The Emirates in 1976 – doing the deal
In the Autumn of 1976, Yasar Durra, our Middle East Representative at UPITN, obtained a commission from the United Arab Emirates to produce three films. One was on the Villages that had been built to house their Bedouin people. This was an attempt to deter them from moving into the towns which were booming with the growth of the oil industry. Sheikh Zayed did not want the untrained, and, at that time probably uneducated, Bedouin doing menial jobs in the new industries.
The second was about the process of re-afforestation. An English company, based in Kidderminster, was part of a wider programme of planting trees and shrubs in the desert to form wind breaks and prepare ground for agricultural. Finally, a one hour film on the Emirates itself.
I drove up to Kidderminster to meet Les Bailey who was the managing director of Blakedown Landscapes (Overseas) Ltd. He had obtained a long contract to plant thousands of trees in the deserts of Abu Dhabi. He gave me a full run-down on his plans and we arranged to meet in Abu Dhabi to visit, and shoot, at his various sites.
The Emirates, at one time, had a curious way of doing business. It may have started with their former leader Sheik Shakhbut who had been Ruler of the Abu Dhabi territory since 1928 and who was the leader when oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi and they suddenly became rich. It was said that he insisted in doing business in cash. If he did business with the British he wanted Sterling, with the Germans he got Marks and Dollars from the Americans. Mostly, it was also said, he kept this money in trunks under his bed. It attracted mice who managed to eat a good deal of it. I have always taken this anecdote with a pinch of salt, since, unless the trunks were made of some material that a mouse could chew through, how did they get to the money ? What is true is that Shakput was rather careless with the money and had no proper accounting method. He would be prey to unscrupulous traders.
In 1966, he was deposed by his younger brother Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al Nahiyan.
Sheik Zayed changed everything, but, some of his acolytes went on as before.
It went like this. Yasar, our Middle East Representative, would meet a man from the Ministry. The first words would be that of Yasar who would offer to make a film for the U.A.E. Ministry Man would then give a figure that he was prepared to pay, say $150,000. This would bear no relationship to anything, neither a budget nor an estimate of costs of a particular production.
Then he would ask Yasar what he would be getting for that money. Yasar would respond that we could make a film about the U.A.E. Ministry man would say, ”I want three films”.
Yasar would say “On what subjects”. Ministry Man would say, “I don’t know …. What about a film about planting trees in the desert and, oh yes, the new Bedouin Villages and, of course, a film about the U.A.E.”.
Eventually, they would arrive at an agreement. Ministry Man would be left to draw up a contract. The system never changed in my time, they would always start with the money available and then work out what was to be done for it. Of course, Ministry Man was expecting to get some of it by way of commission, but more on that in future articles.