But one very fortuitous evening, while in a attendance at a boxing match at Madison Square Garden, Stallone watched in awe as what he described as a “nobody boxer” slugged it out for twelve astounding rounds with the World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali.
He was inspired.
After the fight, with a flame burning in his belly, Stallone rushed home and began writing. Three days later, he finished the first draft of the screenplay entitled “Rocky.”
He submitted the script to his agent. His agent submitted the script to a film studio. The studio liked what they read and offered $20,000 for the script. They also named Ryan O'Neal and Burt Reynolds as possible actors to play the role of the southpaw pugilist from Philly.
Stallone was thrilled with the offer but – despite only having about $100 bucks to his name – he declined. He wanted to play the role of Rocky himself.
In fact, he wanted so badly to play the part of Rocky that he offered to work on the film for free. But he was advised emphatically by the studio heads that, "That's not how it works in Hollywood."
Still wanting the project, they upped their offer to $80,000 on the condition that Stallone give up on the idea of playing the lead character. He turned them down again.
The studio informed him that Robert Redford had become interested in the project and raised their offer to $200,000. Stallone wouldn't budge.
The offer shot up to $300,000. Stallone refused again, explaining to the studio that he couldn't risk giving up on his dream role and going through the rest of his life wondering "What if?"
An additional $30,000 was tacked on to the studio's already hefty six-figure offer. Stallone informed them that he would rather not see the screenplay made into a film at all if he couldn't play Rocky.
Stallone won the fight.
The studio agreed to let him play Rocky, but he would only be paid the original $20,000 that had been offered for the screenplay. Also, while working as an actor on the film, he would only get an additional $340 per week–the minimum scale for an actor.
After his expenses, agent fees, and taxes, Stallone netted roughly $6,000–a far cry from the $330,000 offer that had been on the table. But two years later, he received an Academy Award nomination for his moving portrayal of the pig-headed pugilist named Rocky.
The film won three Academy Awards in the categories for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing. It also fostered a lucrative film franchise that has since grossed nearly $1 billion dollars and made Sylvester Stallone an international movie star.
What’s the moral of the story?
Trust your instincts, stick to your guns, and always look at the big picture.
Reference: The One Minute Millionaire by Mark Victor Hansen and Robert G. Allen