As critiqued by the Evening Standard: “Euphoria! Tears! Fernando! Dagnabit. This film will leave you high and wet.”
By Sophie Small
If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not have heard about the latest and greatest Abba-induced sequel, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. As critiqued by the Evening Standard: “Euphoria! Tears! Fernando! Dagnabit. This film will leave you high and wet”. We celebrate music supervision in all forms of the role. However, it would be wrong not to acknowledge projects where the music is the epicentre of the project. The primary role of supervision is to enhance visual media with music. But the projects where the visual media is built around the music itself are one of the most impressive forms of the craft.
Hot House Music’sBecky Bentham, is no stranger to taking on the challenge of films based on iconic soundtracks – the iconic Les Misérables and upcoming Bohemian Rhapsody to name a few. Having also worked on the original Mamma Mia despite a change in director, Becky was back in full force to create a new ‘Super Trouper’ soundtrack along with all the pressures that come with it. We had a chat about some of the processes that she has to go through as a supervisor and with this project in particular.
You worked on the first film which had a huge reception. How was it working on the original project and how did you feel when you found out about the sequel taking place?
It was really great fun working on the first project. We had a brilliant cast who were all in awe of Benny and Björn and even the biggest names felt pretty intimidated coming face to face with them in the studio and were required to sing. We recorded the rhythm section in Stockholm with the original band members which was very memorable. The first project was a guaranteed success and everyone enjoyed the ride.
The second film has come about after a decade but production kicked off with a short time-frame from development to shooting, so after all that time we hit the ground running. Everyone was keen to know that the original Mamma Mia cast were secured, then we worked on fixing the younger cast and of course the star turn which turned out to be Cher! As often happens with a sequel there were questions about the potential of success compared to the first film, especially as some of the lesser known songs were being included alongside the hits but Benny and Björn have a superb talent for creating earworms and we were soon to realise that this one too had success written all over it
Do you have a normal routine or process before you start thinking about the music for a film?
The routine is usually reading the script and creating a music breakdown before meeting with the creatives and discussing their intentions. Then it’s a case of going away and working out how to piece the whole thing together. In the case of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again I had to familiarise myself with some of the lesser known songs in the knowledge we would strip everything back and start from scratch in building and recording the songs specifically for the film as we had with the first one.
You mentioned Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and there involvement with the project. How was working with them? How involved were they in the process?
Benny and Björn are brilliant in every way. Benny writes the music and Björn the lyrics so I worked more closely with Benny, who is a genius and was involved every day and every step of the way on the first film and on this one. Björn would be asked on occasion to change some song lyrics to fit the story and would always turn that around to everyone’s satisfaction in minimum amount of time. Benny played piano on all the songs and produced every single session and they both attended the vocal recordings. We recorded the band in Stockholm again this time at Benny’s fabulous studio which was a real treat. I can’t speak highly enough of them.
How much of your role involves working with the actors on the re-recordings of the tracks and what’s that like as a process?
That is a big part of the role leading up to the shoot. The amount of work needed to prepare actors for recording is really down the their ability and the amount they have to sing. They all worked intensively with vocal coaches on the first film but this one seemed to require less of that. We had to prepare and send them piano vocal scores for prep, then they worked with our Musical Director to learn the songs and how they should be sung. After that the rehearsals started with a pianist accompanying the actors while we recorded the tracks in the studio, then we recorded their vocals which were comped and tracks were mixed to create a master of each performance. It’s after all of this is done that they’re fed into rehearsals for playback and then on to set.
You’re no stranger to working on films where people are anticipating the musical direction. What’s it like working creatively on something where there’s an expectation with the soundtrack and the way their favourite track might be used?
I think there is a general desire from the audience for better known tracks like ‘Dancing Queen’ to be recreated n a way that is familiar to them. In the case of ‘Mamma Mia’ the song starts with Lily James singing accapella which adds some interest and is possibly unexpected but then it grows into the bigger version that everyone knows so nobody is disappointed.
A lot of the ‘classics’ were played in the first film, how did that effect how you worked this time round?
The classics had to reappear in the second film as there is an audience expectation when it comes to Abba. Some of the lesser known songs were used this time too which created a good balance and they work really well. ‘My Love My Life’ for example is a really beautiful song which may not be known to a wider audience, so we were able to work with that as there wasn’t any expectation and therefore the potential to be more experimental with performances was greater, but Benny would always ensure we remained generally true to the original.
You worked with composer, Anne Dudley this time round on the scoring as well who’s no stranger to composition. Are you guys a regular partnership? How was she to work with?
Anne Dudley is a real pleasure to work with, I have known her as a Composer for years and it was when we were looking for a composer on Les Mis that I suggested her, since the role wasn’t as straightforward as scoring a regular picture and requires a certain skillset which she possesses. So, although we don’t have a regular arrangement, part of my job is to place the right people in the right roles, so she was top of my list when faced with the same requirement on Mamma Mia, in that she is equally as able to write original material as working song interpolations into the piece and she manages to pull it off brilliantly each time. We recorded the score at Air Lyndhurst along with orchestra on the songs and she and Benny had a great time working together.
Any particularly tough clearance stories or decisions?
The song catalogue for use in the film is cleared up front so while that negotiation takes a while it’s kind of done before we start so it’s then just a case of policing that uses fall within the agreement. A bigger challenge on something of this nature can be negotiating artist soundtrack royalties.
Do you have a favourite moment from the project without spilling any beans for people who haven’t watched it?
It has to be watching Cher on set performing her track!
If you haven’t already, you can see Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again in cinemas around the UK now.