Great Scene: "Rocky"

July 10th, 2009 by

Last night, GITS reader-editor-writer-director and major movie buff Kevin Wild stopped by, so I asked him for a Great Scene. He said, “Hey, you should do some that came about because of budget issues.” And he immediately thought of the ice-skating scene in the movie Rocky (1976). As Kevin remembered it, the scene as written in the original script was supposed to include a bunch of skaters on the ice rink for Rocky (screenwriter, director and leading man Sylvester Stallone) and Adrian (Talia Shire) to circumnavigate. But Kevin said, “I think they had to cut the other skaters because they couldn’t afford the extras.” So I Googled “rocky ice skating scene budget extras,” and sure enough, Kevin was right. In this article from 2001, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release, there’s this:

It was like the independent movies of today — it was about taking a risk,” Shire said. “It wasn’t about having so much money at stake, where you tend to forfeit your ideas and solve your problems in a more formulaic way. In ‘Rocky,’ there wasn’t that much money. And because the risk factors were changed, little eccentricities were allowed to happen.

One of those eccentricities, Shire said, was the memorable scene in which Rocky took her ice skating. The scene called for a crowd of people, but there wasn’t enough money in the budget to hire enough extras.

“That turned out to be something that just suited the scene beautifully,” she said.

Here is the scene as it was scripted without the extras:

               
INT. ICE SKATING RINK - NIGHT

Rocky and Adrian enter a deserted skating rink.

ROCKY
Looks quiet, y'know.

ADRIAN
I think it's closed.

ROCKY
I think mebbe we're early or somethin' --

From across the rink a CLEANING MAN yells at them.

CLEANER
Hey, whatta ya doin' here -- we're
closed... Yo, we're closed!

ROCKY
(yells back)
Are ya closed to the General Public
or to just everybody.

CLEANER
(starts to walk over)
Hey, the rink is empty 'cause we're
closed -- ya ain't allowed in here
so do me a favor an' not stay here.

ROCKY
Wait here, gotta smooth this guy
out.

ADRIAN
(softly)
We could go somewhere else an' --

Rocky approaches the Cleaner.

CLEANER
Yo, pal, what's with you -- The place
ain't operatin'.

ROCKY
Listen, I gotta problem. This girl
ain't feelin' well, y'know -- The
doctor says she should exercise,
y'know once in awhile an' ice skatin'
is the best thing --

CLEANER
This a con?

ROCKY
Look at her, ya can see she ain't
feelin' good -- needs a few minutes
exercise --

CLEANER
Few minutes?

ROCKY
...Ten minutes.

CLEANER
Ten minutes for ten dollars.

ROCKY
...Yeah, give 'er the Blades.

INT. ICE SKATING RINK - NIGHT

Adrian has on skates. Rocky follows her onto the ice. He
wears street shoes.

ADRIAN
...Aren't you skating?

ROCKY
Ain't skated since I was fifteen --
That's when I started fightin' --
gotta watch the ankles. Yeah, fightin'
use to be tops with me, but no more.
All I wanted to prove was I weren't
no bum -- That I had the stuff to
make a good pro.

ADRIAN
And you never got the chance?

The Cleaner yells from the sideline.

CLEANER
Nine minutes!

ROCKY
Hey, I ain't cryin'... I still fight.
Kinda do it like a hobby. See I'm a
natural southpaw an' most pugs won't
fight a southpaw 'cause we mess up
their timin' an' look awkward --
Southpaw means lefthanded... But I
guess in the long run things probably
worked out for the best, right?

ADRIAN
But you never had a chance to prove
yourself.

ROCKY
Absolutely.

CLEANER
Eight minutes!

Adrian slips and Rocky breaks her fall.

ROCKY
I just dislocated my finger.

ADRIAN
Ohh!

CLEANER
Seven minutes!

ROCKY
It ain't your fault -- I originally
done it in the Baby Crenshaw fight.
(opens his wallet)
That's me fightin' Big Baby Crenshaw --
Big Baby was the size of an airplane
an' I broke my hands on his head --
I lost, but it's a nice picture,
don't ya think?

