Welcome back to another episode of Movie Pitch Monday — a show where I pitch fun movie ideas. For those who don’t know who I am, my name is Edward Mullen, author of The Art of the Hustle series, the Prodigy series, and some other books.
In today’s video, I’ll be pitching a movie called Sly — a biopic about Sylvester Stallone. I grew up watching Stallone movies and he has a really inspirational life story that I think would be great to see in film.
Now, unlike many of my other pitches where I do whatever I want with the characters, this one is a bit different. Since these events are based on an actual person, they are less about my ideas and creativity and more about pacing and structure. Although I did help myself to make up any parts I didn’t know.
Of course, I did a bit of research prior to making this pitch and I came across some really powerful videos, one of Tony Robbins telling a story of how Sylvester Stallone went from being a broke, down-and-out, struggling actor / screenwriter to becoming Rocky. There is also a video series with Stallone telling that same story. There are some differing facts between the two stories so when in doubt, I went with Stallone’s version. I encourage you to check them out.
The beautiful thing about this movie concept is that it’s in some ways a Rocky movie. It’s about Sly, but Rocky is his alter ego. They are basically one and the same. It’s an underdog story about an underdog story.
So without further ado, here is my movie pitch for Sly.
This movie is a period piece set in New York City during the 1970s so it’s gritty, it’s got that 70s feel to it — old cars, old clothes, etc. The opening scene, we meet a young Sly Stallone, 24 or 25, played by none other than Noah Centineo.
He exits his apartment building early in the morning, like 5 or 6 in the morning, the sun is just coming up and we can see his breath in the brisk morning air. He’s bundled up, wearing a beanie on his head, a hoodie, and a thick jacket. When he steps outside, he pulls his collar up, blows hot air into his hands before rubbing them together, and then stuffs his hands into his pockets. He then walks several blocks to the subway.
As he rides the train, he keeps to himself, but occasionally glances around the other passengers. He sees a pregnant lady and gets up and offers her his seat.
So in the opening sequence, I really want to establish four things right off the bat:
- He’s from a lower income neighbourhood
- It’s early in the morning so he’s hustling
- He’s observant about the world
- He’s friendly despite the way he looks
These are things that will later define him. So he takes the train to downtown Manhattan and goes to an audition. They take one look at him and then say, “Sorry, pal. This role isn’t right for you. Next!” They don’t even let him read. “He begs them to audition. He says, I know all my lines, please.” Again, they said, “Next!” and Sly walks out of the office feeling defeat.
Sly continues to be persistent and meets with agents, but they all tell him the same thing. The nice ones politely decline. The mean ones tell him all the reasons why he’ll never make it as an actor. One of them says, “The only job I could get you is unloading a delivery truck with my uncle,” as he laughs in his face and slams the door on him.
In his pursuit to become an actor, he had received over 1500 “nos” and was thrown out of every agent’s office multiple times. Nevertheless, he was determined. He continues to go back.
He goes to open audition casting calls, and in one case, he gets to play a thug in a movie. In the scene, he essentially gets beat up for 20 seconds, but otherwise has no dialogue.
Every morning he leaves and tries to make something happen and then comes home late at night exhausted, but his spirit is not broken. He’s hopeful and optimistic. He thinks his big break is coming. He tells his wife about his day on set and he’s smiling and exited, but she’s not reciprocating those feelings. She asks him how much the gig paid and when he tells her, she gets on his case about finding a real job. There’s a stack of mail of unpaid bills. He then says, “Why is it so cold in here?” She replies, “They cut the heat off today.” He’s like, “That’s okay, we can keep each other warm.”
We then see Sly visit his mother. I really want to establish this relationship in the movie where he can pore his heart out to her and she can be that pillar of encouragement he needs. She reminds him of a story about how he’s always been a fighter. When the doctors delivered him, they used two pairs of forceps to pull him out and they were so forceful that they severed a nerve and caused paralysis in parts of his face. So even though he looks a little different and speaks a little different, that hasn’t stopped him. It’s given him drive and contributed to making him into the man he was.
His mum also talks about the time his parents got divorced when he was 9 and how that was a lot for him to deal with, but he made it through. She says, “I knew you were special from the moment you were born. I believe in you, you can do anything.”
He then visits his dad, with whom he has a good relationship with. Through my research, I know his dad was a hairdresser and I have no idea their father / son dynamics, but for the movie, let’s make him work as a low-level clerk, stocking shelves in a grocery store. Sly comes in unexpected and says, “Hi pops, working hard.” They have some banter and he gets some advice about not caring what people think and working hard.
So the next scene we see Sly and his wife really struggling and getting at each other. His wife is screaming at him to get a job, but the reason he doesn’t is because he knows that if he were to get a job, he’d end up like his father — working some humdrum job and he will eventually lose his hunger and his dream would gradually disappear. He knows the only way he will be successful is if he has no other options. He wants it to be a sink or swim situation. He wants to keep that hunger as he feels that gives him an advantage over his competition.
