“The first movie I ever saw at the theater was “Rocky III“. My dad, Michael W. Watson, took me to see it every weekend. That was back when movies stayed in the theater for a long, long time. It was really awesome to be able to make the pilgrimage out to Vegas and for both of us to be in attendance at Rocky’s last fight. Except for my kid being born, it was the greatest night in the history of my life! Truly.
“Dad and I flew to Las Vegas in late 2005 to be extras in the last boxing match of “Rocky Balboa“. They told us if we wore a suit you might get to sit ring side. I wore a suit, my dad wore denim. Long story short, I was chosen to sit in the front row because they needed a guy in a suit that wore glasses.
“When I sat down, I was handed a laminate pass that said “VIP”. I was replacing a guy who didn’t show up. They took continuity photographs at the end of each day. I got to meet Paulie, Duke, Rocky Jr. (Robert), Spider Rico. I sat in front of Little Marie. And of course…I got to meet the man himself…Sylvester Stallone. He walked by several times and shook hands. But for a specific shot, he got right behind me and was speaking and looked me dead in the eyes. I’ll never forget that. He said. “This whole thing is just a dream sequence while I’m getting Lasik eye surgery.” And he crouched down between a person’s legs and said “Merry Christmas”. Everyone laughed.
“I was there for 2 days, and on set for 12 hours each day. They had a comedian there for the extras during the down time. We played games and they fed us. It was really hot because the Stallone and Tarver where cold with fake sweat and barely any clothes on. At one point Stallone was leaning on a table, thinking about the next shot(s). He was directly in front of me. Now, we where told not to speak to any of the actors unless we where spoken to. But I didn’t care. “You’re doing a great Job, Sly,” I said. Stallone looked over at me. “A great job!” I said again. He paused and said “Thank you”, and walked on. Everyone around me was sure I was going to get kicked out but no one said anything.
“The crew had 8 or 9 cameras running at all times. And they had an HBO camera crew there shooting in high def as well. Sly was on top of his game, as an actor and as a director! I remember him telling one of the HBO crew “You’ve got to give me something new. You can’t keep shooting from that same spot.” Stallone was on it!
“I asked the prop guy if they really taped his hands up before each scene. Stallone would appear with tape on his hands and without tape on his hands. The prop guy said yes, they do tape up his hands. I asked what they did with the tape on his hands when they where done. He said they cut it off and throw it away. I asked him if I could keep the tape as a souvenir and he said “No, that’s just too weird!” I was so embarrassed.
“We were all moved to different seats for the sequence at the end when Rocky and his entourage are leaving the arena. Most of the area at Mandalay Bay was made up of dummies. There weren’t enough people there to fill the place so they used a lot of dummy torsos. Extras where “peppered” in the closer you got to the ring. Stallone did several takes of his exit. Everyone was ready to go because it was around midnight and it was the “Martini shot”, the last shot of the day. Some with the crowd cheering…some with the crowd pantomiming because they where recording audio. They did that a lot. The last thing that sticks out in my memory is that Stallone would go sit in front of an LCD monitor to watch the final fight in “Rocky II“. The play back was at half speed as the regular film. It was the oddest thing to watch Stallone watch himself in “Rocky II”. It was surreal!
“In the morning Burt Young would show up and then Antonio Tarver. Lastly, Stallone would show up and everyone would cheer. He came in full make up. His hair even had makeup in it. It always looked wet. Sly and his trainer would get in the ring and begin to walk through the fight. Sly would count (out loud) for every step, punch or block. It was like a well rehearsed play. When they called action, they would call it twice. Once For the background extras and Stallone would call action for the main actors. So they call action for the extras and we are cheering and I can hear Sly telling Tarver to hit him, and hit him hard. Sly calls action. They begin to box and Tarver hits Stallone and I can hear Sly say “Harder”. Tarver hits sly again and Sly says “Harder.” This went on for a few seconds and finally Sly kind of pushed Tarver back and yelled “HIT ME HARD!”
“So Tarver did. And Sly yells “Cut”. Stallone made a joke immediately about how Tarver just “rang Sly’s bell”. And Sly and Tarver walked over to the side of the ring to watch the scene played back on the monitors. They would only shoot for a few seconds and then Stallone would want to watch it back. Lastly, I remember the boom operator standing in the middle of the ring. He was holding a long boom mic that extended out over the audience. We would chant “Rocky…Rocky..Rocky…” For what seemed like forever. And then we did the same for Dixon. We had to chant “Dixon…Dixon…Dixon…”. So the next time you watch a Rocky film and you hear the crowd chanting “Rocky…Rocky…” That’s how they do it.
“We did a lot of fake clapping and yelling when they where recording audio. “Pantomiming” is what it was called. Most the time we would cheer our guts out though. It was a life changing event for me and my father – both from a fan’s point of view and from a technical film-making view.
Just so you know I did not get my picture taken with Stallone. So any pictures you see of Stallone with someone, that is not me.
Michael L. Watson
Russiavilla, Indiana, USA
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*All images on this page provided courtesy of Michael L. Watson