In composing the score for Creed, Ludwig Goransson faced no easy task. The Swedish composer and producer—whose resume also includes work on Fruitvale Station, and with Childish Gambino and Chance the Rapper—sought to maintain the thread of epic music that unites the Rocky franchise while also bringing things up to date and making sure the score was amendable with film's hip-hop heavy soundtrack. To do this, he played with booming drums and an orchestra of sounds he collected during visits to boxing gyms, like the slapping of jumprope against the floor, the smack of mitts against a punching bag, and the heavy breathing of boxers.
"I took all the sounds and started to make some beats and make six, seven minute sounds and try and come up with themes and melodies based on what I read in the script," he explains in the above video, which shows him culling sounds from the ring and then turning them into sweeping score in his studio. Creed director Ryan Coogler later adds, "We had to go through different places to get where we landed on, but I think we landed on something very, very special."
Above, watch Ludwig Goransson turn the sounds of the boxing ring into a sweeping score. And below, read more about Goransson's process, the importance of music in film, and Creed's Oscars snub.
What is your process like when you are producing a score for a movie like Creed. How does this differ from when you are working with an artist? How does it relate?
Just like producing an album, or anything for that matter, you need to have a starting point. When I’m working with an artist, my job is to make their vision come to life. When I’m working on a film score, I’m creating my own musical vision, and on Creed, Ryan really trusted me to run with it. He encouraged me to explore things in ways that were totally new to me. Usually the composer starts scoring a movie once he has a rough cut with pre-existing music temporarily put into every scene, but with Creed, Ryan sent me a first draft of the script so I could connect with the story and start coming up with ideas in the very early stages.
How does the soundtrack—which, in the case of Creed, skewed hip-hop, with contributions from Meek Mill, Future, etc.—impact your composition?
I work pretty fluidly across all genres. The score I wrote for Creed is a mix of different styles, from classical and jazz to rap and hip-hop. The Bianca [Tessa Thompson's character,] songs I produced were a bit of a challenge since I only had about ten days to create a believably buzz-worthy Philly artist.
You incorporated sounds collected in a boxing gym, why? Do you often work with found sounds?
I always look for new inspiration whenever I start a new project. The first time I experimented with sound design was on Fruitvale Station where I recorded the Bart train and manipulated it. For Creed I spent one day in a boxing gym together with my sound engineers and a boxer (Karim Mayfield). We recorded everything: jump ropes, breathing, sparring, speedbag, chains. I took the sounds and made beats and different rhythmical patterns and this became the skeleton of the score. I also went to see Michael B. Jordan's training sessions, and visited several boxing gyms to get a feeling of the emotions a boxer goes through. Something interesting I noticed was the dichotomy of how extremely tough a boxer could seem in the ring versus how warm and even soft spoken they might be in talking to them afterwards. It helped me understand Adonis’ character in a different way.
The original Rocky theme song is iconic, what was it like trying to update it?
Obviously, the Rocky theme is one of the most recognizable themes in film. I wanted to pay respect to the legacy of Rocky, but the most important thing was to give Creed his own voice with his own theme. Once we had that, everything else just kind of fell into place. And then there was this one perfect moment for the Rocky fanfare to be worked in. Reusing the Rocky theme (in its original form) is tricky to do when you’re writing for a modern movie like Creed. Building up to it, you really need to earn it because it is so iconic and immediately makes such a strong statement. But the way the film builds to this moment, everything Adonis has gone through to get here, he really does earn that fanfare. I knew the fans would appreciate that moment, but I wasn’t prepared to see people screaming and jumping out of their seats.
What is the function of a score in a film like Creed?
The score is the invisible bond between father and son, trainer and boxer, Adonis and Bianca, and it is there to help you understand Adonis and everything he’s feeling. It’s there to elevate the fight scenes, to make the punches feel stronger and to make your heart beat faster. And it’s there to emphasize the mythological character that Adonis is.
The development of Adonis’ theme throughout the movie is a reflection of the growth we see from him: the first time you hear his theme is in juvy when we hear it played by just solo piano and by the end it’s being blasted by a hundred-piece orchestra as Adonis (now Creed) runs through the streets in the big training montage before his last fight.
Do you feel that Creed was over looked by the Oscars? Why?
I do. But given how rare it is for the Academy to nominate black films that are about today and not about the past, I guess it’s not so surprising.