CLEANER
Six!

ROCKY
How 'bout some Cokes?

CLEANER
Cost ya a buck.

ROCKY
This guy is beautiful -- get the
Cokes.

Adrian does a slight turn and Rocky has to speed up
and nearly falls.

ROCKY
(continuing)
See, I ain't graceful, y'know -- I
don't move good -- Stink as a dancer
too -- But I can really swat, I hit
hard, real hard, but I'm a southpaw
an' nobody wants to fight a southpaw! --
Havin' a good time?

Adrian nods and is very nervous... The Cleaner moves carefully
across the ice.

ROCKY
(continuing)
Y'know how I got started in the fight
racket?

ADRIAN
By accident?

CLEANER
Here -- Three minutes.

ROCKY
Yeah -- My ol' man who was never the
sharpest told me -- I weren't born
with much brain so I better use my
body.

For the first time, Adrian laughs.

ROCKY
(continuing)
What's funny?

ADRIAN
My mother told me just the opposite.
She said, 'You weren't born with
much of a body so you'd better develop
your brain.'

CLEANER
Time!

The Cleaner walks over as Rocky and Adrian get off the ice.

CLEANER
(continuing)
That's ten bucks.

ROCKY
I must be goin' deaf 'cause I thought
ya said, 'ten cents.'

Rocky hands him a dime.
CLEANER
(weakly)
...How 'bout for the Cokes?

ROCKY
Charge it.

Rocky and Adrian start to leave. Rocky pauses at the door and
fishes into his pocket and hands over eleven dollars.

ROCKY
(continuing)
Had ya goin', didn't I, huh?

He grins and leaves.

That’s a great bit of business with the Cleaner calling out the minute count, then finally “Time!” It puts just enough comedy and edge in the scene to cut away any hint of schmaltz. And it adds a layer of tension on top of the scene which combines with the sexual tension playing under the scene. Wonderful stuff. Here’s the film version:

H/T to Kevin for the suggestion. How about you? Know of any great movie scenes that were inspired by or forced into being due to lack of funds?

And for all you Rocky fans, please feel free to add your stories — personal or otherwise — about this ‘small’ movie that created a huge sensation in 1976.

4 thoughts on “Great Scene: "Rocky"

  1. Joshua James says:

    The famous baby on the steps scene in THE UNTOUCHABLES was a late sequence put in because they didn't have the money for the elaborate train chase scene that was originally scripted by Mamet.

    So since they were out of time and money, and Mamet couldn't be bothered (he was directing something by then) De Palma put in an homage to Battleship Potemkin, cheaper because it's one location, and designed the sequence himself.

    It became the centerpiece of the film.

    I wrote about it here: http://writerjoshuajames.com/dailydojo/?p=999

  2. The Bitter Script Reader says:

    The first one that comes to mind is the infamous scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy shoots the swordsman rather than get into a protracted fight with him.

    The way Spielberg likes to tell the story, Harrison Ford was quite ill that day and said he had maybe an hour of shooting in him. Speilberg said, "Harrison, the only way I could do this in an hour is if Indy just shot the guy." That got a laugh from the crew, and so the change was made on the spot.

  3. Adam says:

    Speaking of Spielberg, this wasn't due to lack of money, but the whole first two thirds or so of JAWS, where the shark is mostly unseen is so effective because the mechanical shark built for the movie malfunctioned so much that Spielberg was forced to shoot around it. Or maybe it simply wasn't ready for a long time, I can't remember specifically.

    The ultimate example of this has to be MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. They didn't have money for horses, hordes of extras and obviously judging from the solutions they came up with the movie is infinitely better and funnier for it.

  4. Adam says:

    As for ROCKY, I'm ashamed to say that even though I'm a child of the 70s/early 80s and have seen bits and pieces of it, I've yet to see the whole thing from start to finish. I'll have to rectify that soon.

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