When Rocky IV began filming in the spring of 1985, it seemed like a class reunion for many members of the cast and crew. Nearly ten years earlier they began filming a small, modestly budgeted drama inspired by a then unknown actor named Sylvester Stallone. Rocky would go on to become a critical and financial success and win an Academy Award as Best Picture of 1976.
The new challenge at hand was to make Rocky IV every bit as thrilling and uplifting as its predecessors. Using locations in Vancouver to simulate the barren Russian landscape, director Stallone set out to capture the visual splendor of nature which serves as Rocky’s arena of discipline.
The physical demands of the film were once again met with fervor by its hard-working writer, director and star. Stallone set out to reshape his character physically as well as psychologically. He began his training during the filming of Rambo: First Blood Part II.
After completion of the First Blood sequel, Stallone adapted a grueling workout routine, under the guidance of world-renowned body-building champion, Franco Columbo. Stallone added inches to his chest and biceps and ten pounds to his muscular frame to make Rocky appear as a truly impressive champion.
In addition to filming in and around the Los Angeles area, the production team took its cameras to three distant locations during the making of Rocky IV. Each setting captures a distinctive tone, and is used to reflect and contrast the powerful emotional content of the film’s characters and story.
Initially, the Rocky IV crew traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where the silent snow-covered terrain was used to represent the site of a small Siberian farm where Rocky prepares for his fight with Ivan Drago. Lying in the shadows of the magnificent Grand Tetons, this rugged location contributes more than simple scenery to the tortuous program Rocky pursues while focusing his spirit, mind and body on the most important and dangerous adversary of his career.
What audiences didn’t see on the screen, however, are the conditions endured by the performers and crew members in bringing these sequences to life. Cold was the primary culprit – with the wind-chill factor, temperatures often dropped as low as twenty degrees below zero, freezing camera, sound and transportation equipment as well as personnel indiscriminately.
Even the task of moving people and their tools ranged from strenuous to impossible due to the deep snow, a product of nature and not motion picture effects.
From Jackson Hole the production team moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. The Agrodome Arena at the city’s Pacific National Exhibition Center served as the site of the climactic battle between the Soviet and American champions, which, in the film, is set in a large Russian metropolis. Thousands of local residents were recruited to portray members of the audience, all of whom were costumed in drab winter-wear appropriate for the northern regions of the Soviet Union during December.
Vancouver was selected following a worldwide search for a site fulfilling the special physical and atmospheric requirements of the fight sequences. These requirements included an arena that was capable of seating approximately six thousand people, a metropolitan area large enough to provide audiences to fill the arena during the two weeks of filming, and a city that could comfortably accommodate the personnel of the large production as well as provide the requisite auxiliary services and supplies which always seem to be needed on moment’s notice during shooting.
Offering a bright contrast to both Vancouver and Jackson Hole, Las Vegas was the last location. The famed Ziegfeld Room at the MGM Grand was transformed into the site of the exhibition match fought between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago, an extravagant sequence featuring the most dynamic production number ever offered in a Rocky film.
In contrast to the cold of Jackson Hole, temperatures on the sun baked Nevada desert peaked at 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the filming. The contrast between the Soviet arena and the American ringside was similarly extreme – the Ziegfeld Room is bejeweled in the best traditions of the world’s gambling capital, with glistening arrays of beautiful showgirls, flashing lights, dazzling costumes and an audience clad entirely in formal wear.
During the Los Angeles filming the production team spent only a few days working on the Culver City stages of MGM Studios. The bulk of their work in L.A. was accomplished on real sites that had been carefully selected throughout the city.
In the majestic neighborhood known as Hancock Park, an impressive home was scouted to serve as the Balboa family residence. Inhabited by many of the city’s most affluent citizens, it also happens to be the area in which one of the city’s best known figures then resided – Muhammad Ali.
Later, the cameras moved on to such diverse settings as Los Angeles International Airport, the Century Plaza Hotel, the downtown Design Center, an ultra-modern gymnasium on Sunset Boulevard and a cemetery near Inglewood. The use of actual sites for 99% of Rocky IV, rather than the duplication of locations on studio soundstages, represented a tradition of reality which had been a part of each Rocky sequel.
The challenge of photographing the film’s action was placed in the capable hands of cinematographer Bill Butler, whose previous successes include six films that have grossed over $100,000,000 each – Rocky II, Rocky III, Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Stripes and Grease. Butler received an Oscar nomination for his photography of Cuckoo’s Nest along with three Emmy Awards for his other work.
Veteran production designer Bill Kenney was given the task of creating and constructing the special settings for Rocky IV, an assignment performed with the assistance of set decorator Rick Gentz, and construction coordinator Roger Irvin.
Among the most difficult sets Kenney created was the interior of the Soviet arena. Since there was neither visual nor editorial reference material available on which to pattern his designs, Kenney conceived the arena almost entirely from his imagination.
Two well-known sportscasters, Los Angeles’ Stu Nahan and New York City’s Warner Wolf, appear as ringside broadcasters. Noted sport artist Leroy Nieman appears as a ring announcer. Both Nahan and Nieman were in Rocky III, as were real-life referees Marty Denkin and Lou Filippo, who officiate both boxing matches in IV.
Several scenes were deleted from the final cut of Rocky IV. Between Apollo’s funeral scene, and the press conference for the Rocky-Drago fight, there was originally a scene in which Rocky is told by the U.S. boxing board that any bout with Drago in Russia won’t be sanctioned by the board, and that he is effectively ‘out on his own’ if he does fight Drago at all. In the brief set of magazine/newspaper covers/stills that are shown immediately before the press conference scene, there is a photo, plus headline, of this meeting taking place. Also, the matter of ‘not sanctioned to fight Drago in Russia’ is spoken about in the press conference scene itself anyway. This ‘repetition’ of plot points was likely what got the scene taken out, deemed unnecessary, for the final cut.
In addition to the above, footage from that deleted scene can be found in the film’s theatrical trailer. Check out the Multimedia section to have a look.