The artist behind the new Creed movie soundtrack isn’t who you might expect to helm such a serious undertaking as Ryan Coogler’s new hit film, especially with Bill Conti’s musical strings attached to a legacy which celebrates its 40th year this month, but 31-year-old Ludwig Göransson’s score goes the distance.
Perhaps it was for the best that the 31 year old film and television composer didn’t have a lifetime of Bill Conti’s Rocky themes pre-programmed in his creative mind. In fact, he describes himself as being “fairly new” to the Rocky series. “Early on I wasn’t really allowed to see the movies because my mom didn’t like the violence. I remember seeing one of the movies when I was a kid – Rocky IV – I caught it on TV and my mom came in and turned it off.”
As a youngster in Sweden, Göransson honed his talents at a musical high school and went on to music college where he studied classical and jazz. Film music icon John Williams (Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones – you name it) ranks among Göransson’s favorite inspirations in the business. “You can’t go wrong [with Williams]. He actually started in jazz, in a jazz trio – it kind of reminds me of what I was doing when I was younger.”
Göransson met writer/director Ryan Coogler at USC film school and together they collaborated on Coogler’s short film projects as well as his first major feature-length endeavor, Fruitvale Station in 2013. Fruitvale also marked the start of the director’s working relationship with actor Michael B. Jordan – the talented star of Creed.
THE BIRTH OF ‘CREED’
“Ryan told me seven years ago at USC when we were in school together that, ‘Yeah, the second movie I’m going to do is going to be a boxing movie,’” says Göransson. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, cool.’ … Next thing I know, he’s writing the new Rocky movie.”
Initially supplied with only the screenplay for Creed, penned by his friend Ryan Coogler, Göransson began the task of creating fresh musical pieces for the film which he found to be a serious challenge, especially when faced with the fact that the music from the Rocky films is an indelible part of our culture. What followed was a screening of all six previous Rocky films, during which the composer became a fan of the series’ iconic music. Late night talks with Coogler circled around the potential sound of Creed and ensuring that it made a musical mark of its own. “I remember from our first conversations that we wanted to figure out how to make this totally new. I think we did a really good first take on it,” Göransson recalls.
In an exclusive featurette on the making of Creed’s score, Göransson describes the influence of Bill Conti’s masterpiece “Gonna Fly Now” not only on film, but in culture.
“They played [the Rocky theme] everywhere,” he says, “Sports games. They played it in clubs, ‘cause it’s kind of a disco. It’s such a theme song of an underdog. But it takes you to so many different places. By the end of it, you didn’t really need to see the picture in front of you. You can just hear the music, and you had immediately that sense or that feeling. That is something that I [wanted] to do with Creed.”
“The first time I saw footage, the first scene I got was the Conlan fight,” he says of the film’s dramatic final fight which is supposed to take place in fighter Ricky Conlan’s hometown of Liverpool, England. “They had to start with that scene because of the CGI in the arena, when they had to CGI the audience in Everton Football Stadium onto the green screen in the background of the fight,” Göransson explains. “At the point in the fight when Creed gets knocked down and then rises up from the mat, that was the first [composition] I did incorporating the Rocky theme.”
Göransson describes the 29-year-old Ryan Coogler as “the best leader and director”, allowing him complete freedom with his compositions for the film and providing direction as the project progressed. Even Rocky Balboa himself had a say on Creed’s soundtrack.
“Everything went through Sylvester Stallone,” Göransson says of Sly’s involvement in the production. “He was very hands-on. Ryan is the director of the movie, but he was very respectful in running everything through Stallone, showing him edits and asking for suggestions as we went along.”
Recalling that Sly offered a few pieces of musical advice, Göransson say that “one thing that stands out for the music was regarding the last fight with Conlan. [Sly] wanted to hear more music there. When I saw the footage of that fight I thought – you don’t want too much in there, because there’s so much happening. There’s the audience, the coaching from the ringsides, the action, etc.. But then I went back and watched the fight from the first Rocky movie and kind of saw how they did it.”
