Rocky Balboa: Back to Philly Roots

Returning to shoot in the south side of Philadelphia (in addition to practical locations in Las Vegas and Los Angeles), Stallone wanted to reflect Rocky's world as it was, not a clean Hollywood version but a gritty reality.

As Real As Possible

Stallone told his producer Guy Reidel, “This is going to be as real as possible.” As a result, says Reidel, “Not one frame of the film was shot on a stage. It was all done in the real world, which adds a whole new set of challenges to filmmaking.”

Lots of Handhelds

With finite resources and only five weeks to shoot, Stallone adopted a spare, down-and-dirty shooting style that he sees as completely harmonious with the central tenets of the film. Says Stallone: “I decided no tracks, a lot of handheld, no cranes, none of these elaborate tracking shots.” Stallone worked with director of photography J. Clark Mathis to infuse the film with the pared-down style he sought that nonetheless reflected the characters in the film.

Fitting the Characters' Personalities

“I tried to keep it almost the way the personalities of the characters are,” says Stallone. Some scenes are frenetic and internally disturbing. When I'm shooting Dixon, it's very light and bright and sterile, nothing dramatic in the lighting. I wanted to show that his life is without color, without shadows, without any ambience until the fight.”

The Rocky-Mason Fight

The first to be scheduled and most daunting challenge of the shoot was the title fight between Rocky and Mason “The Line” Dixon, which was to be an exciting Vegas-style event.

Stallone had just completed a grueling training regimen and was in top shape, a benefit he would lose the longer the shoot progressed as directing and acting ate up his training time. Consequently, the fight scenes would have to be shot up front. “Boxing is very unique,” he comments. “It's a skill set that takes years and years to learn.”

Boxing Venue

Searching for a boxing venue, each suitable arena they found had a full schedule and could not accommodate a movie crew. Stallone was aware that HBO planned to shoot a pay-per-view matchBernard Hopkins vs. Germaine Taylorin Las Vegas. Stallone struck on the idea of piggybacking on that event, and benefiting from a crowd the production could ill-afford to hire on as extras. But the match was set for two weeks earlier than principal photography was scheduled to start. Stallone decided to move up the start date by two weeks. To secure the benefit of the real-life event, the production set about negotiating with HBO and the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casion, where the action was to take place.

Shooting against a Live Event

Recalls Stallone: “We were shooting right up against a live event, live weigh in, real press conference. We'd shot portions of the live HBO activities, then rush right in afterwards with our cast and crew to take advantage of the sets. It was a challenge to say the least.”

Verisimilitude

To add to the verisimilitude, Satllone enlisted real-life commentators Jim Lamply, Larry Merchant, and Max Kellerman to play themselves, with Michel Buffer serving as ring announcer for the Dixon-Balboa match, dubbed “The Rage Aginst the Age.” Boxer Mike Tyson plays himself in the film, much as Joe Frazier did at the title fight in “Rocky.”

Entering the Full Arena

The single most thrilling moment of the production for all concerned came when HBO allowed the production to take advantage of the Hopkins-Taylor crowd and have Rocky enter the full arena, walk down the aisle and into the ring with six camera covering the action.

As Stallone raised his arms, 14,000 real fight fans screamed “Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!” in a frenzy that could not have been matched with paid extras. Recalls producer Chartoff: “They were shouting louder for Rocky than they did during the main event. It was the best moment of the show. You couldn't help but get chills.”