By Joe Logan, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer
Six weeks of filming gets under way here today on the much-awaited, much- ballyhooed Rocky V, purported to be the concluding chapter for Philadelphia’s most famous export in years, fighter Rocky Balboa.
But despite the hubbub about the movie and star Sylvester Stallone, a hush has fallen over the production company and city officials about the film’s plot, the locations where they’ll be filming and a host of other tidbits of trivia that would be fun for area residents to know.
Here’s what’s known, or thought to be known, for the moment:
THE PLOT. Mum is the word from the production company and the city’s film office, other than to divulge that in Rocky V the old fighter “must face his greatest challenge – a test that will pit him against his own values, strength and, ultimately, his own spirit.”
On Friday, the film’s publicist, Dave Fulton, also described Rocky V as “a smaller film, more of a relationships film than the three previous sequels. It’s back to that feeling of the original Rocky, a small, ensemble movie.” That, despite a reported $40 million budget for the film.
Rocky V, which picks up where Rocky IV left off, is said to have heavyweight champion Balboa retiring from the ring and now running the old gym where he used to train. He has taken under his wing an ex-convict, Tommy Gunn, to be played by boxer Tommy Morrison, 20, a great-grandnephew of the late John Wayne. But his disciple apparently abhors the wholesome values and work ethic that are Rocky’s credo. It becomes the former champion’s mission to set him on the straight and narrow path.
Rocky, who was living in a lavish suburban mansion in Rocky IV, is also said to be broke in Rocky V, maybe even living back in his old Kensington digs. Even Stallone has admitted that. In November, when he was in West Orange, N.J., to watch Morrison fight, Stallone spoke briefly to sportswriters.
“It’s kind of a Joe Louis-type story,” he said of Rocky V. “Rocky has gone from rags to riches to rags again. He has a business manager and a tax accountant who took advantage of him when he was in Russia,” in Rocky IV.
THE CAST AND CREW. Stallone, of course, stars as Rocky Balboa. He also wrote the script, as he has for all the other Rocky movies. Those in the know, however, say Stallone is notorious for rewriting as he goes, even improvising on the spot, so no scenes or locations are set in stone.
Talia Shire, Rocky’s devoted wife, Adrian, is back again. So is Burt Young, as Paulie, his supportive but moochy brother-in-law. Burgess Meredith, his crusty old trainer, died in Rocky III; Carl Weathers’ character, Apollo Creed, died in Rocky IV. Morrison is said to be the main boxer in Rocky V.
A number of actors in featured but lesser roles have also been brought in from Los Angeles, but hundreds of “day players” and extras will be hired from the Philadelphia area. So far, the biggest role given to an area actor has gone to Elisebeth Peters, 12, from Allentown, who will play a friend of Rocky’s son, Rocky Jr.
Locally, casting directors Diane Kirman and Meredith Jacobson have been hired to screen local talent. They expect to use from one to 500 locals each day for roles that range from small speaking parts to unnoticed extras.
Many, if not most, of those roles will go to area members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). But other small parts and day work as extras will go to nonunion people.
So far, say Jacobson and Kirman, they know of about 10 minor speaking parts that will go to local actors. But that literally changes each day, as the script is revised and scenes are rethought.
“We are still looking for people to be shoppers in stores, bar patrons, neighbors that Rocky grew up with, fight announcers and boxing personnel such as corner men, referees, security guards, policemen, taxi drivers, limo drivers, that sort of thing,” Jacobson said yesterday.
Although no local actor has been signed yet, Jacobson and Kirman said they had more or less settled on actors for certain parts. SAG scale is $414 per day for day players; SAG and AFTRA extras make about $90 a day; nonunion extras can make about $40 a day.
(Jacobson & Kirman Casting is still accepting resumes at the Wanamaker House, 2029 Chancellor St., Philadelphia 19103. No more child actors are needed.)
For the average Philadelphian, however, the best chance to be a part of Rocky V will come during four days in early February. That’s when about 10,000 extras will be needed each day to film the climactic fight scene in the Civic Center. Those extras will not be paid, although they will be fed. Details about how to get into those scenes will be released later.
Rocky V is being directed by John Avildsen, who directed the original Rocky, winner of the 1977 Academy Award for best picture. It will be released in November by United Artists Pictures.
FILMING LOCATIONS. For security reasons, the production company and the city film office won’t discuss filming locations – they simply don’t want crowds gathering.
But all involved say it’s safe to assume that the Italian Market and the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, featured so prominently in the original Rocky, will figure into the script. The cast has also been rehearsing at Kirkbride Elementary School at Seventh and Dickinson Streets, in South Philadelphia, where speculation has it that filming might begin today.
Beyond that, insiders will say only that Rocky V will be shooting all over Philadelphia during the next six weeks, in about 15 locations. A news release from Mayor Goode’s office says Rocky V will do more on-location filming in Philadelphia than any previous Rocky project.
The city also says no major arteries into or out of the city, such as the Schuylkill Expressway, will be shut down for filming. The filming should also pump about $3 million into the local economy.
ACCOMMODATIONS. Though most of the crew is staying in the Korman Suites off Logan Square, Stallone is said to be set up in the posh Four Seasons Hotel. Those who know him, such as restaurateur Harry Jay Katz, say Stallone might get out for dinner some nights, although he often travels with his own chefs. Or there’s a chance he could be spotted shopping for antiques on Pine Street.
But, they say, don’t expect him to become a common sight around town. As star and screenwriter, he will have his hands full. Then there are the ”dailies” to screen each night. Plus, Stallone also will be busy trying to keep tabs on his other financial interests. Some of his free time also is spent working out. He also has a stepfather in Philadelphia, Tony Filiti, and other relatives scattered from Maryland to New York. If he does go out, he apparently won’t be alone.
“He travels with bodyguards,” said Katz, a friend and admirer of the star. “He really needs them. Many things can happen. Kids who think they are boxers want to take a swing. War guys get into the Rambo image. People pull his hair, grab his clothes. He’s not safe, even as strong as he is.”
Despite suggestions that this will be the final Rocky film, some film insiders around town remain doubtful because Rocky Balboa has been the source of Stallone’s biggest successes, earning hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office.
His displeasure with the city, prompted by the relocation of the Rocky statue – commissioned by Stallone – from the Art Museum to the Spectrum, came on the heels of Rocky III. None of Rocky IV was filmed here.
Could the filming of Rocky V in Philadelphia be an opportunity for reconciliation between Stallone and the city? It certainly benefits both parties.
Local film insiders also say this is a “sensitive” movie for Stallone. Could it also be a new beginning for Rocky Balboa?
“If Rocky V can turn the saga around,” said one movie wag, “then Stallone could go on with the new character he introduces in this film. Why not? I sure don’t hear people talking about another Rambo movie.”