LONDON, OCTOBER 1997. “Stefan, it’s Peter. I might have a job for you. We booked Walter Taggart. He makes films for banks. Has a Ph.D. in banking. Knows the banker-speak. Anyhow, Wally’s gone and we don’t know where he is. Our office in Riyadh is going nuts. Ever made a bank film?”
“I made a film about Warwick University which was sponsored by Barclays Bank.”
“Great. You’re our new director. Fly to Saudi on Friday. Meet the people, do site surveys, write the script.”
IF IT’S FRIDAY, IT MUST BE SAUDI ARABIA.
“Give me your camera and passport.”
Dazed and confused, I do as asked and follow him.
“I am Sadiq. Welcome to Saudi. Tonight, we celebrate.”
It’s after midnight Saudi time. No idea what it is my time. We are in a small Greek restaurant in Riyadh, drinking non-alcoholic wine. Sadiq tells about his travels in Europe, the beautiful lady he fell in love with in Italy…
Pleeease, give me back my passport and take me to the hotel.
MONDAY. I’m in the bank’s headquarters being introduced to one banker after the other. As they are all wearing dishdasha robes, it’s hard to remember who’s who. I get on well with a young Saudi who went to a university in California. He takes me into a boardroom.
“Where’s Wally?” he asks.
“I don’t know, he’s vanished.”
“They like you but were expecting Walter. Watch this.”
He dims the lights and presses a few buttons. Curtains part and I’m watching a movie.
“Wally made this?”
“Yes. Tell me what you think.”
OMG, it’s awful. Static tripod shots with slow pans. Looks like 35mm film. The interiors are overlit. Even worse, the commentary sounds like James A. FitzPatrick.
“I’ve got be honest. It’s very old-fashioned. A corporate video isn’t like a travelogue. You have an important message to tell and you need to do that in a modern way.”
“That’s exactly what I think. Let’s do this together! I’m excited!”
He’s excited. I’m excited. These banking people in Saudi have a ton of money. It’s my chance to do something really good — and he likes me.
WEDNESDAY. Sadiq has organized a reception for me. I’m introduced as a creative genius who has won numerous awards and worked for top companies, including the BBC, IBM, BP, etc. I make a speech saying how pleased I am to be in Riyadh. Sadiq says it’s a big success. They like me. There will be lots of work.
THURSDAY. A long drive to a new city being built. Cranes everywhere. I meet the developers. They want videos of the shopping mall, offices and houses.
FRIDAY. Saudi Arabia has the biggest dairy in the world. I arrive at midnight. Up with the cows in the morning. I meet the owner. He needs videos about the dairy and their milk products
MONDAY. I’m at a palace up for sale. Incredible! Huge underground swimming pool and outdoor air-conditioning. Asking price: a mere $10 million. Yep, they need a video!
WEDNESDAY. Back at the bank. They love my script and now want ANOTHER VIDEO! This one’s about the Millennium Bug.
FRIDAY. I fly back to London with over $1 million of future productions. The first shoot for the bank is planned for next month. But there’s a problem: the contract isn’t signed. I’ve booked a crew and now, nothing.
JANUARY 1998. Sadiq turns up in London. He’s wearing a business suit. I hardly recognize him.
“Good news,” he says. “The contract is signed. We’re shooting next week.”
“I can’t. I’m doing the ICI World Conference and can’t leave next week!”
“YOU WILL NEVER WORK IN SAUDI AGAIN!” he screams at me.
A day later, there’s a knock on my door. “I’m Walter Taggart,” he says. “I’ve come to pick up your script.”
Saudi wants my script but not me.
“Wally! Do you want my DV tapes?”
“DV?! We’re shooting 35mm film.”
Sadiq’s right. I never will work in Saudi again. Poof goes $1,000,000.
Funny, I thought they liked me.