ABBA documentaries - the details

Published November 30, 2012


HOW THE DOCUMENTARY PROJECT STARTED

As someone who has been interviewed about ABBA in television documentaries, programme segments and news reports on a fairly regular basis, I’ve always thought it was strange that documentary crews from all over the world travelled to Sweden to interview me and others connected with the band, yet in ABBA’s home-country no full-scale programmes about the group have been produced for at least two decades. After being interviewed so much myself, and sometimes having been a little disappointed by the programmes I was featured in, I felt that I could probably play a part in making ABBA films that were more ambitious.

I had a couple of ideas for programmes, one of which focused on ‘Dancing Queen’ – how the song was written, recorded and its impact on the world. Since this was ABBA’s most famous song, I thought it could be a good showcase for a film about their musical creativity in general. The other idea was to do a film based on ABBA as a visual phenomenon: the costumes, the album sleeves, the promo clips, the famous logo, and so on. The costumes are some of the most recognisable signifiers in the general public’s perception of the group, and the subject itself – the visual aspect of ABBA – seemed a natural fit for a film, it being a visual medium. But how to go about it? Who to work with?

I knew Swedish radio personality and reporter Viktor Petrovski a bit (he had interviewed me a couple of times, and we worked together on the ABBA segments in Sirius Satellite Radio’s Nordic Rox shows a few years ago), and we got to talking about doing an ABBA television programme. Viktor told me that he and director of photography/editor/producer Roger Backlund, a long-time veteran of the television business, had formed a production company called Happy Monday Media and that an ABBA project might be something they would want to work with. At this stage the intention was to do one film only.

We started preparatory work on the project in 2009, at which time someone at a Swedish television channel suggested that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just one of my concepts, but to add another theme and make three films. Roger Backlund had the idea that the third subject could be the pre-ABBA history, i.e. everything that happened before the four members became an international act through the Eurovision Song Contest victory with ‘Waterloo’. It was also decided to expand the scope of the ‘Dancing Queen’ film by adding a second theme to that production, telling the tale of ABBA’s success story with a particular focus on the Australian Abbamania. So with the programme about the visual aspect added, we had three prospective films on our hands.


MAKING THE FILMS

Due to other projects we’ve all been working on separately and together during the production (Roger and I put together the Somewhere In The Crowd There's You featurette for the Super Trouper Deluxe Edition DVD), and also due to the sheer scope of the project, it’s taken our very small team several years to complete the films. We started filming in June 2009, but the films weren't completed until December 2012.

We’ve filmed on location in various Swedish cities, as well as in London, Sydney and Melbourne. We’ve interviewed more than 30 people for the films. We’ve scoured private and public archives to find images and documentation that are previously unseen (or at least rarely seen) by the general public (if not the small core of die-hard fans who've already seen and heard everything). And we’ve worked hard to come up with interesting stories that haven’t been told in ABBA television documentaries before. That, for me, was the main point of the project: to avoid the usual A–Z telling of the ABBA story, but to focus on certain aspects, and yet make films that were accessible and entertaining.

From a creative point-of-view it’s been an interesting meeting between me, as a writer and researcher, and the world of television programme production, as represented by Roger Backlund and Viktor Petrovski and their special skills (I should also mention our graphic designer, Gitte Östling, who has come up with fantastic solutions to make the programmes visually arresting). I have certainly learned a lot about making television documentaries throughout this long and sometimes arduous process.

Without banging my own drum, or those of my co-producers, too loudly, I have to say that I feel that it’s been worth the long haul and that we’ve produced three entertaining ABBA documentaries. I’m very proud of the films, and if you watch them, I hope you will enjoy them too.