For the first time, I watched “Rocky” through – best of all, the attached DVD commentary by Sylvester Stallone – who comes across clearly as a writer:
He talks about finding the heart of the story – and how financially broke he was when writing. There are wry and ironic looks back – and he comes across as an intelligent, thinking writer.
The whole opportunity – and here is the creative takeaway for us all – is that he just happened to say as he walked away from having done an unsuccessful screen test for Bob Charloff and Irwin Winkler: “Hey, if you’re interested, I’ve just written a script about boxing…..”, the producers said they’d like to see it – and the script was “Rocky”.
Sylvester obviously not only spotted the moment of opportunity but had also prepared for it by writing the script.
Here’s a little of that journey. As a fairly broke actor, he went to see a fight between Muhammad Ali and a little-known boxer. Just for about 20 seconds, the unknown landed some major punches on Muhammad Ali, and took him by surprise. The champion recovered and went on to win – but Sylvester was caught by that little moment of the little guy achieving his potential and one of the biggest ‘wins’ of his life – in just a tiny fraction of it.
So the “Rocky” story was based on a real-life incident. And its heart and interest was the typical low achiever and what happens with a life of frustrated achievement?
Fascinated, Stallone wrote a 90 page script in just 3 days. He edited and rewrote the script, so that he estimates that around 10 per cent was used in the final film. But it was a rapid, strong beginning.
“there was something about the process of unrealised dreams – I was always brought back to this subject because I think that it’s one of the most enduring subjects and one of the most difficult passages for people to accept – that they never were realised in their own lifetime” – Sylvester Stallone
The picture went on to receive 10 Oscar nominations – and won a few, including the coveted award of Best Picture (despite stiff competition from “All the President’s Men”, “Network” and “Taxi Driver”). All this began with an unemployed actor taking a chance on mentioning a script to directors – and the directors taking the even more astounding chance on making it into a movie.