INTERVIEW: ‘Creed’ composer Ludwig Göransson Talks the Score

0

 

by jonas mohr 2

Rebooting a franchise can be hard, especially when the film you’re making is going to be the seventh in the series.  You want to be somewhat reverential to the franchise proper, but you also want to stake your own claim.  That was the challenge presented to Ludwig Göransson, the Swedish composer to the breakout hit, Creed.  With a war-like and mythical original score as the foundation, Göransson brings to (larger-than-) life the story of Adonis Creed; and yet with the forte smash of “Rocky Fanfare” in the final title fight, he make this film resonate with the films before it.  Recently, Göransson was runner-up for Best Original Score at the Boston Society of Film Critics 2015 Awards.  I had the pleasure of interviewing him on Tuesday.  Check out his Original Score on iTunes here.  Additionally, I’ve added some YouTube clips of his score embedded below.  Check out excerpts from our interview, below.

Please also be warned that Ludwig and I discussed track titles to his score, some of which may be considered as spoilers.

Sam Coffey, Awards Circuit (“AWARDS CIRCUIT” or “AC”):
Firstly, I just want to say that I’m not only a big fan of Creed, but a big fan of the score.  So I’m pretty excited to talk to you today.

Ludwig Göransson (“LUDWIG” or “L”)
Cool, I’m glad you liked it!

AC:
When I experienced the score, it felt at many times like if I took the score out of the film and put it into a war movie, in the middle of a big battle, that it would be appropriate there.  It has a very epic sound, a large romantic undertones to it.  Did you feel that way or am I crazy?

L:
No, you’re totally right!  I wanted to create something really cinematic and melodic, and have it a throwback…a big classical orchestra with jazz elements.  But also I infused that with the modern, edgy, electronic, and urban sound under it, where you can hear this pumping bass, this energetic base that goes along with this melodic theme.

AC:
It’s sort of the old Rocky repurposed for the modern age.

L:
Yea, it’s funny.  I think recently, the last 10 to 15 years of filmmaking, scores have been used is very sparse ways.  You don’t use scores anymore like score were used in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  It’s more toned down.  I feel like producers and filmmakers are scared of letting the music tell too much sometimes.  This is something that Ryan Coogler [the director of Creed] wanted to create this mythological character for Adonis Creed.

AC:
I definitely felt that parts of the score helped embody Creed for the audience.  I never know if it’s a compliment to a composer if I tell them I walk out of the theatre humming their music, but I definitely did here, especially the “Rocky Is Sick” theme, which is reused during the slow motion sequence during the final training montage.  Love it.

L:
No, that’s a compliment!

AC:
I also loved how your score isn’t afraid to compel the audience emotionally.  It dares you to let the music affect your emotions.

L:
Yea, it was really important to find a cue that could help in telling what Creed is going through.  He starts out not knowing who he is.  Sometimes the patine goes from me humming it through a vocoder, then to a guitar.  Then when I use that patina in the final montage, where Creed’s running with the motorbikes, the score comes from a 100-piece, full-blown orchestra.

AC:
So the track of the musical theme follows Creed on his journey.  I love that.  It adds to the mythical aura you were trying to craft for the character Creed.  The score really underlines that, it allows you to experience over-the-topness, for example, at the end of the final training montage.

L:
Yea, we wanted the score to come from a very emotional place.  We wanted it to draw you in.

AC:
The musical cues for me were the backbone of the film.  I was a sobbing mess the last 45-30 minutes of the movie, from the locker room scene before the Final Fight until the end.  The score works in tandem with the other elements of the film to guide you along that emotional, heroic journey.

L:
Yea man.

AC:
I understand you changed the score up some after you and Ryan saw [F. Gary Gray’s] Straight Outta Compton.  What was changed and why?

L:
Yea, the big change was to give the audience what they want.  The first piece of music I wrote was the final fight cues because that was the first scene they cut.  I didn’t have any other scenes from the movie.  I scored that whole 30 minute fight scene with ambient soundscapes.  The only music I had was the old Rocky musical cue when Creed stands up and is like “I’m gonna go knock that son of a bitch down.”

