Perhaps you’ve head some of the backstory of the making of the motion picture Rocky, written and starring Sylvester Stallone. I had heard whiffs of this but I stumbled on a series of videos that interviewed Stallone and when I dug down a little more, found an incredible story of perseverance and determination. The videos are assembled at the bottom of this post if you’re interested in hearing it right from the horse’s mouth.
In the early 70’s Sylvester Stallone wanted to be an actor and was striking out. He was broke, no money and living in New York. Times were so desperate that he hocked his (first) wife’s jewelry. (Something that he advises that you never do. Duh!)
One day he went to the library just to get warm and stumbled on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe and was inspired to start writing.
He moved out to California with his dog and best friend, Butkus, and ends up living in one room where he could open the window and door while sitting on the bed.
California is not going much better and he’s so destitute he couldn’t feed his dog. He went down to the local liquor store tried to sell for him $50. Someone beats him down to $25 and he took it.
Then one night he saw the heavyweight boxing match: Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner. Wepner was a boxing ‘stumblebum’ brought out to fight the champ, and heavy underdog. But the fight lasted all 15 rounds and he actually knocked Ali down. Stallone was inspired by the story and wrote the whole movie screenplay for Rocky in just a couple of days.
A few weeks after, Stallone was at a casting call for an acting part. He did not get the part, as usual, and as going out the door he mentioned that he had a script that he was working on. He asked if they’d be interested in taking a look. They consented.
Well, after reading the script, they liked what they saw, and they offered him $25,000. So, here’s someone who sold his dog for $25 and is offered this seemingly huge sum. There was one condition Stallone had: he had to play Rocky. There was no way. The producers had Ryan O’Neil, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, or James Caan in mind to play Rocky.
From there, they sweetened the offer until they reached $375,000. Stallone still refused! Frustrated, their final offer was that he could star in the movie but he would only get $35,000 for the script and less than a million to produce. He took it.
His first step was to go back to liquor store to buy back his dog. He staked it out for 3 straight days and the dog and his new owner finally showed. He explained how much the dog meant to him and offered $100. Nope. $500? $1000? Nope. They settled on $15,000 and a part in the movie. The dog is back and actually appeared in the movie!
So even in 1976 $1M is not allot of money for a full feature film. They worked on site in Philadelphia, with a hand held camera and many members of his family had bit parts in the movie. The movie gets done in less than a month and on budget.
The big coming out for the movie before hitting the theaters was a screening for the Director’s Guild in Hollywood. Stallone had his mother with him and the theater was packed with around 900 people from the film industry.
It was not going well. They did not laugh where laughs should have been, and the fight scenes were not eliciting any response at all. Sly and his mother sat there for a while after everyone filed out and he told her that he could come back home, put his life back together, get a job, and so on.
Stallone guided his mother down the 3 flights of stairs to the lobby and there, the entire audience was there waiting for him and started applauding wildly. Stallone wept.
Rocky went on to receive 9 Oscar nominations – 3 wins including best picture. The movie that was made for less than $1M with hand held cameras brought in over $200M.
The Making of Rocky: 1 of 4
The Making of Rocky: 2 of 4
The Making of Rocky: 3 of 4
The Making of Rocky: 4 of 4