Now, his wife doesn’t understand this at all, and they get into these vicious fights. They are broke, have no money, and have no options.
One day Sly goes to the New York Public Library, not to read anything, but to stay warm. As he’s hanging out, he happens to sit down in a chair and see a book that someone left behind.
He looks down at this book and it was book of poems by Edgar Allen Poe. He starts reading it and becomes obsessed. He later reads everything about Edgar Allen Poe and learns a very valuable lesson. One of the lessons he took from Poe was to get outside of himself and think about other people. He also considers becoming a writer.
Sly tries his hand at writing some screenplays, but nothing really worthwhile comes out.
At this point, he has less than 50 dollars to his name, but he finally sells a script — a movie called Paradise Alley. He sells it for 100 dollars, but back then that was good money for him and more importantly, he had restored his hope that it will lead to more projects. But over time, it didn’t lead to anything.
Finally, he reaches a point where he was so broke that he sells his wife’s jewelry. This upsets her so much that she hated his guts and that was pretty much the end of their relationship. She moves out and goes to live with her family.
Now Sly is all alone, he has no heat, no food, and no money. The last thing he has is his dog, the love of his dog, for which he would receive unconditional love.
He was so broke that they couldn’t even afford to feed his dog. So with no other options and a heavy heart, he walks his dog to a liquor store and stands outside trying to sell his dog to strangers. This is truly the lowest point in his life, but he’s desperate. It’s either sell the dog, or start robbing people. He finally finds someone to buy his dog, and sells him for 50 dollars.
There’s a really sad goodbye and as the man is walking away, Sly is telling the man to scratch him behind the ears because he really likes that. The dog is looking back and yelping and Sly walks away and just cries.
When he comes home, Sly is there in an empty apartment in a rundown neighbourhood, alone. There’s no food in the house and it’s cold. He goes to bed with his beanie and jacket on.
He gets a few odd acting gigs to pay the bills, but he eventually gets evicted from his apartment and becomes homeless for several days. We see him reach a new low, living on the streets, hungry, and trying to make something happen.
Two weeks later, he’s watching a fight between Mohammed Ali vs Chuck Wepnar on March 24, 1975. Wepnar was a white guy that was getting beaten pretty badly by Ali, but no matter the beating Ali put on him, he kept on coming. In one of the later rounds, Wepnar ducks a punch and lands a shot to Ali’s body and drops the champ.
That’s when Sly gets an idea.
As soon as the fight ends, he begins writing furiously on a legal pad. He writes for 3 days straight and could hardly sleep. By the end, his hands were shaking, but he had a finished a script called Rocky. The idea for the character was inspired in part by Chuck Wepnar, but also by himself. Rocky is a guy with rugged and tough looks, and people judge for it, but he was actually a sweetheart. Sly was Rocky. Life continued to kick him in the dick, but he would always get back up.
With the script finished, he shops it around, but again experienced nothing but rejection. Hardly anyone would read it, and those who did rejected on the premise that it was too predictable, stupid, or too sappy.
People commented on the way he looks, which is dopey, and also the way he talks, which is unusual to say the least. They were like, “Go do something else. You’ll never work in TV or film. It will never happen.”
Sly knew his whole life, ever since he was very young that he wanted to be in the movie business. He wanted to create art not only for people to escape, but also to inspire people.
For three weeks he would sleep in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. That’s where he saw yet another ad for an open casting call.
While on this casting call, he does his audition and on the way out, he happens to mention to one of the producers that he does a little bit of writing as well. They spoke briefly and the producer says, “Bring it around sometime.”
We see more scenes with him talking to his mum about the script, his visits his wife and she informs him that she’s pregnant. She had no way of getting a hold of him. At this point, he has 160 bucks to his name. He visits his dad and updates him on what’s been happening.
The next day, Sly meets the producers from open casting and brings them the Rocky script. They eventually read it and believe in the script. They call him in and offer him 25,000 dollars. He was ecstatic, but says, “There’s just one thing,” and they say, “Oh yeah, what’s that?” He says, “I have to star in it. I have to play Rocky.” They immediately lost interest and say no.
At this point, Sly has managed poverty very well. He had it down to a science. He knew he didn’t really need much to live on and if he sold the script and it did well, he would jump off a building or leap in front of a bus. He would be very upset if he wasn’t the lead in the movie.
So he decided to roll the dice and walk away from the offer.
The producers call him back and make him another offer, this time, $100,000. Sly then says, “I need to be the lead.” They say, “No way!” They weren’t prepared to put some funny looking no-name actor as the lead. That would be throwing money away. They were looking for a star.
So again, he walks away. They called him back a third time, then a four time, then a fifth and a sixth time. Each time the offer was substantially more. It started off as $25,000, then went to $100,000, then $150,000, $175,000, $250,000, $330,000.
