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10 Things "Creed" Can Teach Screenwriters

by ScreenCraft on January 8, 2016

Lindsey Addawoo is an emerging screenwriter and producer from Toronto, ON, Canada. Her sci-fi drama pilot, Diagnosis, was selected for the Bahamas International Film Festival Screenwriters Residency Program and is in the process of being developed.

DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS!

With the massive success of the latest Rocky film Creed starring Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) and Golden Globe nominee Sylvester Stallone (Rocky franchise), it’s hard to think of any other 2015 film that came close to the impact Creed had on all audiences.

Directed by 29 year-old Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), the film serves as the perfect continuation to an already established franchise.

In essence, it’s the Rocky film we didn’t know we needed.

With a remixed soundtrack, eye-grabbing cinematography, and exceptional acting, it’s no wonder Marvel has its eyes set on Coogler to direct Black Panther in 2018.

Perhaps what makes this Rocky spin-off so remarkable is its voice. With an obvious ode to the original Rocky films, it still manages to carve its own unique space and cater to a younger, less nostalgic audience. We’ve seen countless films take us on a journey of the heart, throwing our hero through the mud to see what he (or she) is really made of. Creed does this flawlessly. It’s refreshingly familiar to witness the son of a great legacy fight his way to the top, despite the obvious odds stacked against him.

Whether you’re an athlete or someone in the arts, there are many lessons to be learned from this film. And if you’re a screenwriter specifically, then this is for you.

Here are 10 things Creed can teach us when it comes to the wonderful world of screenwriting:

1. Persistence is Key

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It goes without saying that Adonis “Creed” Johnson is persistent. From beginning to end, we see how determined he is to fight — and win. Whether it’s in the slums of Tijuana or the boxing rings of Liverpool, Adonis makes it clear from the beginning that not only is he determined — he was born to do it.

While writers don’t necessarily need to “die in the ring” like Apollo Creed did, there is much to be said about how persistent we have to be in order to see projects through. Do you love it? Are you willing to sacrifice time, effort, and money for it after multiple rejections and painful feedback from industry readers? How much do you value sleep? Are you able to work that day job, and still write by night?

2. Find Your Rhythm

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There’s a beautiful scene just before Adonis steps out to the ring. He and Rocky sway back and forth as if in a trance. But Rocky isn’t giving him a pep-talk — he’s getting him to visualize. Getting him into his groove. Helping him find his rhythm.

From feature screenplay writers to 30-minute sitcomers, at some point you’ll need to sit down and hammer out your ideas. At that moment, it becomes you and your words on that blank screen. It’s your inner voice that bleeds onto every iPhone note, napkin, or page in your notebook. With a world brimming with distractions, it’s important to find that quiet place in your mind where you can find your rhythm that makes you hammer out 4 pages in one sitting. Whether it’s an ideal soundtrack you want to use or candle-lit ambiance, it’s important to find that one special thing that sets you on the path of rampant creativity.

3. Go the Distance

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What was beautiful — and awfully reminiscent — of Creed was its homage to the original Rocky. In the 1976 film, the ‘Italian Stallion’ knew he was outmatched when setting up to fight the legendary Apollo Creed. His primary goal? To be able to just go the distance. This theme was beautifully recreated in Creed, with both Stallone and Jordan’s characters fighting to the bitter end, one round, day, and fight at a time.

With writers, “winning” can be a difficult goal to even make in the first place. Most writers with an aim to become famous usually don’t. Instead, the ones who succeed are those who love it enough to truly learn — and relearn — their craft, hone their skills and shape their voice.

4. It’s Okay to be the Underdog

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We’ve all been there. Adonis was a 16-0 fighter challenging a 36-0 champion, and knew full well that he was the lesser-experienced new kid on the block.

At some point, each and every single one of us has found ourselves in that vulnerable position. As writers, we’ve all had to start somewhere, and have had no choice but to welcome adversity. Sometimes being at the bottom just means that there is literally nowhere else to go but up. What better position to soak up knowledge and learn the ropes?

5. Be Humble or Be Humbled

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Exhibit A: The beginning of the film when Adonis challenges Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler, an 18-0 boxer, to the ring after defeating an opponent. That cringe-worthy knockout was enough to send the message home that anyone can be knocked down and out.

Likewise, it’s easy to get caught in this trap in the screenwriting world. Optioning your script does not mean you are safe. Selling your script does not mean you are safe. Landing an agent/manager, connecting with a producer, or placing in a screenwriting competition does not mean you are safe. At any point, your next move could cost you. Hollywood is risky business. So hold off on buying the Ferrari until after you’ve secured a few projects under your belt.

6. Feelings are Irrelevant

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In the ring, your emotions are irrelevant. In fact, they could cost you a win. Staying focused by playing smart gets you to the final round, not pent-up aggression.

As serious screenwriters, the time will one day come when you must throw your script (your baby) to the pack of wolves (the industry execs). Whether or not it is destroyed, ignored, or comes out alive, you need to be able to take the emotional hits. It is a gruelling, but necessary, task to have your hard work ripped to shreds in order to make it better.

7. Carve a Space For Yourself

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Like Adonis, screenwriters must use their voice to carve out their own space in a sea of other writers. Despite the many stories told before you, despite who you might know, and despite similar concepts being done before, no one can tell your story like you. Or fight like you. Or voice your character like you.

Jen Sincero, author of You Are A Badass, brilliantly states that, “You are perfect. To think anything less is as pointless as a river thinking that it’s got too many curves or that it moves too slowly or that its rapids are too rapid. Says who? You’re on a journey with no defined beginning, middle, or end. There are no wrong twists and turns. There is just being. And your job is to be as you as you can be. This is why you’re here. To shy away from who you truly are would leave the world you-less. You are the only you there is and ever will be. I repeat, you are the only you there is and ever will be. Do not deny the world its one and only chance to bask in your brilliance.” 

8. Know Who You Are

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Similarly, in order to carve that space for yourself, you must know who you are and what message you bring. What differentiates you from the pack? What will you stand for? What are you willing to compromise for the good of a script sale? Are you the Stallone to your Rocky — unwilling to compromise despite the money thrown at you to walk away? Or is it a stepping-stone towards a bigger, better, more tailored story that you’re itching to tell? Adonis wouldn’t settle for the life his father created, insisting he build his own legacy. “Creed Johnson” on his shorts was the perfect bridge between Apollo’s legacy and his own.

9. Believe in Yourself

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Sometimes the only person who will believe in your story is you. It’s what motivates writers to rewrite the same draft 3, 6, or 9 times, only to have to rewrite it again. As writers, we’re often taken as seriously as we take ourselves, and even then, it’s tough to gain the respect we think we deserve. After all, Adonis’ 16-0 sure wasn’t respected by Conland’s team. Yet, he believed in himself enough to know that despite their different stats, he just might have a shot.

Writing isn’t easy. It is actual blood, sweat, and tears. It is a purging process. It is a refining fire. And it isn’t for the faint of heart.  

10. And Lastly, Be Patient

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As cliché as it sounds, nothing comes overnight. Not a title. Not a movie.

Much of a writer’s career is a slow waiting game. Use that time to work on other projects, sharpen your mind with worldly experiences and good reads, and know that one day, your time will come.

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