Hometown Director Steven Caple Jr. on Taking the Rocky Reins

The one film that Clevelanders should take special interest in during Thanksgiving weekend is Creed II, the sequel to 2015's Creed, which starred Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed, the son of Carl Weathers' Apollo Creed from the original Rocky films. It opens in wide release on Wednesday.

It's directed by Cleveland native Steven Caple Jr., who exploded on to the scene with his Sundance hit The Land in 2016. He now takes the Rocky franchise reins from his close friend Ryan Coogler, who most recently directed Black Panther. Coogler recommended Caple for the film when his schedule wouldn't allow him to direct the sequel himself.

Creed II draws its visual inspiration from a number of Caple's idols (Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan), and from the first Rocky film itself, Caple's favorite, which was much more concerned with characters than it was with boxing. The fights in Creed II are well choreographed and often brutal, and Rocky fans will savor a flagship desert training sequence, but Caple told Scene that his primary artistic aim was building dimensional characters. More than any Rocky film to date, Creed II explores the lives of the opponents, in this case Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) and his father, Rocky IV's Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).

The script was conceived in broad strokes by Stallone, but was filled in by Caple and the actors themselves. Caple described the set as a rich and collaborative space that was often challenging on a tight production schedule.

"But that's why we're family," Caple said. "If you're not coming together through struggle, you'll end up with something like that banner where the LeBron banner used to be." (Our interview was held downtown, and Caple said the new Sherwin-Williams' Guardians of Traffic collage looked "hokey.")

A proud Clevelander, Caple made a special 24-hour trip to promote the film last week, but he said that the city sometimes feels "like it's still stuck in a cheap commercial from the '90s. If you're not willing to add spice to the mix, you're going to fall even further behind."

Caple grew up on the west side — he graduated from John Marshall after a year at Max Hayes — and said he got some flack for his portrayal of Cleveland in The Land. "It was like, 'That's not how the West Side Market is supposed to look,'" he said.

For that film, he had recent grads, friends and family members on set for the low-budget shoot. Creed II took Caple to Philly, L.A., New York and New Mexico. And he said the biggest challenge, in addition to the grueling schedule, was communicating his vision to the vast number of internal department heads, including the visual effects team.

Caple said he's uncertain what his next project might be. He said he'd be content to work on a small film if it meant he'd have artistic sovereignty. And he's hopeful a script he wrote for HBO about Emmett Till, which was ultimately dropped, may find new life with Creed II's success. When asked if he had any interest in the new Space Jam movie, which Ryan Coogler is producing, Caple said he was asked to direct, but declined. "I can't just be the sequel guy!"