INTerview: Hannah Beachler (Creed)

It's a difficult task taking on a sequel. It's even more difficult creating a sequel based on an incredibly respected franchise. Creed has the even more difficult task, considering its a spin-off that comes seventh in a franchise, the first film of which won the Oscar for Best Picture. Ryan Coogler, along with actor, Michael B. Jordan, however, got it right.

Creed ignited critics and audiences alike with its ingenious structure and its masterful directing. The film was able to respect the past Rocky franchise in a beautiful way, while also creating a new lane for itself. The film locations ranged from classic landmarks in Philadelphia to various training facilities and homes. Creed also featured three memorable boxing scenes which required an incredible amount of research, planning, and choreography.

In an exclusive interview with Interiors, we spoke with Hannah Beachler, who is the award winning Production Designer for Creed. The images and floor plans are property of Hannah Beachler and her team. 

INT: Can you talk about your history with the Rocky franchise? Did you grow up on the films? Did you discover them later on in life?

HB: I definitely grew up with the Rocky franchise.  I remember watching Rocky as a kid and being inspired.  My brothers and I would run around the house singing "Gonna Fly Now," so it was a big part of our childhood.  

INT: How did you become involved with Creed? Creed doesn’t mark your first collaboration with Ryan Coogler. What did you learn on your first project together that carried over into this one?

HB: Ryan and I worked together on Fruitvale Station. He texted me when he was scouting and said, "I'm scouting in Liverpool. Let's get you on this film." Ryan is a storyteller, an amazing visionary, and a friend. On Fruitvale Station, he built a family of filmmakers, he kept us going, and made us better at what we do. We all still stay in touch and support each other to this day, because of Ryan. That's the type of person he is. He's a good human and that changes you as a person -- and creatively, he's definitely made me better at my craft. Without question, I wanted to join him on Creed because I knew it would be something special.   

Rocky (1976) vs. Creed (2015)

INT: Did you revisit the previous six films in any kind of way in preparation for this one?

HB: Definitely. I watched Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, and Rocky IV - which is where our story begins. I studied the design in the first film quite a bit, which captured the essence of Philly and had a simplistic eloquence in its design. It was gritty and truthful about the neighborhood. I knew that was the essence of Creed. We knew Creed needed to honor the Rocky franchise, but also stand on its own.  

INT: Philadelphia is such a big part of the Rocky franchise. What was it like working in Philadelphia? What was the team looking for in Philadelphia that wasn’t there in the previous films?

HB: I loved Philly. It's a great city and I say that having spent the entire winter there! Philly had a great infrastructure and fantastic crew which made everything move a long quite easily. We spent a lot of time getting to know the neighborhoods and the people –  that was very important to Ryan. A lot of what we were trying to do was straddle the idea of an older generation and a newer generation, how they shared space and how that has affected the city. It was so interesting that there were few places you could go where you didn't see the old smoke stacks and abandoned factories, and at the same time you could see the new buildings of the CBD encroaching in on them, sort of rising up above the horizon and stating their presence. That was one of the main themes of Creed – the older generation passing on their knowledge and love to a newer generation.  

INT: Can you talk about the Front Street Gym?

HB: As soon as Ryan and I walked in, it was a visceral reaction to the space. We knew quite instantly that was the place where Rocky trains Adonis. We didn't do much to that space – posters on the walls and a little dressing here and there, but it offered itself to us in all its purity and it was beautiful. We had to shoot there and the producers and locations made that happen.   

Physical Model of Boxing Ring

INT: What was the process like designing the fight sequences? In other words, was the choreography of the fight designed according to the surrounding space or were they independent of one another?

HB: For the fight with Pretty Ricky (Tony Bellew), we really worked together to make the choreography, lighting, production design, and multiple cameras all work in the space. There was a lot of planning. We spent weeks on getting it just right and as authentic as possible, for both fights really, but the big fight was down to the ring girl chairs in the right place and the judges. It needed to be perfect. We used the regulation sized ring that Michael B. Jordan, Gabriel Rosado and Tony Bellew worked in with the fight choreographer for both fights. They trained relentlessly, everyday. So they had a feeling for the ring and knew it that everything they did in the ring wouldn't need to change or be adjusted. The first fight with Leo "The Lion" Sporino (Gabriel Rosado), the now infamous one-shot fight, was suppose to be a smaller fight, so some of that design was independent of the choreography, because the Steadicam was in the ring the whole time, for the most part.

