Monday, November 3, 2008

Money, money, money? No thanks, say Mamma Mia! trio - Richard Brooks, Arts Editor

Money, money, money? No thanks, say Mamma Mia! trio

Judy Craymer, theatre producer and creator of Mamma Mia musical

Judy Craymer, the producer who owns the rights, nurtured the idea of turning Abba?s songs into a musical for 15 years before it opened in 1999

Gimme, gimme, gimme . . . another Abba film.

The studio that made Mamma Mia!, the escapist, recession-defying cinema hit, wants to exploit its success with a follow-up. The three women who created it, however, are unenthusiastic, worried that the integrity of the original will be lost.

Judy Craymer, the producer who owns the rights, is estimated to have earned £90m from the film and West End stage show.

She and her two collaborators – Phyllida Lloyd, the director, and Catherine Johnson, the writer – have no financial need to permit a new film and are keen to protect their creation. "The history of sequels is littered with corpses," said Lloyd. "Also I have this fear that a sequel or whatever, would be done just for financial reasons when it's the creative point of view which should be paramount."

Last week Mamma Mia!, which has taken £67m since it was released in July, became the highest-gross-ing British-made film at the UK box office. Within the next three weeks it is almost certain to become the biggest earner of all time in Britain, overtaking Titanic, which opened in 1997 and took just over £69m.

Despite the sniffy reviews, audiences have enjoyed Mamma Mia's escapist setting on a Greek island in the sun and its much-loved songs by the 1970s Swedish band Abba.

"The economic gloom has to be a factor for some people going to get away from all the bad news," said David Kosse, president of Universal Pictures International, which distributed the film.

The studio now wants to capital-ise on the success of the £30m film, whose stars include Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Julie Walters. "That could be a sequel, a prequel or simply spin-offs," said Kosse. "When you have a film of this size you want to exploit the franchise."

Craymer nurtured the idea of turning Abba's songs into a musical for 15 years before it opened in 1999.

Johnson, once an impoverished writer and single mother, described herself as "skint" when she first wrote the words for the musical a decade ago. She has now pocketed about £25m. Lloyd is best known as a director of operas and plays. Her award-winning version of Mary Stuart, written by Friedrich Schiller, is about to open on Broadway.

— The latest James Bond film has taken a record £4.9m at the box office on its opening day in Britain. The takings for Quantum of Solace, starring Daniel Craig, beat the previous record of £4m, which was set by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

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