Creed II Screenwriter Juel Taylor Talks His Big Break, Collaboration and the Importance of Having a ‘Fire Script’
February 6, 2019
Locking himself in a room for days is not necessarily Juel Taylor’s idea of fun, but for the 31-year-old co-writer of Creed II, it’s what got the job done.
“I tend to write at home,” Taylor says. “So I sit on the couch and relax, put something on and start writing. And then I do it over and over again. It’s very boring for an outsider looking in.”
But this method is how the screenwriter was able to get through undergraduate school at the University of Florida, graduate school at the University of Southern California and finally, how he’s been able to write his way into the minds of people who could help him succeed in the film industry.
Six months after graduating in 2015, Taylor, who is originally from Tuskegee, Alabama, was accepted into the Universal Writers Program. After the one-year program, he went from project to project for the next few years before landing it big, as the co-writer on Creed II. The $50 million-dollar sequel to 2015’s Creed that revived the Rocky Balboa legend.
“It was a prior relationship with the director, Steven, who threw my name into the ring when he got the job. He advocated for me and really wanted me to do it,” Taylor recalls. “From there, it was meeting with the execs at MGM, them reading my stuff and taking a chance. A lot of persistence by the director, Steven…”
Taylor met Steven Caple Jr., Creed II’s director, in film school where they immediately hit it off and cultivated a relationship.
“Steven was two years ahead of me in the program, so he was leaving as I was starting,” Taylor remembers. “I was a production assistant on one of his sets in my first semester.”
Years later, he’d be on set again with Steven, not as students this time, but working professionals in the industry they’d both worked hard to get into. “It was a lot of fun,” Taylor says. “It was surreal.”
Taylor co-wrote the film with critically acclaimed actor, director and writer, Sylvester Stallone, who starred in the first six Rocky films and co-starred in Creed. The groundwork, including characters and storyline, had already been laid out by writers Cheo Hodari Coker and Sascha Penn. Then it was up to Taylor and Stallone to rewrite and formulate the final script. It was a lot of bouncing ideas and several drafts off of each other.
“Sascha and Cheo had worked on the script prior to Steven and I coming on board, and Sly... It’s the way the process works. It comes down to arbitration. Cheo and Sasha had laid down the groundwork that we built the story off of.”
But it wasn’t that simple.
“It’s always difficult when you have a lot of masters to please in a lot of ways,” Taylor says. “You’ve got the fans of the original Rocky 4, which was obviously a cult classic, then you’ve got new fans of Creed, and they are extremely different movies with these different fan bases. When you’re trying to appease long standing fans, while also appeasing new fans who might not have seen Rocky 4 but love Creed, that’s always hard.”
“You also have to make sure the studio is happy, the director, the producer… You’ve got a lot of people whose voices are very important in the pipeline,” Taylor continues. “You’re never in a vacuum, just writing.”
But Taylor says despite the grueling process, it was an awesome experience working with “Sly” and one of the hot talents on the movie, Michael B. Jordan.
“Mike was awesome. [I] sit down with them [the actors], talk to them, get input on their arcs and characters. They know their characters better than you do,” Taylor says. “Sly is great. He’s a writer! He’s a movie star and producer and director, but he is also a writer that pretty much looks like most other people. He’s self-conscious, just like any writer is. He’s very much collaborative and like ‘What do you think about this?’. He’s open to debating and going back and forth. It was cool to see and be a part of that process.”
Thus far, Creed II has earned $176 million worldwide; that’s $3 million more than its predecessor. So, what’s next for Taylor?
“We are trying to set up a few projects, trying to make both film and TV,” Taylor says. “The one thing we sold recently is a short story called “By All” to Legendary.” There are also a number of “off the record” projects that Taylor is hoping come to fruition.
As a young screenwriter, Taylor says there isn’t just one way to get noticed in Hollywood. “There are the fellowships, for starters. I think you also need to get to know people,” he continues. “If you’re good at networking; being proactive and putting yourself in the industry environment... Going to screenings, mixers, talks — being in Los Angeles or New York and being in a place where your likelihood of meeting [someone] is high.”
But Taylor is quick to add that the one thing every screenwriter should remember is, at the end of the day, getting noticed is about having a memorable script. “The obvious thing is to have fire,” Taylor advises. “Fire material.”
Creed II is rated PG-13. It will be available in digital format Feb. 12 and on Blu-Ray March 5.
Written by: Allison Collins-SmithAllison Collins-Smith is a twice Emmy-nominated journalist who has worked as a television reporter and anchor in markets around the country. She has covered a variety of stories from the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia to President Trump’s travel ban in the fourth circuit court of appeals. Allison has also won AP awards for her work and a Catalyst For Change award from the Arc of Virginia for her reporting on the disabled community. Allison just moved to Los Angeles with her screen writer husband and two cats and is excited for all LA has to offer!