactly what ATG tells him because he knows they will not pay him if he does not. Essentially, they are blackmailing him. Meantime, he has to somehow appease his sponsor, Ahmed. His situation is impossible. It reflects poorly on Ahmed that, as Issam’s sponsor, Issam should never have been out in this position in the first place. Issam is the Line Producer. He is supposed to look after the investors’ interests. But he cannot because he is paid by the production company, ATG. It is a massive conflict of interest and the Qatari’s were beyond naive to have pout Issam in this position.

On an aside, Talal arrived yesterday. Apparently, his trip was planned before Chris quit. Although he was giving Simon an earful the night before about not agreeing to lie and say he approved monthly payments, he arrived looking like a pussycat. He said nothing about ATG’s email. He spent the day sitting with us, joking, suggesting to Ahmed that we move all interior locations and sets to Pinewood (which Ahmed flatly refused), and he bought a 4G router. We all thought the router was for us because we had said the internet here was lousy. But one hour later, none of us could use it. Talal had changed the password so only he could use it! In his defence, it had stopped working because too may of us were using it, but he could have said that and maybe allowed some of us to use it. But no. He’s a bit of a coward that way.

Oh, and about the 15 1515 numberplate on his brand new Range Rover. He claimed he had never noticed what it said, and that he has had it for 16 years. I suggested he at least change it to 151515 or he might get pulled over by the police. He seemed amused, “Is ISIS? … Cool….”

FOOTNOTE ADDED APRIL 19th, 2017.

Someone recently alleged to me that the whole production of “Medinah” is a front to finance ISIS. That the money goes from a Sheikh in Qatar to an off-shore account where ATG takes a cut and the rest is funnelled by ATG onto ISIS. This is a truly scary thought. I’ve been advised not to repeat this, but it needs to be said. If that is what was/is happening (personally, I doubt it), it needs investigating. ATG really needs to be put under the microscope.

The Circle & The Square


This morning before Abdul ambushed me, the UK crew spoke about how this show would probably never happen. The problem is that both sides are guilty. The argument goes like this;

ATG: There’s not enough money. We can’t make the show.
Investors: You promised to make all 20 episodes for this amount of money. Make it happen.
ATG: There’s not enough money. We can’t make the show.
Investors: You promised to make all 20 episodes for this amount of money. Make it happen.
ATG: There’s not enough money. We can’t make the show.
Investors: You promised to make all 20 episodes for this amount of money. Make it happen.

And so on…

And so the point is that the show will never get made.

We did discuss three options however;

  1. The show is made as an ATG+ show – meaning slightly better than their usual rubbish.
  2. It never gets made.
  3. ATG spend $5-10 million on the pilot then hand the rest of the money back.

I agreed that the only logical option was option 3. At least then the investors might be so impressed they bankroll the rest of the show. The ATG get the rest of the money.

But Ahmed allegedly sees a fourth option. He apparently insists they can do it by hiring cheap labour from places like South Africa. Clearly he does not get that cheap labour is unskilled labour and filmmaking is a skilled job. Personally, I’m concerned about a Qatari talking about hiring cheap labour. Their track record for doing this is not great.

So the UK crew is right. Both sides are to blame.

But none of the above had anything to do with the alleged disappearance of the bulk of the money. That is another issue. And the fact that if this show had been placed into the hands of a real production company and shot in Jordan, it *would* have been possible for the money the show had.

For example, (and I figured this out months ago) the fortress set. Cost in UK = £35,000. Cost in Jordan = £7,000. One 1/5th the cost. If you follow that logic through to it’s natural conclusion, that means $40 million in Jordan is equivalent to $200,000 in the UK. Ten episodes of GAME OF THRONES costs £100 million. That’s £10 million each. Cost of one episode of MEDINAH as shot in Jordan equals $2 million which is equivalent to $10 million in the UK. In other words, if shot in Jordan, the cost per episode of MEDINAH was exactly the same as GAME OF THRONES. But we are not shooting in Jordan. We are shooting in Qatar. Why? Because the Qatari investors no longer trust ATG because Talal told Ahmed the fortress set was going to cost $250-500K!

So you can say that it is both sides fault, but we got here because of the kind of company ATG is and the kind of crook Talal is. If they had been a real production company, everything would be fine.

Ergo, Arab Telemedia Group has killed MEDINAH.

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.

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.