Episode 243: An Oscar-winning Strategy, with Stephen Woessner.
Stephen is the CEO of Predictive ROI and the host of the Onward Nation podcast. He is the author of two bestselling books, speaker, trainer, and his digital marketing insights have been featured in SUCCESS, Entrepreneur, The Washington Post, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, and other media.
Subscribe to Onward Nation!
Good Morning Onward Nation…I’m Stephen Woessner. And thank you for making last week our highest download week ever here at Onward Nation. I want you to know how grateful I am that you take the time to download our episodes, to listen, and to share your wonderful feedback. Thank you so very much.
And if you listened to last week’s solocast, you know that it was a deeply personal topic for me because I took you really far behind the green curtain and into my relationship with one of my first — and one of my most influential mentors — my grandfather, Peter Maronitis — and how he taught me to never ever quit.
And there were times when I struggled getting through last week’s message — but — that is just because the life he led and the lessons he taught to me were so uncommon and immensely valuable. But…we made it through, right, Onward Nation?
So for today’s solocast, I am going to — in some ways — pick up where we left off last week — regarding quitting. And how we should never ever quit. I will illustrate that by sharing a lesson I learned from Tony Robbins. It is a story you may know — and some of you may know it very well. Just like last week in the story about Peter Maronitis, this will be a story about grit, about perseverance, about tenacity — and being so committed to what you want to do — what you believe in — your why — that you work desperately to create it.
You must relentlessly pursue your dream — your passion — what will make you totally happy in this world.
So this week…I will share the story of the humble beginning’s of Sylvester Stallone — one of Hollywood’s most successful actors of all time. But Stallone didn’t have success handed to him…he had to earn it…he had to knock down obstacles and barriers to prove he was worthy…he had to starve, he had to endure hardship, he had to freeze in his New York City apartment, he had to go without everything, he had to find solace and heat in the public library.
He had to face brutal and cruel rejection over 1,500 times, Onward Nation. And yet…despite all of that…he did not quit…ever. There’s a lesson in greatness in this story — so let’s jump into the story as it was shared by Tony Robbins.
Sylvester Stallone had been listening to some of Tony’s audio programs…found them to be awesome…so Stallone did what any of us would do…he invited Tony over to dinner so they could talk things over.
As an aside…I’m looking forward to having Tony Robbins as my guest on Onward Nation in the future — I will definitely keep you posted on that.
So before dinner, Tony said to Stallone, “You know, I have heard your story from other people but I would really love to hear it from the horse’s mouth. I don’t know how much is mythology or urban myth or how much is true.”
So Stallone agrees to share his story with Tony. Stallone tells Tony that his whole life, he knew what he wanted to do, ever since he was very very young.
He wanted to be in the movie business. Period.
Not TV. But the movies.
And for Stallone, being in the movies was an opportunity to help people escape the realities of their day — but it was even more than that — it was an opportunity to inspire audiences.
And that drive — that passion — is what made most of his movies inspiring to lots of people. His focus was always to help audiences see how they could overcome unbelievable obstacles — because in his own life, he felt that he had done that.
For example, he told Tony, when Stallone was born — he was pulled out of his mother’s womb with forceps, and that’s why he looked the way he did and why he talked the way he did.
And with resolve in his voice…he said to Tony… “I really wanted to do this — to be in the movies. I know why I wanted to do it and I wasn’t going to settle for anything else.”
So Stallone went out to try and get acting jobs. And it’s not like he went “Yo, Adrian” and the casting directors said, “Oh, wait, you’re a star.”
No, it was nothing like that at all. In fact, the early years of Stallone’s career didn’t work out real well. He was alone, hungry, and grinding it out — just to survive.
The people doing casting looked at Stallone and said cruel things like, “You’re stupid looking, do something else.”
They made fun of the way Stallone talked, and told him that there was no place for him in the movies. They said, “You’re never going to be a star. You’re insane. No one is going to want to listen to someone who looks and sounds dopey, and talks out the side of their mouth.” How cruel is that, Onward Nation. Imagine if someone said that to you…how would you feel…what would you do…how would your confidence be shaken?
Stallone received no…after no…after no…after no. Stallone told Tony that he was thrown out of more than 1,500 times with agent offices in New York.
Then Tony said, “Hey, wait a minute, there aren’t 1,500 agents in New York.”
And Stallone said, “Yeah, I know…I’ve been to all of them 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 times.”
He then told Tony about a time that he had made it to the agent’s office at 4:00 in the afternoon and he wouldn’t agree to see Stallone. So Stallone stayed there…he wouldn’t leave. In fact, he stayed there all night until the agent came back the next morning…and Stallone was still sitting there.
