Exclusive: Director Ryan Coogler Talks “Creed”

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Exclusive: Director Ryan Coogler Talks “Creed”
Posted by Wilson Morales

November 24, 2015

Creed Poster

Coming out this week (Nov. 25) is the Rocky spinoff film Creed, directed by Fruitvale Station’s Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone.

Adonis Johnson (Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Still, there’s no denying that boxing is in his blood, so Adonis heads to Philadelphia, the site of Apollo Creed’s legendary match with a tough upstart named Rocky Balboa.

Once in the City of Brotherly Love, Adonis tracks Rocky (Stallone) down and asks him to be his trainer. Despite his insistence that he is out of the fight game for good, Rocky sees in Adonis the strength and determination he had known in Apollo—the fierce rival who became his closest friend. Agreeing to take him on, Rocky trains the young fighter, even as the former champ is battling an opponent more deadly than any he faced in the ring.

Ryan Coogler 3

With Rocky in his corner, it isn’t long before Adonis gets his own shot at the title…but can he develop not only the drive but also the heart of a true fighter, in time to get into the ring?

For director Ryan Coogler, who first gained attention when his first feature, Fruitvale Station, won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, this is a major step in his early career. Not only is his working on his second feature, but first for a Hollywood studio, but he’s get to continue a franchise that has spanned over 40 years and started by a living legend – Slyvester Stallone.

Coogler also gets to work with his team from his previous film including star Michael B. Jordan and composer Ludgwig Ludwig Göransson.

Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Coogler on the making of Creed and collaborating with Stallone and Jordan.

Creed 8 Ryan Director Ryan Coogler, Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan

Having read that you started writing this when you were in film school, did you based Creed on all of the last Rocky film or all of them?

Ryan Coogler: Yeah. I kept all of the movie in mind because I’m a fan of the movies and a fan of the character. It was inspired by my relationship with my dad. Specifically, my dad had got sick and that’s what gave me the idea to this approach. It’s based on all of the Rocky films and what happened in those films as far as Rocky Balboa’s character is concerned and Apollo Creed and taking all that into consideration. It’s also based on a new character to that universe. As a result the relationship that that character has with Rocky Balboa and other folks in his life.

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Why adapt the Rocky films?

RC: My father was a big time Rocky fan. He used that movie as motivation for me and my brother when we had football games and basketball games. Any kind of event that we had coming up, we would sit down and watch Rocky II together because that was his favorite one. We would get fired up when the boxset would come out or DVDs. It became symbolic of my relationship with him. I didn’t know at the time, but it was a tradition that he would watch Rocky II with his mom when she was bedridden and dying of breast cancer. She passed away when he was 18 years old, so when he would watch the film with me, his emotional reaction would be him remembering his mom. When my father got sick when I was in graduate school, I came up with this idea to tell this story. That’s how I came to this project.

Creed 7 Ryan Director Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan

Was Michael B. Jordan always your first choice?

RC: I came up with the idea when I was in college and when I started to put pen and paper, it was right around the time I was doing ‘Fruitvale’ and then afterwards. I wrote the treatment after making Fruitvale, and I started writing the script with my buddy Aaron Covington. By the time I was putting words to the page, I had finished Fruitvale and I knew that Michael was right for the part. Even before I pitched it, I had Mike in mind.

How do you think you have grown as a director after this film?

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RC: I’ve grown tremendously. I’m getting older and had the opportunity to learn more things about myself as an artist and just having more time. This movie came with a larger budget and with that larger budget, more days to shoot and more tools at our disposal; and having the chance to work with Michael again and work with Sly. He’s so experienced and have me the chance to work with a studio. That’s a big deal. Fruitvale was an independent film. It went the indie route from Sundance to being acquired. Then working with The Weinstein Co. on picking a release date. This film had a different process. It had a release date from the moment it was greenlit. It was a different ballgame so I learned a lot.

Creed - Ryan and Ludwig 2

Everyone remembers Bill Conti’s score from the Rocky films. What did you want to do to have your own flavor?

RC: Well, Ludwig Goranson is the composer I have been working with since film school and he’s an incredible musician and composer and artist. What we did on this is the same way I approached Fruitvale. Ludwig is one of the first people to get the script before I share it with a lot of people. He starts developing the music within the first waves of email exchanges. We were talking about the music before I filmed anything or cast actors. We were talking about how to approach the music and that process has paid off for us. This film allowed us to give Adonis a theme and adapting Bill Conti’s theme and how it applies to us. I think he hit the nail in the head with the approach.

Can you talk working on the song you co-wrote with Ludwig and Donald Glover?

Donald Glover and Ludwig Goransson

RC: Music is a big part of the franchise and a big part of the story. With Tessa Thompson’s character being a main part of the film, she and Ludwig and a few other artists worked on original songs for her. She performed them herself. Ludwig has a long standing relationship with Donald Glover. Ludwig produces music for Childish Gambino, Donald’s moniker, and they have a close relationship. Ludwig, Donald and Jhenl is a vocalist on that song. We wrote that theme “Waiting for my moment” together and that has Vince Staples on it as well. That’s the song that plays over the end credits. It’s a really cool song. It captures the mentality of the film.

Creed Premiere - Carl Weathers, Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan

Had you met Carl Weathers before?

RC: I have. When Michael and I were promoting Fruitvale, we met him at a DGA screening. We didn’t talk about the project but talked about other stuff. Then we talked and emailed quite a bit as I was developing the script.

Of all the Rocky movies, which one is your favorite?

RC: I would have to say Rocky I. Rocky II was my dad’s favorite so that has a special place in my heart. It was the first one Sly directed. It was the first one to adopt Sly’s fight choreography, which is really cool. It’s got Sly’s directorial style all over it and it’s also part of that 70’s genre.

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What was left out the film?

RC: The initial script was completely different but the soul of the movie is the same. There was a lot of backstory that we cut out and trimmed. My first draft are genuinely long. A lot of Los Angeles was left out. Adonis had more fights. He had a longer way to go. The characters from Los Angeles came back in the mix. We streamlined it.

How was shooting in Philadelphia?

Creed Premiere - Ryan Coogler, Tessa Thompson, Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan

RC: I’m in love with this city. The first time I came out here was a recruiting visit to the University of Pennsylvania. I was being recruited by their football team when I was in high school. I came out here when I was 16 years old and spent time in the city and immediately fell in love. I thought I was going to go to school but that ended up not working out but it was really cool to come back and work as a professional and get a feel for the industry and the environment. I found it to be a beautiful city and it’s rich in history and culture. Everyone out here is very humble and very tough and I tried to capture that in the characters like in Bianca and some of the fighters that Adonis meets.

Could there be a sequel in the works should the film do well at the box office?

RC: My game was always to make the best film possible. It came from a singular moment in my life when my dad got sick. I had such in this city and with these actors in building these characters that if we had the opportunity to work again, I would obviously be thrilled. We put out hearts and souls into this project and I think it works.

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