The Music Of 'Creed' Puts A Modern Character Into Rocky Balboa's World Filmmaker Ryan Coogler and composer Ludwig Goransson were planning to create an ambient, urban score, but found they couldn't get away from Bill Conti's iconic Rocky theme.
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The Music Of 'Creed' Puts A Modern Character Into Rocky Balboa's World

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The Music Of 'Creed' Puts A Modern Character Into Rocky Balboa's World

The Music Of 'Creed' Puts A Modern Character Into Rocky Balboa's World

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The movie "Creed" opens on Thanksgiving day. It is the latest chapter in the "Rocky" saga. Tim Greiving reports that as much as the filmmakers wanted to put a contemporary spin on the old story, there was one thing they couldn't forget.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: In 1976, John G. Avildsen was looking for the right music for his low-budget boxing movie. Except it wasn't a boxing movie in his mind.

JOHN G. AVILDSEN: It's a fairytale.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL CONTI SONG, "GONNA FLY NOW")

GREIVING: Fairytale or no, Avildsen spent a lot of time in the gym shooting Sylvester Stallone choreographing his boxing moves. Then Avildsen hired a little-known composer named Bill Conti to write the score.

AVILDSEN: I shot 8-millimeter movies of the rehearsal. I showed them to Bill. I slowed down the projector, and I played Beethoven's "Pastoral" behind it. And I said, look; this is a fairytale. I need big, classical-sounding music.

GREIVING: Conti's score was so good, says Avildsen, that he actually changed the way "Rocky" ended.

AVILDSEN: I've got a shot of these two people going off to a funeral. It doesn't go with this music, so let's keep to music and reshoot the end. We'll keep him in the ring. We'll have Adrian battle her way through the crowd. She comes in. They clinch. I love you; I love you, and it's over.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL CONTI SONG, "GONNA FLY NOW")

GREIVING: The score went on to transcend the film and infiltrate pop culture from marching bands to earbuds in every gym around the world. There were five direct sequels to "Rocky," and all of them incorporated those Conti themes. But when MGM tapped 29-year-old director Ryan Coogler to take up the mantle and Coogler decide to make a very contemporary film about Adonis Creed, the secret son of Rocky's old nemesis-turned-friend, the approach to music was up for grabs.

RYAN COOGLER: It was always a necessary thing for us to make this Adonis's movie and to make it something different, something that would have a millennial perspective.

GREIVING: Coogler hired his fellow millennial Ludwig Goransson to write the score. The 30-year-old Swedish composers has mostly written music for television comedies like "Community" and "New Girl." He also scored the director's debut, "Fruitvale Station," two years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FRUITVALE STATION")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Character) You three, to the wall. Get your hands out of your pockets.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As Character) You two, let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Character) Get your hands out of your pockets.

GREIVING: Initially, director and composer intended to take a similarly subtle ambient route for the music in "Creed."

LUDWIG GORANSSON: Mine and Ryan's original conversation about the score was that we didn't want to have any restraints or any limitations based off the original "Rocky" music.

GREIVING: So Goransson made a trip to Coogler's old stomping grounds in Oakland.

COOGLER: He ended up coming up to the Bay Area and spent a time in a King's Gym, which is the gym where I used to work out.

GORANSSON: And we had a whole day of boxing sessions and came up with some really amazing sound. I had my sound designer work on taking a lot of these sounds and manipulating them, and then out of those sounds, I made beats.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEED BAG TRAINING)

GORANSSON: So we took the speed bag sound, and I looped it and then took that rhythm and put a really a low 808 bass under it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREIVING: But something wasn't right.

GORANSSON: The score that I'd written was just very melodramatic and kind of sad. I was just like, I really need a better, bigger heroic theme for Creed's character.

GREIVING: Then Goransson went to see the movie "Straight Outta Compton" with Coogler.

COOGLER: I was sitting there antsy. And I'm thinking, like, Man, when are they going to play the songs? When are they going to get to this? When are they going to get to that? And when they got to the songs, I just felt myself just want to jump up in the theater and cheer, you know what I mean? And I realized - I was like, holy smokes, like, this is possibly how some people will feel, you know, when they watch our film.

GREIVING: So composer Ludwig Goransson went back into his score and starting weaving in some of Bill Conti's 40-year-old melodies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COOGLER: We needed it, but we needed it in a way that didn't take attention away from Adonis's own theme from Adonis's own story. But we knew that if we could find a way to bring it in naturally in the moments that call for it, that it wouldn't detract. I would actually help to boost and help to support. You know, always felt like the movie had to earn those Conti sounds.

GREIVING: How important are those Conti sounds? Just ask Oscar-winning director John Avildsen.

AVILDSEN: Without it, I don't think we'd be talking about "Rocky" or "Creed" or anything else.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL CONTI SONG, "GONNA FLY NOW")

AVILDSEN: Imagine the movie without that music.

GREIVING: Indeed. For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving in Los Angeles.

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