Sylvester Stallone has achieved worldwide recognition as a writer, director, and as an actor ever since he burst onto the scene as the title character in his own screenplay in the movie Rocky back in 1976. Although Sly has garnered fame and fortune over the last 40 years and has become a household name, the route he took to get there certainly wasn’t an easy one. It is however, worth sharing since it is a great story about what can happen if you are truly focused on your goals…
Sylvester Stallone knew at an early age, all he wanted to do was be in the movie business. For him it wasn’t just about being rich or famous, but he wanted to offer people a chance to escape and have the opportunity to inspire people. When he left college and moved back to New York in his late 20’s, he did everything he could to try to land jobs. He went on thousands of acting calls and went to virtually every agent in the city only to be told he was goofy looking, talked with a slur (due to obstetricians misuse of forceps during his birth that led to a severed nerve and caused paralysis in parts of Stallone’s face) and would never make it as an actor. Did this discourage him? probably. Did this stop him? absolutely not.
One day, he went to an agents office at 4pm, and the agent wouldn’t see him. Sylvester “Rocky Balboa” Stallone stayed the night there. When the agent came back to work the next day and saw him, he finally realized the wanna be actor wasn’t giving up, and he gave him his first part. It was a small, crummy role, but he took it out of desperation since he had already spent the last few weeks sleeping at a bus station after being evicted from his apartment. He has said “it was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end – the very end – of my rope.”
After doing this, and a handful of other small roles, he realized things weren’t exactly panning out. One bit part led to another, and he wasn’t seeing anything resembling a big break coming. Finally after going to a library to simply go somewhere warm (he couldn’t afford to heat his apartment at the time) he ended up reading a book by Edgar Allen Poe. After reading this book and a few others by the same author, he was able to escape his own mindset and started seeing a bigger picture. Since what he had been trying wasn’t working, he knew he was in need of a different approach and action plan. It was after this realization, that he then began writing.
He wrote a handful of screenplays with little to no success. Unfortunately for young Sylvester, it seemed like screen writing was starting off much like his fledgling acting career. He did end up selling one screenplay for a movie he would go on and end up making called Paradise Alley for $100, but by that point, he and his wife at the time were completely broke. It got so bad that shortly after, he pawned all his wife’s jewelry, and had to convince a stranger to buy his dog (his best friend) for only $25 since he couldn’t afford to feed him anymore. Rock bottom anyone?
It’s only after you’ve lost everything, that you’re free to do anything. – Tyler Durden, Fight Club
After spending a couple weeks depressed and reflecting on things, came the moment that would end up changing the course of Sylvester Stallone’s life. It was during the Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner fight, that Stallone came up with the idea for Rocky. Wepner in that fight kept getting battered and beaten, but his will wouldn’t allow him to give in. Stallone went home and immediately started writing and wouldn’t stop until he was finished. With the entire screenplay. In 20 hours!
After finishing the screenplay for Rocky and being excited about the future again, he had to find a way to sell it. After pitching the idea numerous times, the agents weren’t buying. They called it stupid, sappy, predicable, and really didn’t want any part of it. That was until producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler came in. They liked the script and made him a $125,000 dollar offer which Stallone promptly turned down. You see, he had been trying to sell the script with the intention of playing the lead role, because his dream wasn’t to be a writer, it was to be an actor, and the producers weren’t having it.
They would come back weeks later and offer him $325,000 for the script. Stallone, still flat broke, again said no.
Finally they would agree to buy the script and have Stallone act in the title role, but would only pay him $35,000 since it was a risk to produce such a movie with a no-name actor.
Stallone would go on to take $15,000 of that money and track down his best friend, his dog. They would go on to make Rocky which would gross over $200 million, become a 6 movie franchise, win the Oscar for best picture, and Sylvester Stallone would go on to become an international movie star. The rest as they say, is history.
It just goes to show that if you’re determined, even though the things you want might not be easy to attain, in the end they’re worth it.