The ‘Rocky’ method
It has long been my belief that the dreams tucked into our hearts are the compass we’re given to find our direction in life. Children know at an early age what they’re called to do. Sadly, too few grow up to follow that calling because life’s demands and sensibilities get in the way.
The key, I have decided, is to grow up brave enough and bold enough to follow our dreams, regardless of how crazy they may seem to others. Strong perseverance and determination will lead to the fulfillment of our passions.
Believing that, I’m always looking for stories that underscore my philosophy. I read a story in Vanity Fair magazine that inspired me so much that I ripped it out and kept it.
In 1975, Sylvester Stallone, an unknown actor, convinced producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler to take a look at a movie script he had written about a fighter. It turned out to be a great script so United Artists offered Stallone, starving and down on his luck, $250,000 to buy the script and star someone like Burt Reynolds, the hottest movie actor at the time, in it.
Stallone, despite his growling stomach, stood firm. He wanted to star in it himself and Chartoff and Winker promised him that chance. The producers bravely guaranteed the production against a small budget, shot it in 28 days and persuaded United Artists to release it in time for the Academy Awards. Critics panned it and the producers, standing outside the theater on opening day and bemoaning their luck, thought it was all over. Actor Peter Falk of “Columbo” fame walked up and said, “Go inside. The audience is standing and cheering.”
The public bought what the critics hated and the studio had been wary of. “Rocky” went on to win Best Picture and two other Academy awards. Stallone had refused to settle. He saw it through to the end to get exactly what he dreamed. And that’s another thing I believe — you get what you settle for.
I’ve known Rich Middlemas for seven or eight years now. It is a friendship that was seeded when he contacted me about a book I had written to inquire if the movie rights were available.
He’s an important part of my history in a couple of ways, one being that we lunched together in Los Angeles a couple of hours before I met the man I would marry. We still laugh over that day’s conversation when I explained that I was meeting “John Pinker” about a movie he was writing. I had completely misunderstood his last name due to a sinus infection that kept me from hearing well over the telephone.
Rich’s story inspires me as much as the “Rocky” story. He was born in Atlanta and graduated from the University of Tennessee, another reason we connect: We’re both raised in the South. And you know: Southerners stick together, especially in Hollywood. It’s a necessity, really.
He loved film and the business of it. Unlike many who dream of going to Hollywood, he didn’t want to be an actor. He wanted to produce. His parents — bless their hearts — cheered him on. Shortly after landing there, he was hired as the assistant to the president of MGM (now Sony). Then he was gutsy enough to step out on his own and start looking for work he could option.
One day while online reading the high school recruiting reports for Tennessee, he found a story about a football team in Memphis. He has an eye for a story. So he and two buddies produced a documentary called “Undefeated.” I was watching the Academy Awards from bed the night they won the coveted award for Best Documentary. I jumped up and cheered, not for the victory, really, but for the journey.
I love dreamers who have courage. That’s even better than an Academy Award.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.]