In the meantime, after a lot of disappointments chasing finance for “The Thief”, I was contacted one day by an Arab guy for whom I’d produced a film title sequence. Having seen some spectacular Islamic style inspirational paintings by Errol le Cain in my office – he introduced me to Prince Mohammed Faisal of Saudi Arabia. His Highness appeared very interested in promoting Islamic culture, especially with moral tales, so I encouraged him further to meet with Dick. This would seem to be the opportunity of a lifetime – without any obvious strings attached. A meeting was arranged in Geneva – and with Dick on his best behaviour The Prince agreed to provide all the finance. I requested a ‘honeymoon’ period whereby the Studio would first receive a substantial proportion of the budget to finish up a 10 minute section. My main reason for requesting this was to test the forthcoming relationship with our sponsor to see whether there was any danger of any unwanted interference that usually develops from someone providing such a large sum of money. The Prince had not even read the script – and had no idea which section would be selected for the 10 minute test - but I believe that he was expecting to see animation based upon the Errol le Cain inspirational paintings which I’d shown him at previous meetings.
After the Geneva meeting it took a very long time to draw up a satisfactory contract due to our respective lawyers wishing to cover so many issues. The Prince had instructed Farrer & Co. as his lawyers (incidentally, they are also our Queen’s) and after many months of wrangling I was advised that the Prince was becoming very frustrated and would I be prepared to deal directly with his lawyer on a one to one basis. Apparently, he trusted me totally and felt that I would always act completely fairly with any deal with him. From then on the contract was quickly prepared – but one issue became a problem. It was always agreed that we would split all the profits from the film’s distribution, right down the middle – but as a gesture of goodwill I had verbally promised the Prince that he could have sole Middle Eastern rights. Unfortunately, this was misinterpreted as all Islamic rights – which I couldn’t agree to as it involved 44 countries worldwide. At the eleventh hour, just prior to me flying to Paris to finally meet with the Prince at his splendid house on the island just by the Notre Dames, I was told that by not agreeing this could jeopardise the signing of the contract. Anyway, I sat with the Prince in his glorious drawing room going over the various amendments in the 30 page contract – and everything was going beautifully until we came to the list of countries specified to be under his control. I could feel the anger building when he saw that I had deleted all those geographically not part of the Middle East. A really long silence followed – and I feared that this could be the end of the road. Then I remembered from previous conversations that he had a particular affinity with Pakistan and had invested a great deal of money there in educational programmes etc.. I broke the silence eventually by agreeing that I would consent only to Pakistan being added to the list. This did the trick - as his hand came up to meet mine and we shook hands. He immediately signed the contract - which allowed us both to withdraw after the ‘honeymoon’ period should either of us for any reason decide not to go ahead. The Prince would be entitled to 5% of the net profits in return for his contribution should this happen. Despite having more than enough impressive material already thoroughly line-tested and ready to go into production, Dick chose the immensely complex and costly War Machine sequence for this crucial test period.
Then, surprisingly true to form, at the end of the agreed 44 week completion schedule, Dick and Roy Naisbitt and crew were still re-animating. In my opinion this was grossly irresponsible when so much rested on the trust that I’d personally established with the Prince. As a consequence, the money was soon exhausted – and the schedule extended beyond reason. Dick kept making excuses and pleaded for me to get more time – which I did of course. But the Prince’s accountants became more and more concerned despite the Studio secretly subsidising the finishing by producing an even greater volume of commercials made possible by using the best freelancers in town.
Eventually, on completion the Prince came to London with his family (plus entourage) to view the ‘masterpiece’. I’m sure he was expecting to see some evidence of Islamic art in the animation but instead he was well and truly entertained by an awe inspiring F/X heavy action sequence – although by this time I realised that the damage had already been done. Very reluctantly I decided that I’d had enough. Dick was obviously incapable of ever finishing anything on time and on budget. So, the following day I announced that I wanted to leave – and then came the bombshell. A letter from the Prince’s lawyers withdrawing from the deal. The honeymoon was over! Another golden opportunity lost. Despite Dick’s pleading, I left the studio after a most extraordinary 10 year period of my life which I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Not only was it a unique education in human psychology – I’d also got to work alongside a real genius - and contribute towards a piece of animation history.
There are so many tales to tell – I could write a book about those truly memorable years.
London 28th January 2008