4. First Break
Though there is some dispute as to whether it all truly transpired the way those involved have said it did, the story of Rocky is not just the story of Stallone. But while he was the driving force and passion behind the movie, a couple of others were directly involved in getting it to the screen.
"I first met Bob Chartoff and Irwin Winkler when I was on a casting call. We're talking a little bit and I guess I wasn't right for the acting part they were auditioning.
But on the way out I told them that I did a little bit of writing and that had this story about boxing and they said, 'well, bring it around' and if they didn't tell me that, I wouldn't be where I am, so I have to give incredible credit to their insight and their patience and their willingness to take a chance, which doesn't happen as much these days."
Though the producers seemed intrigued by the idea of Rocky, there was one big sticking point: the right man for the lead role.
"When I brought them the script, they were fairly enthusiastic about it," laughs Stallone. "The one the thing they were not enthusiastic about was me playing the part.
"And I really can't blame them - at the time, Ryan O'Neal was a candidate, Burt Reynolds, Jimmy Caan, Robert Redford, and they all were at the top of their game. I could see it, but there was something inside of me that said this opportunity's never going to come around again."
The producers definitely wanted the script, but they wanted the rights to make it and not Stallone as their lead. The offers began to come in.
"I really wasn't used to money and I had no idea of what I would be missing, but the temptations started to come in. $25,000, then $100,000 and I'd never even heard of that before. My $40 car had just blown up, so I was taking the bus to work!"
"Still the offers went up - $150,000, $175,000, $250,000. My head was starting to spin. It went up to $333,000 and I thought, 'you've really managed poverty well, you don't really need much to live on', so I was not in any way used to the good life.
"I went, 'I know if I sell this script and it does very, very well and I'm not in it, I'm going to jump off a building. I'm going to be very upset." So I decided that I was just going to do it myself, and maybe I'll be totally wrong and take lots of people down with me…"
Chartoff and Winkler eventually agreed to Stallone's term that he would only sell them the script if the contract included a chance for him to star.
For their part, the producers demanded that he produce additional drafts for free and that any studio would only pay him scale for his role in the final film.
United Artists had offered to produce the script, offering a $2 million budget. But when the producers and their writer held firm to the idea of a largely unknown actor anchoring the movie, the studio slashed the budget to $1 million and told them they'd be personally liable if it went over that cost.
The final cost? $1.1 million, with that extra money coming from Winkler and Chartoff mortgaging their houses to stump up the cash.
With Jon Avildsen attached to direct, the thing could finally shoot. But with that lower budget, Rocky would be filmed guerrilla style…
Next: Getting It Made