That is how Stallone got his first movie role, Onward Nation. The power of never quitting.
And Tony said, “Oh really, I thought Rocky was your first movie?”
And he said, no this other movie that Tony had never heard of was his first movie.
So Tony asked him what character did you play and Stallone said, “Oh, well, I was in it for about 20 seconds and I was a thug that somebody beat up because they made me feel like people hate your guts so you getting beat up will be a good thing”.
And he did three movies like that.
But then never got anything more — yet he kept going out to look.
And he only received rejection, rejection, and more rejection. Did he give up? Did he quit? Heck no!
Finally Stallone realized that it wasn’t working.
So he changed his approach. Why? Because he was desperate — he was starving — he couldn’t pay to even heat his apartment — and his wife was screaming at him every day to go get a job.
So Tony asked him, “Well, why didn’t you go out and get a job?”
Stallone said, “Because I knew that if got a job, I would get seduced back, and I would lose my hunger. And the only way that I could do this was if it was the only choice — and that I had burned all other bridges. Because if I got a normal job, pretty soon, I would be caught up in that rhythm — and all of that stuff — and would start to feel okay about my life — and I would feel that my dream would just gradually disappear. And I wanted to keep that hunger, keep that hunger burning. Because hunger was the only thing that I thought was my advantage.”
Stallone said his wife didn’t understand that at all. And they had vicious fights — and it was freezing — he was broke — they had no money — so one day he went to the New York City public library because it was warm. He didn’t plan on actually reading anything — but was hanging out there and sat down on a chair and someone left a book there. Stallone looked at the book and it was the poems and stories of Edgar Alan Poe.
Stallone started reading it and totally got into it. How Poe had lived, how he died, what really happened, Stallone studied all of the details.
Tony asked him, “Well, what did Poe do for you?”
Stallone told Tony that, “Poe got me out of myself. He got me to think about how I could touch other people — not worry about myself so much. And that made me want to become a writer.”
Just imagine, Onward Nation…“Rocky, the writer, right?”
So Stallone began his hand at writing…he tried to write several screenplays, nothing worked and he and his wife were still totally broke. He didn’t even have $50 to his name.
But finally…he sold a script called, “Paradise Alley.”
It was a movie that Stallone then produced many years later but he had sold it. Big success. He told Tony he sold it for a $100 and that felt like a ton of money. Stallone was so thrilled and thought “Yes, I am on my way.”
But selling that script actually never led to anything.
So Stallone kept going and going and going and going…finally, he was so broke, that he sold his wife’s jewelry.
He said, “Tony…there are some things in life you should never do…and that was basically the end of our relationship.”
She hated his guts so much…they were so broke…they had no food…no money…and the one thing that Stallone loved most in the world was his dog.
And Onward Nation…this is where the story gets really really good. Painful — but a great illustration of never quitting.
Stallone loved his dog because he gave unconditional love…unlike his wife. And so what happened was…Stallone was so broke that to survive, he couldn’t even feed his dog, so he went to a liquor store — it was the lowest day of his life — and he stood outside the liquor store — and he tried to sell his dog to strangers.
Stallone tried to sell his dog for $50.
And finally, this one guy negotiated with him to buy his dog — his best friend in the whole world — and he sold him for $25.
Stallone walked away from there and just cried. How heart wrenching, Onward Nation.
And yet…despite that day being the worst thing that ever happened to him in his life…he still wouldn’t quit.
Two weeks later, he was watching a fight between Muhammad Ali and Wepner, who was getting bludgeoned, but he kept on coming back for more — he wouldn’t give up.
And then Stallone got an idea.
He said as soon as the fight ended, he started writing. Stallone wrote for 20 straight hours. He didn’t sleep. He wrote the entire movie in 20 hours straight.
Right then and there. He saw the fight. Wrote the movie. Whole thing. Done.
Stallone told Tony he was shaking at the end and he was so excited.
He really knew what he wanted, Onward Nation. He knew why he wanted it.
And he took massive action to get it.
But — now that he had the script to Rocky — he still had to sell it to an agent. So he went out trying to sell it. Some read it and said, “This is predictable, this is stupid, this is sappy.” Stallone said that he wrote down all the things they said and he read them the night of the Oscars when they won.
The greatest revenge can sometimes be massive success, Onward Nation.
So back to the selling…he kept going…he kept trying to sell it and no one would buy it…and still — he was broke — he was starving.
But finally, he met these two guys, they read it, and believed in the script, and they loved it, and they offered Stallone $125,000 for his script.
And Tony tells, Stallone… “My word, you must have been out of your mind.”
Stallone definitely was…but said to the agents, “Just one thing though guys…you have a deal based on one thing. I gotta star in the movie.”