Boxing Ring Floor Plan

INT: The film features a few long takes. Is this challenging in terms of space and are you designing the space with a moving camera in mind? Does this change the way you viewed other spaces throughout the film?

HB: I designed the whole of every space, so there wasn't anything that the camera couldn't see, or places the camera couldn't be, total 360. Ryan had layouts and plans for every set, and we would walk through with Maryse Alberti, the DP, and discuss what needed to be tweaked and talk about the scene from a technical angle and an emotional angle. Ryan has an amazing sense for where the camera should be and how he sees the scene playing out, which is a great blessing and made it easier for me to go in and make sure things were where they need to be. It didn't change the way I saw other spaces so much. We approached each space as its own story with its own needs.  

INT: Adonis has an interesting relationship with space in this film. Adonis’ apartment in Philadelphia consists of a mattress and a lamp. We see him living in different spaces but never know exactly what his personal space would look like. Is this something that was intentional?

HB: It was definitely intentional. We wanted Adonis to be finding himself throughout the film. He was never really settled and that's part his attraction to Bianca (Tessa Thompson). She was very sure of herself, driven, and had a place in the world. Her space was warm and lived in, where Adonis' spaces were cold and always something someone else wanted for him. It also made the three of them at Rocky's house feel more like family.  The spaces reflected the people and where they were in their lives when we meet them, whether it was moving forward, stuck in the past or never settled.  

Bianca's Apartment Floor Plan

Bianca's Apartment Inspiration

INT: It’s interesting that the physical proximity of Adonis and Bianca and them living in the same building is what brings them together. Can you talk about her apartment?

HB: I would say her apartment was one of my favorite sets. When Ryan and I first talked about it, he said he wanted her apartment to be the heart of the film, for it to feel like a different space from all the rest – and when she talks out the window to Rocky and Adonis, he wanted it to almost have this fairytale spin to it, like Rapunzel, but with a modern feel. Tessa and I talked one day for a couple hours about Bianca's apartment and how she saw Bianca, the kinds of details that would be in her apartment. I asked her to bring some of her personal belongings for us to put on the set and she brought quite a few things. I used flat paint in Bianca's apartment to soften the light hitting the walls, and we added a lot of architectural detail to elevate the space to the brownstone it used to be, instead of just painting the unattractive drywall. It had to feel like an upcoming musician lived there, who was an artist in every sense of the word, was young, and aspired to go beyond what she was at the moment. When Tessa walked in she grabbed me and said, “This feels like Bianca, it feels like she lives here." That is the best thing a Production Designer could ever hear. I have to give it up to Set Decorator Amanda Carroll too, as she did a fantastic job.

INT: We see Rocky Balboa’s apartment in this film. In a particularly great scene, we end on a shot of a turtle. Can you talk about that choice and its nod to the first Rocky film?  

HB: I think we searched for that location for about a month. We'd find something that could work and then it'd fall through for any one of a plethora of reasons and at the 11th hour we found the location we ended up using. We basically gutted a house from top to bottom and used every room except one, which you don't see. Paul Maiello, Construction Coordinator and Nell Stiffel, Scenic Charge, worked their magic in a very short amount of time. There was a huge question at one point if we use the house from Rocky Balboa a sort of continuation, but after much consideration, Ryan said, “Let's do our own thing.” So we started fresh with an entirely new house and new design. I wanted there to be a lot from Rocky's past in this space and, in fact there was a ton of stuff in there, you may not notice on the first watch. It was a delicate balance, to be sure. I didn't want it to be a museum but it need to feel like his life. We built the piece where you find Cuff and Link and, at first it was a bookshelf, and we put a couch in front of it. It was an incredibly small space as are most row houses in Philly, especially the older ones. I was looking at that particular build and I asked one of the carpenters to take the bookshelf out. After that, I like the openness it provided into the dining room, but I wanted to see something there that made sense. And then it hit me. I called the Amanda and told her we need a tank. She was like, “For fish?” and I said, “No, for turtles, with an old greenish florescent light in it, it should be old.” So in came the tank with the light. The turtles in it weren't the original Cuff and Link. They are still alive, but were too big for our tank, so we got stand ins, and in went the turtles and Sylvester Stallone loved it. I figured Rocky would have them still. And I loved that greenish florescent light. The shot of the turtles was all Ryan! So I'm glad I put them there, because that was a great moment.  

Hannah Beachler is an Award Winning Production Designer and has worked on various Films and Television Shows. You can visit her Website to see more of her work. Hannah Beachler is represented by DDA.