Stallone was literally a down-and-out actor in Hollywood when he decided that the way to become an actor was to write screenplay for movies.
His plan was to write 400 screenplays with the idea that one would allow him to work his way into acting.
For the tenth screenplay he wrote he was offered $75,000 which was alot of money in the 1970′s.
He refused the offer saying he would only accept if he was allowed to play the lead role. The studio said no.
But they came back to him and ended up offering him an amazing $315,000 for his script. Against the advice of his own agent he still refused.
In the end, the studio gave in to his demands. He was paid just $20,000 for his screenplay and he was only paid that because it was a legal requirement of the writer’s guild that a film that had a budget of more than a $1,000,000 must pay a minimum of $20,000 for the script.
All this for a simple movie called ‘Rocky’, that became a 1970′s blockbuster and made Sylvester Stallone a superstar overnight.
Stallone commented on his success by saying,
I represent something that is very frightening to East Coast critics: a guy who’s made it by being a raging optimist – and most of those people, as the word cynic implies, are pessimists.
Sylvester added to his optimism, a commitment to do whatever it takes.
He recalls when he finally got his first acting role in Hollywood in a play called “Desire Caught By The Tail”. During one of the performances he ended up being so badly injured that he ended up in hospital:
…but I was committed. The show closed after the accident and by then, I couldn’t get my usher’s job back, so I got a job cleaning the lions’ cage at the Central Park Zoo.
Not too many people ever have a thrill of seeing lions taking giant leaks. Let me tell you, they’re accurate up to 15 feet, and after a month of getting whizzed on, I quit. I couldn’t put up with it anymore. Lion urine is intensely odorous, and I became the only man in New York who invariably wound up in his own private subway car.
I told myself, “This is marvelous, Sylvester. You’ve gotten to the point in your life where you’re now making $1.12 an hour to get pissed on by a lion.”
The other key factor for Stallone was one I definitely didn’t expect.
It turns out that despite all his optimism, Stallone did at one point give up on acting.
It was from one short movie he made to showcase his acting talents for auditions, but it backfired.
The movie was called “Horses” and at this point I quote it from there,
The film was so bad that when I showed it to my parents, they actually walked out of the room—and they’ll normally sit through two hours of flower slides. I decided to give up on acting forever.
If the story had ended there then the world would have never heard of Stallone the actor, or ‘Rocky’ or even ‘Rambo’.
So here is the final piece that saved Stallone’s career in his own words:
A stroke of luck.
The friend I made “Horses” with had to do a scene for his acting dass and asked me to be in it with him. The scene was from “Death of a Salesman”, which I had down pat, so we did it.
He was studying at the Herbert Berghof School, and after our scene, Berghof came up to me and offered me a scholarship. Which I turned down: I was through with acting.
But Stephen Verona was sitting in the audience that night and six months later, when he got ready to direct The Lords of Flatbush, he remembered me and sent me a telegram to come down and audition for him.
And that’s how I got into my first real film.
Stallone calls it luck.
I think we can break his luck down into two more parts beyond the first of commitment.
That he had ‘paid his dues’ to have the necessary acting skills.
Finally, that even an optimist needs an outside support on occasion.
I find this is true of many successes that people talk about. At some point in time, someone else recognizes the value and it’s the re-inspiration for the person to really go for it.
If you are ready to turn optimism into success then those 3 steps may help you be your own ‘Rocky’ story.