AC:
Literally, my favorite moment in the whole movie.  The music cue there is out of this world.

L:
I look that original Conti Rocky number and slowed it down, made it grittier, more edgy.  I put it in a minor cord.  That was how the Final Fight musical cue played in the movie for months.  Then Ryan and I saw Straight Outta Compton, which really didn’t hold back when it was time to emphasize known musical cues.  Ryan and I agreed that I should go back, make the final cue big and brash, bring it back to the Major Key it was originally in and basically give the audience what they want.  That was the only big change.

AC:
That’s really a fist-pumping moment.

L:
That moment is such a big payoff.  It really works.

AC:
It really is.  I didn’t even know that that’s what I wanted right there, but then BOOM.  It’s like the bow on top of the whole film.  It connects the franchises musically while being its own thing.

L:
Yea man.

AC:
How was it working with the great Tessa Thompson and the other artists when writing the many original songs for the movie, such as “Grip” and “Fighting Stronger?”

L:
It was really fun!  I wrote all that music with Tessa before we started shooting.  She and I talked to Ryan, read the script.  We had about 10 days before shooting to come up with something.  We only had 10 DAYS to write all these songs that were supposed to be worthy of a young, up-and-coming, buzz-worthy Philly artist.  We had to create not only the music, but the artist Bianca, what her signature sound would be–why the blogs would like her, why she’d have a residency and open at the Electric Factory.  We wrote about 7 songs and Ryan picked out his favorites.

AC:
You use some of the “Rocky Fanfare” from Bill Conti’s original Rocky score.  You’re an original composer writing original music for this big film, was there any weird feelings using a famous piece of music that you didn’t write?

L:
Nah, I think for me, it was always really excited to work on the movie because Ryan and I had always talked about making a score that’s really original–not just use the old themes over and over.  I wanted to create a new musical theme for [Adonis] Creed, like Conti created for Rocky [Balboa].  I started write music for the film with that in mind.  If it was the opposite, if the goal was to repurpose all the old stuff over and over, that would have been difficult.  But Ryan wanted to make something new.  There was no pressure.  No one said “you have to use Gonna Fly Now here,” or “use Eye of the Tiger here.”  However, it makes sense when you have Rocky himself in the movie playing a huge role, to USE some of the Rocky Fanfare music.  You kind of have to.  And frankly, it was for the betterment to use it when we did, such as the beginning of Round 12 in the Final Fight.  It doesn’t feel like you’re calling back or that you’re in a different world.  It’s seamless.

AC:
Yea, that’s the challenge some filmmakers have with rebooting franchises, they want to over rely on callbacks to the original.  Beat people over the head with it.  Sometimes it’s at the expense of the new, but I think you and Ryan balanced a few call backs with a ton of new, original, and fresh work.

L: 
Thanks man.

AC:
Final question.  The Rocky Franchise is famous, maybe in some instances infamous for its montages. Creed has a few.  Ryan was really able to make these montages work, I think greatly aided by you.  Since music is so critical to a good montage, how did you approach that?–especially that amazing final training montage [“If I Fight” below].

L:
Before we started, Ryan told me there was going to be a lot of montages with a lot of music.  It’s every composer’s dream!  A six minute montage where most of the focus is on the music–no dialogue.  It’s awesome.  So the last training montage, about five minutes long, was the hardest for me to score.  I knew how important the music was and how important that montage was to the movie as a whole.   I spent so much time writing a bunch of different takes for that final montage.  Ryan sheered me towards helping to tell the story with the music all the time.  The music goes along with exactly what’s happening.  I think if you put the long on and close your eyes, you can envision everything Adonis is doing, scene by scene.

AC:
Love when he’s finishing the motorbike run in slow-mo, and you’ve got that isolated piano of the Creed theme.  It’s awesome.

L:
Yea, the training montage cue is really a medley of all the existing musical themes in the movie thus far.  It had the “Creed” theme; it has “Rocky Is Sick;” it has the “Conlan” theme, too.  Heck, it even has me humming in the background.  Big payoff at the end.

Creed” is currently in theaters!