The end product blends all of these strong elements incredibly well, and amazingly, no single element overtook the climactic scene in which Adonis Creed battles the world’s number one pound-for-pound champion, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, played by real life boxer Tony Bellew.
FINDING ADONIS’ THEME
“Adonis’ theme was actually the love theme originally. I initially wrote a bunch of pieces for the movie, and then Ryan came over to my house and we were chilling and talking. And I said, ‘Hey man, which is your favorite piece that I’ve written for the movie so far?’ And he said: ‘The love theme.’”
The ten notes that comprise Adonis’ theme were easily adaptable for the various other moods found within the story, much like Conti’s “You Take My Heart Away” can be heard in different variations throughout the original Rocky score. “I took the same theme and tried to make it heroic and epic, and it fit so well for Adonis character, once I had the theme, the rest all came so naturally,” he says.
The Creed score was recorded at end of August, 2015 over a three day period at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles and the musical team had the use of the full 75 piece studio orchestra and 24 member choir. The rich choir lends the soundtrack – particularly the epic “Fighting Stronger” – a powerful and inspirational sound that is both reminiscent of Conti’s classic “Gonna Fly Now”, yet holds its own as a uniquely individual piece of music.
“Fighting Stronger” is one of those rare compositions that brings tears to your eyes but pulls you to your feet to cheer all at the same time. The lyrics sung by the choir were actually written by Ryan Coogler himself. “Ryan was working on [Creed] for two years, and he always came by my studio late at night,” Göransson recalls. “One night he came over at midnight after we’d put in a full day and we worked together for three or four hours. I told him ‘I have this choir part here – do you have anything that you’d like for this lyrically?’ And Ryan listened to it and he just said ‘fighting stronger’, and there it was.”
FROM THE COMPOSER’S CHAIR TO BEFORE THE CAMERAS
Interestingly, Göransson’s involvement with Creed didn’t remain confined to behind the scenes scoring. In fact, he lent his own voice to a short musical bridge in the movie. “In the scene where Adonis and Bianca are sitting at the restaurant on their first date and then the scene transitions to Rocky at the cemetery,” he explains, “when the music comes in that’s actually my voice humming.”
In addition to his brief vocalization, Göransson even make a couple of appearance on screen in Creed. You’ll spot him appropriately placed at the keyboard on stage backing up Tessa Thompson’s character Bianca as she performs in the club. Thompson did all her own singing in the film, and her character’s songs, so much a part of the love story she shares with Jordan, were both composed by Göransson. Later, the young composer can be seen in Bianca’s dressing room holding his guitar. “I play both of those instruments,” he says. “I wrote those songs she’s singing and I wanted to be sure that it looked authentic when we were playing them in the movie.”
WILL THERE BE A ‘CREED’ SEQUEL?
Whether or not a Creed II will come to fruition weighs heavily on audience reaction. Thus far, the much-talked-about Creed has raked in dozens of excellent reviews from even the toughest critics, and weighs in at an incredibly healthy 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Göransson agrees, saying: “I’m not sure about a sequel. I think it depends on how it’s going to do at the box office. If it happens, I’d absolutely be a part of it.” Indeed, in its first night of previews, the film scored $1.4M in ticket sales, and another $6.005M on opening day – if Creed keeps up this pace, the studio will definitely be interested in bringing it back for a second film.
“[Creed] really showcases what I can do,” Göransson says of his score. “And I feel like it really represents my voice.” Creed is understandably Göransson’s favorite personal project and is sure to be a career highlight, although his studio is abuzz with lots of interesting musical projects including his work as a composer on Jay Z’s Roc Nation label and as producer for rapper Childish Gambino’s new album. Göransson’s musical talent and skill ensures that audiences will be hearing lots more from this creative artist who’s helped put the Rocky series back on the map with a fresh, new sound.