New Rocky Movie Creed Features Johnny Brenda’s In a Big Way

It was supposed to be the Troc. But then kismet stepped in.

Photo by G. Widman, courtesy Visit Philly

Photo by G. Widman, courtesy Visit Philly

Way back in 2013, a band from Los Angeles called Caught a Ghost played an opening slot on a Thursday night at popular Fishtown bar-restaurant-nightclub Johnny Brenda’s, one of Foobooz’s Best Bars of 2015. The show didn’t get any press, and we couldn’t find a single video from the night other than a quick soundcheck clip of the headliner. But the gig was pivotal in landing Johnny Brenda’s some significant screen time in Creed, the new Rocky movie that opens nationwide on November 25th.

One of the members of Caught a Ghost that night was actress Tessa Thompson, whom you might recognize from Selma, Dear White People and Veronica Mars. She’s also a singer. And it looks like she had a good time playing the show at Johnny Brenda’s.

About a year after the gig, Creed director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) cast Thompson to play a Philadelphia singer named Bianca, the love interest of Creed main character Adonis Creed (aka Apollo’s son), played by rising star Michael B. Jordan, also of Fruitvale Station. (Yes, Sylvester Stallone is in Creed, too.) And when Bianca needed a place to play a gig in the movie, Thompson knew just where to bring the cameras.

“She dragged the art director and then the director over to see the place and really pulled the production over there,” says Johnny Brenda’s co-owner William Reed, who adds that some of the bar’s regulars happened to be in the Creed tech crew. “I think they looked out for us.”

Appears so.

In the film, Bianca performs on the instantly recognizable Johnny Brenda’s stage for a good amount of time. There are also exterior shots and shots of the upstairs bar. On top of that, Bianca says the name of the club quite clearly when inviting Adonis to see her there, and there is a shot of a poster on the wall bearing the name of the club in big letters. Even once the film is over, a still shot of Bianca on stage appears in the credits.

Here’s a quick shot of Bianca on the Johnny Brenda’s stage, as seen in the trailer:

As Reed tells it, the Creed crew already had another location booked: The Troc. But Thompson insisted that they consider Johnny Brenda’s.

“The location scout came by and was pretty candid that they weren’t sure this was going to happen, because they were already at the Troc,” says Reed. “I love the Troc, and I have no glee in them not getting something, but I have to agree with them that Johnny Brenda’s was the perfect place.”

The production rented out Johnny Brenda’s for three days, working both day and all through the night. Reed says that while it was like having an “occupying army” in his venue — he estimates that the crew numbered 100 and same for the extras — he didn’t have any complaints. “They were awesome, and our own venue staff really worked well with them,” he says. “I was also happy that they let the place play itself. They didn’t try to make it into something else.”

And it turns out that this wasn’t the first time that a Rocky movie crew had considered Johnny Brenda’s. When location scouts were in town for the 2006 film Rocky Balboa, they paid the bar a visit, expressing interest in the downstairs bar.

“They were trying to get us excited about it,” explains Reed. “‘You might be in the next Rocky movie!’ Stallone was to be behind the bar, and I’m listening to this guy, and finally I ask, ‘Is this going to be the nadir of Rocky’s existence?’ And he basically says yes. That’s awesome. I can’t wait to have my bar featured as the shittiest place on earth to be.

As for whether you’ll see your favorite bartender or Johnny Brenda’s regular in the movie, it doesn’t sound like it. Reed says that the extras were made up of people that the production brought in. But one employee might have gotten a little screen time.

Although there was a full union sound crew, Johnny Brenda’s convinced the production to hire their longtime sound and light guru Paul Cobb as an additional hand. All he had to do was stay out of the way and hit “play” at the sound booth for the track that Bianca was to perform. Reed says Cobb did this scores of times as the camera crew was figuring out the exact shots.

Then it came time for the actual shooting to begin, and the stars and director Coogler walked into the room. “What’s with the DJ?” Coogler asked, eyeing Cobb, who explained that he was just a behind-the-scenes guy. Coogler disagreed and sent Cobb to makeup and wardrobe.

Reed says he’s definitely excited to see Creed when it comes out later this month, mentioning that the trailer looks great. We’ve actually seen the whole movie, and while we’re not allowed to share our opinions on it (reviews are embargoed until the release date), let’s just say we’ll be right there with him to see it again.