’40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic’ – When An Actor Writes For Himself


Cinema is a medium where Dreams transform into Reality. An illusion on Screen which is bigger and more authentic for the dreamer. Filmmaking is not only a combination of art forms but a dream selling business where a filmmaker sells his dream to people. If they resonate with it, the void expands further and further. 40 Years of Rocky The Birth of a Classic traces the impact of a low-budget film written by an unknown actor that became an inspiration for the world. Rocky became the ultimate Underdog Film.

40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic written and directed by Derek Wayne Johnson and narrated by Sylvester Stallone that explores the making of the 1976 film Rocky. The short 30 minutes documentary film is extremely inspirational. Each hurdle during the making of Rocky was met with artistry by its team. For Cinephiles like us, the whole of 30 minutes felt better than a TED Talk. In this article, I will only speak about why and how Rocky worked for Sylvester Stallone, an actor who was not fit to be in films, as per the studios.

The Script of Rocky (1976)

When an actor goes for an audition, he is sometimes reminded of his physical flaws that even he didn’t pay heed upon. It is really frustrating to get rejected for curly hair, a scar on the body, or something much minor, but incredibly important for a casting director.

In an interview, Sylvester Stallone said, “My world came crashing down when I couldn’t even get a job as an extra in The Godfather, not even in the wedding scene. That’s when I turned to writing… I couldn’t change myself, but I could change the script.”

Sylvester Stallone wrote the script of Rocky in such a way that the character portrayed a version of Sylvester himself. Like Sylvester, the actor, Rocky, the small-time boxer had the same conflict, that is, he didn’t know whether he had it or not. He wasn’t sure of his own talent and was a complete unknown, even unknown to himself.

Rocky is a boxing film but neither the character Rocky nor Sylvester was trained boxer. The film explores the same idea where Rocky is learning the trade and exploring the field. He is just resilient and patient.

“the character was not supposed to be a gifted fighter. He was gifted in other ways. He could take an incredible amount of punishment and he was fighting for an ideal. He had no illusions that he was a winner, he just wanted an opportunity.”

Sylvester Stallone

This particular line demonstrates Stallone’s own wish as an actor. He never wanted to be a Great actor with lots of Oscars. He had no illusions, he just wanted an opportunity. Thus, when he was rejected, again and again, he resorted to writing his own script, which was his last call on.

The Making of ‘Rocky’

Rocky is a remarkably inspirational stance for actors, writers and filmmakers all around the world. It is a narrative where Sylvester took matters into his own hand (literally) and transported all his personal flaws into the character. He moulded a flawed character that is Stallone himself, and now, he is the perfect person to play that role. Rocky was Sylvester himself. It is when the studio’s tried to buy the script, Sylvester refused to sell the Rocky script unless he played the title role.

Filmmaking is a vision which is entirely your own, and it is 99% impossible to explain a vision to the studio head or producer. But to create it, is your decision. Sylvester did put a reasonable demand on table to play the lead. The studio only paid him 1 million dollars. Sylvester finished the film in less. How?

It won’t be wrong to say that Sylvester loved movies. It was evident in the making of Rocky. According to 40 Years of Rocky, Stallone used various measures to make the film unique without overbudgeting. He rehearsed a lot. Stallone wasn’t happy with cliche boxing sequences that were used in 300 other boxing films. He wanted something different. The director asked him to write those boxing sequences and for that matter, Sylvester wrote out the fight punch by punch, 32 pages of lefts and rights. It is in the cinema that even your small efforts amount to something big. Magnetized on Screen and even larger in real life. Sylvester’s endeavor is highly applauded.

In the whole making process of Rocky, he was very receptive of the team. He tried to do something different and unique with each department, be it music or the camera. Sylvester used Steady Cam (that was invented in 1975 by Garett Brown) in Rocky, that created some visually appealing outdoor running scenes, without distorting the picture level. As a writer and an actor, he might not be talented, but he was aware of the art happening around him. I feel that is better than the talent, to have a consciousness.

Rocky (1976) – An Inspiration

Rocky was a story about obsolescence, about not getting an opportunity in life. For Sylvester Stallone, it was an incident about creating an opportunity as an actor. He wrote the script in 3 and a half days, drawing inspiration from a fight between Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner in 1975.

The film opened in two theaters. At one place, he was an usher several years earlier. Hence, you never know what you are destined to become, but for that, you have to take the risk. Even when United Artist GREENLIT Rocky, Sylvester had 106 dollars in his bank account. Sylvester could have easily sold off the script and fed himself. He made the hard choice. He chose to play Rocky because the acting was the thing he started the whole ordeal in the first place. If he himself gave up on the dream, what’s left?

Rocky made on a budget of 1 million dollars became the most successful film of 1976, grossing a total of 225 million dollars worldwide, accounting for a percentage return of over 11,000.

Rocky grabbed three Oscar trophies, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Editing. Sylvester Stallone was nominated in the best original screenplay category.

40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic is available for Video On Demand.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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