Following several weeks of music and vocal recordings, six weeks of combined costume fittings, makeup tests and dance rehearsals, the Mamma Mia! shoot began on the newly refurbished 007 Stage at Pinewood in June 2007. The lavish composite set, designed by production designer Maria Djurkovic, gave the filmmakers the opportunity to expand the work that Craymer, Lloyd and Johnson had achieved on stage.
Djurkovic relied on the script as her starting point, and not necessarily the show. “On stage, you’re creating much more of a fantasy,” she explains. The designer exercised artistic license to make this musical world a believable one. “On film,” she continues, “while it was important to maintain a certain theatricality, I had to create a world that was utterly believable and credible.”
It was a daunting task to build a mini village, while keeping in mind that the set would have to integrate credibly with each aspect of the Greek isle’s location shoot, but Djurkovic rose to the challenge. She provides: “The trick to making this work is that it should be visually joyous…it’s a musical. The spiritual bit is happy and joyous and slightly frivolous. But at the same time, the audience has to believe what’s happening.”
Adds producer Goetzman: “Part of the translation of taking stage to film is in the design. We had to figure out how to take the stage set (which spun on a turntable) and turn it into a film experience. Maria did a fantastic job, and I think people will enjoy the beautiful transition to natural, yet stylized, settings.”
The location-scouting trip in Greece helped inform the style and design of Villa Donna, and both Lloyd and Djurkovic responded to the notion of the resort as a restored building. Overseeing an array of designers, carpenters, plasterers and painters, Djurkovic instilled in the team a precise attention to colour, texture and other design details.
After nine weeks of shooting on the Pinewood stages, the unit moved to Greece, where it first shot on the island of Skiathos for five days. Next, it was off to Skopelos for two weeks and, finally, to the mainland in Damouhari for five days. All locations had been determined following an extensive location scout of 21 Greek islands once the project had been green-lit.
Supported by an enthusiastic local crew, the unit faced a number of challenges, including shipping large amounts of equipment, the vagaries of weather, working at sea, a plague of wasps and accommodating a cast and crew of some 210 people on small islands. Lloyd was game for the challenges and says: “We’ve always been excited by changing what we’re doing according to the context. So it’s very much meat and drink to us to be in a more rocky place, or a wetter place and having to adapt to the terrain.”
The director, familiar with the landscape as she had backpacked across Greece when she was 17, expounds upon the challenges that come with shooting on location. While she views the islands as paradise, she says, “You have to be prepared to abandon all your best-laid plans. We fell in love with some of these locations quite a long time ago. Then, suddenly, you find that your little beach has been eaten up by surf and you’ve got to pick up sticks and dash into the woods and do something different. You just have to be absolutely prepared for anything.”
Some staggeringly beautiful locations form the backdrop for the action in Mamma Mia! The Old Port on the island of Skiathos is where Sam, Bill and Harry meet for the first time on their way to the fictional island of Kalokairi, and where Rosie and Tanya board the ferry. Skiathos, the smallest of the Sporades group of islands, is located in the north-western Aegean Sea. While the smallest, it is also the most developed island of the group, and features many fine-sand beaches, several which provided a great setting for many of the mainland scenes in the film. A hill on the east side of the island features an amazing view of the St. Nikolaos Bell Tower (of the small church of Aghios Nikolaos) where Sophie sends off her three wedding invitations to Sam, Bill and Harry.
The rugged and lush island of Skopelos, also amongst the Sporades Islands, housed the majority of the Greek film shoot. Kastani Beach, with its blue-green waters, is where Tanya performs “Does Your Mother Know,” where Sophie and Sky are serenaded by the stags in “Lay All Your Love on Me” and where Donna and the dads bid Sophie and Sky goodbye in “I Have a Dream.”
A mountainous peninsula near the rocky Glysteri Beach (on the island of Skopelos) served as the wedding departure point for Sophie. A cliff near the top of this peninsula also served as the spot where Sophie, Bill, Harry and Sam sang portions of “Our Last Summer,” before they jumped off the rocks into the clear waters.
In a bit of movie magic, Pinewood and Greece were once again blended seamlessly. The number “Dancing Queen” starts in Donna’s bedroom and opens out into the courtyard (both sets at Pinewood), then expands into the space “outside” the Villa Donna (above Glysteri Beach). The sequence progresses into the village—through an olive grove, down steps into the harbour and along the jetty. Those scenes were shot in the romantic hamlet of Damouhari in the Mouresi area along the eastern Pelion coast of mainland Greece.
The wedding party arrives at the top of a mountainous peninsula (about an hour from Skopelos town), where Donna sings “The Winner Takes It All” to Sam. Sky and Sophie’s wedding chapel (matched at Pinewood) was located at the top of a 100-meter rock formation that juts out into the sea alongside here. It was crafted on the site of the monastery of Agios Ioannis Prodromos, near the town of Glossa. The original chapel was said to have 105 carved steps leading to the entrance, and the “rebuilt” chapel added flambeaus lighting the pathway up to the entrance.
Says Goetzman of shooting a musical romantic comedy in these lush locales: “You can’t help but move and stomp your feet while filming these songs. All that quiet reverence cast and crew normally have by camera is out the window—everyone’s rocking; everyone’s having fun.”