And they were like, “What? What are you talking about?! You’re a writer!”
And Stallone said, “No, I’m an actor.”
And they said, “No, no, no…you’re a writer.”
And he said back to them, “No, I’m an actor. That is my story…and I’m Rocky. I gotta play Rocky. I gotta play the starring role.”
And they said, “Look, there’s no way that we’re going to pay you $125,000 and take some ‘no name’ actor and stick you in the movie and then throw our money away. We need a star.”
And finally they said… “Take it or leave it.” So, as Stallone left the room he said, “If that’s what you believe, then you don’t get my script”…and he left.
Again…this is a man had no money…none…totally broke…he was offered $125,000…more money than he had seen in his lifetime and he walked away because he knew his destiny and why he was committed to it.
So the agents called Stallone a few weeks later, brought him back to their office, and they offered him a quarter of a million dollars for his script — and — to not star in his own movie.
Stallone turned it down.
The agents came back with their final offer at $325,000 — they really wanted this script. Stallone said — “Not without me in it.” They said no.
They finally compromised and they gave him $35,000 — as well as a revenue share in the movie — so that Stallone would share in the risk with them. The bottom line for the agents was that they didn’t think the movie would work so they were not willing to spend a bunch of money on it.
They only invested $1 million to produce the movie, “Rocky.”
And it grossed $200 million. It’s done pretty well.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. Tony asked Stallone, “So what did you do…even at $35,000 — it’s not a quarter million — but it’s still a lot of money when you don’t have $25. What’s the first thing you did?”
Tony figured Stallone went out and partied or something. Stallone said that he went to that liquor store where he had sold his dog — and he stood there for three straight days hoping the guy who bought his dog would come back. He wanted to buy back his dog.
So on the third day that he was there — the guy walks by and he sees him and he can’t believe it — there’s his dog, too.
And Stallone looked at him and I said, “Sir, you remember me?” Because it had been about a month and a half of time that had past since he had sold him his dog.
And the guy said, “Yeah yeah, I remember.”
And Stallone said, “Look, I was so broke, I was so starved, he’s my best friend, I’m sure you love him, too…but I gotta have him back, please, I beg of you, I will pay you $100 for the dog, I know you paid me $25, I will give you $100.”
And the man said “Absolutely not, no way. It’s my dog now, you can’t buy him back.”
And Stallone said to Tony…“You know how you say, ‘you gotta know your outcome’…and Tony said yes. Well, I knew mine…so I kept changing my approach….so I offered him $500 for the dog.”
The guy said absolutely no way. Stallone then offered him $1,000 for the dog. The guy said, “No amount of money will ever get this dog for you.”
Tony asked him… “So what did you do?”
Stallone said, “I knew my outcome so I decided to take massive action…I got my dog…I just kept changing my approach until I got my dog.”
Tony asked him, “So what did it cost you?”
$15,000 and a part in Rocky. The guy is in Rocky, Onward Nation!
You know that dog in Rocky, “Butkus,” that was Stallone’s real dog. That’s the dog he bought back. He put his dog in the movie — and — he put the guy in the movie and he paid him $15,000 when he only had $35,000.
So, Onward Nation, there is always a way if you’re committed.
You just have to keep changing your approach. Don’t ever quit. Never ever give up.
You were meant for greatness, Onward Nation. You are a child of the most-high God. You are instilled with an abundance of talent and gifts. Please don’t let something so small as fear — or your circumstances — limit all you were meant to be.
As my mentor Don Yaeger says, “Greatness is available to all of us IF you are willing to do the common things uncommonly well.”
So be uncommon, Onward Nation — and never ever quit.
So with that said…
I want to thank you for taking the time to be here with me today. It is an honor to have you here — thank you for tuning in — your time is sacred and I am delighted you chose this episode to be what you listen to, study, and take with you on your morning run, or maybe Onward Nation has become part of your daily commute, or in some other way has become part of your morning routine.
However our daily podcast fits into your daily routine — I want you to know how much I appreciate you sharing some of your invaluable 86,400 seconds you have in your day with me and the strategies we learn and share each day from today’s top business owners.
And please continue to let me know what you think of Onward Nation…good or bad…I always want your feedback. My direct email address is firstname.lastname@example.org — and yes — that is my actual Inbox. No fancy filters or filing system and I read and reply to every single email.
So please let me know how you think we are doing. I look forward to hearing from you.
We will be back tomorrow with an incredible interview with Jim Harshaw, Jr. and his 4-step blueprint for success — Jim is off-the-charts and really delivers during this conversation. He applies laser focus to the exact steps you need to take in your business right now to move to that next level.
Until tomorrow, onward with gusto!