On the last visit, they say, “Okay, no more playing around. This will be our final offer — $360,000 for the script. Take it or leave it.” Sly thinks for a moment, considers how much money they are offering him, and says, “Only if I can play Rocky.” The producers looked at him like he was crazy, but they weren’t budging. They were firm on their offer. Sly then says, “If that’s what you believe, then you don’t get my script,” and he left.
A few weeks later they call him back into their office and they finally compromise a deal where bother parties could get what they want. They offer him $35,000 and make him the lead in the movie. This way, they could at least mitigate the risk. If the movie flopped, they would likely recoup the initial investment since they didn’t spend a bunch of money on him.
Sly accepts the offer of $35,000, which was still a lot of money in the mid-seventies, especially when he had less than 100 dollars. Instead of celebrating, the first thing he does is go back to the liquor store and wait for the guy who bought his dog. He figures the man is bound to show up eventually. So he waits at the liquor store for three full days until one day, the man who bought his dog shows up.
When Sly sees the man, he says, “Sir, remember me, I sold you my dog a month and a half ago.”
The guy was like, “I remember you. I love the dog.”
Sly says, “Look, I was broke, I was starving, he was my best friend. I’m sure you love him too, but I have to have him back. Please, I beg of you. I’ll pay you 100 dollars for the dog. I know you only bought him for 25 so let me have him back, I’ll give you $100.”
“The man says, absolutely not, no way. He’s my dog now, you can’t buy him back.”
Sly then says, “500 dollars for the dog.”
Again, the guy says, “No way. He then says, $1,000 dollars.”
The guy then says, “No amount of money on Earth will make me sell this dog to you.”
Sly was persistent and eventually gets his dog back, which ends up costing him $3,000 and giving the guy a part in Rocky.
It’s a really happy moment in the movie. Sly is crying and the dog is jumping around with joy. Later, Sly ends up putting the dog in the movie.
In the third act we see them putting together the movie from casting to shooting, and all the physical demands of playing the character.
In one scene, we see a man come in and audition for Apollo Creed. He stands opposite of Sylvester Stallone and proceeds to slap him around a bit. He also says to the producer and the casting director, “I would have been better in the scene had I worked with a real actor.”
He unknowingly insults Sylvester Stallone. Then the casting director says, “Actually, that is the guy who will play Rocky. He wrote the movie as well.”
Then Apollo Creed says, “Well, maybe he’ll get better.”
Sylvester then says, “Hire this man.” It was the exact attitude they were looking for in an antagonist.
On the first day on set, Sly walks out of his trailer for the first time of time on the cold streets of Philadelphia, and he knows this is the moment of truth. The director asks him, “Sylvester, are you ready?” and he replies, “No, but Rocky is.”
So we see a lot of really great iconic scenes from the movie from running through the streets of Philadelphia, punching the slabs of meat, running up the steps, and fighting Apollo. We see some really great behind-the-scenes footage.
We see a lot of early mornings, some great moments with his dog, living in a tiny apartment, talking to his pregnant wife and parents over the phone.
The movie takes month to film and there’s a wrap party. It’s a really great moment, but too soon to celebrate. None of them have seen the final cut of the movie and have no idea how audiences will respond to it.
When the movie is done, there’s a private screening with nine hundred members of the Director’s Guild and industry insiders. Sly brings his mother and his wife and they sit in the theatre and watch the movie with everyone for the first time. It plays terribly. The laughs don’t come when they expect and the fight scenes lack energy and excitement.
In the end, everyone just gets up and leaves. Sly is not only embarrassed, but devastated. He sits there was his wife and mum and waits for everyone to file out. They are the last to leave.
As they exit, there are three flights of stairs. They walked down the first, the second, and by the time they round the last set of stairs, all 900 people are there celebrating the film. They look up at Rocky and start clapping. In that moment, Sly completely comes apart, he’s elated and beings to cry tears of joy. He leans over to his mum as says, “How could you doubt me, mum? I’m shocked.”
As the music plays, I would have text on the screen that says the following:
Rocky opened on November 21, 1976 (New York City) and December 3, 1976 (United States).
It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay nominations for Stallone. The film went on to win the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Film Editing.
The movie cost a million dollars to make and ended up grossing over 225 million dollars.
I would then do a post-credit scene where Sly is sitting in his agent’s office, maybe they’re smoking cigars, and the agent is really excited with the success of the film and with all the offers coming in. The agent then asks, “Sly, what do you want?”
Sly says, “I want to be an action star.”
The agent flips through a stack of scripts and slides one across the desk. “A script just came in this morning that you may be interested in. It’s based on a novel by David Morrell, perhaps you’ve heard of it.
Sly picks up the script and reads the title page, and says, “First Blood.”
I would make reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger, something like, “I think they’re talking to this other guy, some bodybuilder from Austria with a name nobody can pronounce, but I think you’d be perfect for this role.”
In the last frames we see Sly reading the script and then says the name, “Rambo”, I like the sound of that.
So there it is, my Sylvester Stallone biopic called Sly. Let me know in the comments below if you liked the pitch. Please like the video and subscribe to my channel, and I will see you next time.