One Hell of An Eye
The Official Blog of Mike Salisbury
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If you have a good beginning, go out with a bang.

There have been commercials and TV graphics with head-butting, exploding football helmets, one beer bottle crashing into another and exploding; endless other things crashing into each other and exploding. But the exploding gloves image we created with Sylvester Stallone for the teaser trailer for Rocky IV was the first (although I did work on blowing up Jack in The Box).

Rocky IV is a metaphor for the Cold War and the trailer we created, and more specifically the ending with its exploding red and white boxing gloves, is its visual metaphor, a logo; one that was ultimately so popular the film didn’t need the title for identification. Just show those exploding gloves and people knew what movie you were talking about. That visual metaphor became my most copied graphic.

Unlike most movie trailers, traditionally constructed of images culled from existing footage of the film, our teaser trailer was developed like a commercial, from storyboard to execution, every image shot specifically for the trailer.

MGM Senior VP of Advertising, Greg Morrison, and Bill Loper, the studio’s Director of Advertising, were my clients. To shoot, I hired cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, whose credits include The Deerhunter, Close Encounters, Life Is a House, and Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda. I produced and directed. We got Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren in a simple empty garage in Culver City and created our mini-movie.

Mike Salisbury directing Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren.

I had Vilmos position the camera low to push the height of Dolph to visually loom large over Stallone. We wanted to build on the legend of ‘Rocky’ and symbolize the concept of Rocky IV being bigger than life.

“Stallone liked the trailer but thought the ending needed more of a punch.” – Betsy Sharkey, ADWEEK

We had powerful footage of the two men boxing but I agreed with Sly and brought in R&B Efx of Burbank. With them we created the live exploding gloves image with the multi-dimensional movie title emerging from the smoke.

“We built four sets of plaster gloves and had some pyrotechnic guys blow them up with dynamite caps.”  – Michael Morreale, Efx’s executive producer.

Movie poster with gloves.

Since we were shooting independent footage not cut from the film itself, we had to carefully match the closing action sequence shot days earlier: the gloves were in a certain hanging position and had to be perfectly duplicated for continuity’s sake. For an entire day Efx blew up gloves but it was actually the second set that made the final cut.

At a time when only about 40% of the traditional movie trailers actually got played by exhibitors, MGM took special care to make sure this trailer would be seen, latching it to its very popular James Bond franchise, which had A View To Kill as its major summer release that year.

“Rocky IV, The Trailer has had audiences screaming in the aisles, exhibitors begging for copies and TV stations crying for behind-the-scenes interviews.” –Betsy Sharkey, ADWEEK

I was told that cynical movie marketers were waiting to see if our mini-movie would work to sell a major feature.

It did.

Tracking studies assessing impact indicated our teaser trailer pushed awareness of the movie past 36%, well beyond the 5-10% public awareness a trailer typically generated.  Rocky IV went on to become the highest grossing of all the Rocky movies, opening with the best weekend of all.  We got ‘em in the doors and the movie kept the audiences coming to the theaters.

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”     — Winston Churchill

(A tip o’ the hat to Betsy Sharkey for all the word help.)

 

(Gloves available for purchase at ScreenUsed.com)

 

Comments:

Mike, I was 10 when this movie came out. The movie poster brings me back to those lovely ’80s. I will miss them again and again. The trailer is a film in itself. Pure drama, stunning angles, lights and effects. Cold War metaphor with gloves, heat & sweat. I will trade this one with tons of trailers we have now. Richard L.

Hey Mike – FYI: your log0 for Gordon & Smith was listed as one of the top 100 of the most widely recognized logos from San Diego companies EVER! (http://bit.ly/kRB4Fx). Thanks again for the classic Gordon & Smith logo. 52 years and who’s counting? Larry & Gayle Gordon

Wow! Thanks, Gayle! MS


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