Money, Money, Money: Putting the Creative Team Together
Soon after the show opened in London, several companies expressed interest in making the musical Mamma Mia! into a film. Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s company, Playtone, would ultimately become Littlestar’s (Judy Craymer’s company) producing partner for the film. Executive producer Hanks recalls of seeing the show: “By the twelfth minute, I was standing up singing along with the music.”
But Craymer was in no hurry to translate the musical into a musical romantic comedy for the screen. “Mamma Mia! begged to be a movie,” she said, “but first, I had to get the shows to the point where it was appropriate to make that transition.” There was still much of a journey for Mamma Mia! on the stage, and the team needed to focus on the show and new openings internationally.
In 2003, after Mamma Mia! had opened across Europe, America, Australia and Asia, Craymer felt the time was right to adapt it for the screen. She contacted Gary Goetzman at Playtone again and asked if they would be interested in partnering to produce the film. Happily, Playtone was, and a deal was made.
Provides producer Goetzman: “The most important factor in translating Mamma Mia! to film was to capture the tone, energy and spirit it has on stage. We knew if we could do that, we would make a great movie.” For Goetzman and Craymer, that meant keeping as much of the original formula as possible. He continues, “Our job would be to merely translate what they’d envisioned onto the screen, and it has been seamless.”
From the beginning of the project, he believed that the film could intensify the enormous fun and enjoyment that the show had already established. Goetzman offers, “With film, you can get closer to the characters and focus the audience on what you want them to see. You can enhance the brilliant elements of the play that people all over the world have loved for years.”
Lloyd and Johnson were more than ready to join them in the task. Says Lloyd, “Mamma Mia! was always a movie. It’s set on location on a magical island. In many ways, it was bursting to get off the stage and into the cinema. It has just leapt out.”
For her part, Johnson was up for the challenge of adapting her stage play into a screenplay. “It was an opportunity for me to further explore the emotional core of the story,” she explains. “On stage, if there was a dance number, I could just write ‘dance number;’ that was it. On screen, I had to actually write in the whole sequence of what happened within that scene and keep the narrative going. So, it’s actually about twice the amount of work I’ve had to do before.”
The challenges of expanding a stage play into a musical romantic comedy was
not lost on Johnson. For example, the filmed Mamma Mia! allowed her to take the “Dancing Queen” sequence out of the bedroom stage setup and bring a troupe of women down to the harbour dock. Relates the writer, “We are able to start in one small space and take the scene off to a much larger location.”
Adds Craymer of the potential: “We also show how all the characters get to the island. In the stage, you’re very restricted, whereas in the film, we could follow the journey of how the three possible fathers arrive on the island.”
Shooting her musical film at Pinewood Studios in London on the huge 007 stage and on location in Greece was liberating for the director. In order to further explore the use of space on film, Lloyd actually pre-shot the film with previous cast members from the stage production. “It was really for me to work out certain things about structures of songs and whether the stage choreography really needed to be completely reinvented or thrown out. At the essence of it was getting a camera in my hand and figuring out [when the song tracks came on] when the camera moved and when it didn’t.
“I was determined that the camera language was going to be different for every song,” Lloyd continues, “not just for the sake of it, but so that it would do something different to the audience—according to what the plot required at the moment. I wanted to get inside the scenes, because I’d always been outside them in the theatre. I parked myself right in the middle of a piece, like “Voulez-Vous,” and presented Sophie’s point-of-view with my camera.”
For producer Craymer, it was an exciting prospect to increase the scale of the show, both visually and thematically, with the continued help of the men behind ABBA. “The involvement of Benny and Björn continued to be crucial,” says Craymer. “To have them working in a hands-on way, reworking the music and recording with the actors was an incredibly exciting prospect for us.”
“It has been tremendously joyful, especially collaborating with the actors who have been so incredibly well prepared. It’s a totally uplifting experience,” says Andersson.
Adds professional partner Ulvaeus, “We have had so much fun. The actors have been delivering exactly what is needed. It’s been wonderful.”
Craymer and Goetzman would only agree to the musical film if the core group that achieved success with the stage musical stayed together. Craymer reflects, “There is something we can’t quite put our finger on that we call the ‘essence of Mamma Mia!,’ or ‘the Mamma Mia! factor,’ and we have developed a shorthand between us that was necessary to take Mamma Mia! from the stage to the screen.”
Also bringing their enthusiasm and perspectives—and a much-needed understanding of “the Mamma Mia! factor”—are director of photography Haris Zambarloukos, production designer Maria Djurkovic, costume designer Ann Roth and makeup designer TINA EARNSHAW, whose combined talents and shared vision have created the film’s signature look. Says Lloyd, “We’ve always looked to build teams of people whom we’d want to be on holiday with. When you’re working as fast as this and under such stress, you have to be around people you like.”