You’ve seen Creed? Great, you probably want to know more about that amazing, single shot boxing scene.
You haven’t seen Creed yet? Um, stop reading right now and come back later. Just know that the first big boxing match in the movie is phenomenal, and thanks to Buzzfeed we now know how they pulled it off.
The director, Ryan Coogler, is a former collegiate football player, and what he wanted to capture in the first fight is the moment where Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is fortunate enough to have his dreams come true (Rocky is training him, he’s about to have his first big match) but then realizes how scary it actually is now that he has to do it. As Coogler admitted, “I’ve been through that as an athlete. I’ve been through that as a filmmaker. I’ve been through those moments when you ask people to give you a shot, and then you get it, and all of a sudden, it’s like, there’s no more excuses, I’ve got my shot, and now it’s the scariest thing in the world, because if it doesn’t work out, it’s my fault. That’s what this fight was for Adonis. He finally has somebody in his corner, and all of a sudden was nervous, because he didn’t want to let them down. There’s no more excuses. If it doesn’t work, it’s on him.”
The idea to do it as a single take came from the rather specific choreography which is unique to boxing, the way each fighter is just suddenly dropped on their own for a couple of minutes but then return to their corner for their coach/father figure to offer quick advice. “You see Rocky leave him. You can only hear Rocky, and then Rocky comes back and the round breaks, and then Rocky leaves again, and then Rocky comes back afterwards,” Coogler said. “So it was that kind of yo-yo of emotion that we wanted to capture with the camera, and that’s when it made sense that we would do it in one take.”
Here’s a little bit of the scene:
Here’s how they pulled it off:
1. They devoted a full week of rehearsals and choreography toward blocking out the entire fight, and set up a boxing ring next to the production office so that they could walk through the sequences (as well as the climactic fight scene) step by step. Those were involved with that process, beyond the obvious (Michael B. Jordan and Gabriel Rosado, who plays his opponent), included Coogler, cinematographer Maryse Alberti (The Visit, The Wrestler), the stunt coordinator Clayton J. Barber and the actual man who would be in the ring with the Steadicam. Speaking of which…
2. The Steadicam operator, Benjamin Semanoff, took boxing classes so that he would be nimble enough on his feed to circle the two fighters in the ring as well as the referee as if he were some unseen fourth party. This was a point of pride for Semanoff, a native of Philadelphia and Steadicam enthusiast who was fully aware that the first Rocky features one of film’s first uses of the Steadicam, capturing the iconic moment of Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.
3. Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson were brought in at the tail end of the rehearsal to spend a day running through their parts in the shot step by step.
4. The fight was shot on the third day of photography in front of a real crowd of Philly locals and boxing fans, all of whom offered Stallone a 10-minute standing ovation and chant of “Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!” when he walked on set. Coincidentally, that happened to be Stallone’s first day on set. Quite the hero’s welcome.
5. They did it 13 times, and only two of them were usable, takes #11 and #13. The one we see in the movie is #11.
6. The cut that Adonis’ opponent opens up on his face was achieved via VFX and old-fashioned sleight of hand, with fake blood placed on Michael B. Jordan’s face in one brief moment when the camera wasn’t on him. According to Coogler, “It was a total team effort to get this shot pulled off, even in post-production with VFX and editorial, extenuating the damage that was done on Mike’s face.”
7. They purposefully didn’t shoot any coverage or cutaways and had no back-up plan if it didn’t work out, beyond vague assumptions that the editors would figure something out using invisible cuts ala Birdman.
8. Rocky and Bianca celebrating Adonis’ victory was largely improvised, “In the take that we used, Tessa runs up to Mike, and she pushes him after the fight. And Mike kind of reacts, because he’s really tired from pulling off that take,” Coogler said, laughing, thinking about that day on set. “What’s funny is that Bianca’s and Rocky’s excitement comes from Tessa and Sly’s excitement at Mike and Gabe nailing the choreography. They were so fired up from that.”
Coogler also broke the scene down for The New York Times‘ “Anatomy of a Scene” video series, which I cannot embed here (grrr) so here’s the link:
In that video, Coogler points out that not only does the one shot allow us a glimpse into Rocky acting as father and trainer but it also reminds us that in the opposite corner of the ring is a literal father-and-son pairing since Adonis’ opponent, a rising star in the lightweight division, is the son to the head trainer at Mickey’s gym.