Runnin’ Down A Dream
Studying the career trajectories of three of his heroes, Bill Gurley noticed a pattern. They didn’t sit around and wait for someone to drop a dream job in front of them. Instead, they ran it down. That is the theme of this SIX at 6.
The Idea Of Unrealized Dreams
In 1975, Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay for “Rocky.” He shopped the script to every producer and studio in Hollywood, but he was repeatedly rejected. Eventually, one production company, Chartoff-Winkler Productions, expressed interest. But there was one condition. They didn’t want Stallone to play Rocky. They wanted a “more marketable actor” for the leading role. In fact, they were so desperate for Stallone to not play Rocky that they kept offering him increasingly large sums of money to go away. “It went up to $360,000,” Stallone said, “to go away, to ‘get off my lawn boy.'” When later asked why he didn’t take the money, he said, “There was something about the idea of unrealized dreams.” “I always wanted to see if I could act,” he said. “And I knew that if I sold it—even for $500,000—I knew that after the money was gone, I would have become very bitter if I never realized my dream.” (In every Rocky-related interview I’ve read or watched, Sylvester Stallone talks about the “idea of unrealized dreams” and “wasted potential.” It was his fascination with that idea, he said, that inspired this scene).
The Toxicity of Unrealized Dreams
Stallone said he turned down the huge sum of money because he feared the bitter person he would become if he never realized his dream. The screenwriter Brian Koppelman similarly talks about why, after many years of being afraid to, he finally ran down his dream of being a writer. “What I finally realized,” he said, “was that if I allowed these creative impulses to die, it would be like a real death, and like any form of death, it would be toxic and this toxicity would ooze out of me onto everyone and everything.”
Make What’s Missing
Before Lin-Manuel Miranda created award-winning musicals, he was a substitute teacher in NYC. From an early age, Miranda’s dream was to star in Broadway musicals. In college, he studied the musical theater canon looking for potential acting roles. “We have ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Zoot Suit,’ and we have a couple of parts in ‘A Chorus Line’—that’s it. For Latinos, in the canon, it’s just slim pickings.” Instead of seeing that as an obstacle, Lin-Manuel saw it as an opportunity. “I decided to write what I saw was missing,” he said. “So I started writing a musical full of scenes where people are rapping outside of bodegas [and] doing the stuff that me and my friends used to do.” He set his musical in a neighborhood (Washington Heights) near where he grew up, and he titled it, “In The Heights.” He wrote it over the course of 5 years—mostly on nights and weekends—while “I was a ‘whichever teacher is sick’ substitute [teacher].” And on March 9, 2008, “In The Heights” premiered on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. That same year, “In The Heights” won a Grammy (Best Musical Show Album) and four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. “I went from broke substitute teacher to [award-winning] Broadway composer,” Lin-Manuel said.
Stop Waiting For Permission
When asked what gave him the belief that he could create a Broadway musical, Lin-Manuel said. “I think I chose really good heroes,” he said. “One of my heroes is Robert Rodriguez, who wrote his own ticket to Hollywood.” Robert Rodriguez famously wrote and directed his first movie, El Mariachi, for $7,000. It went on to win the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival before it became the lowest-budget movie ever picked up by a major Hollywood studio. Rodriguez later wrote about how he did it in a book, Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player. “I devoured that book in high school,” Lin-Manuel said. “If I had to sum the book up in one sentence, it’s basically: Stop waiting for permission.”
After graduating from high school, Mike Myers left his hometown in Canada and moved to the United Kingdom to pursue a comedy career. He got gigs here and there, but for the most part, it was hard to get jobs. “So I went, ‘nobody’s hiring me. I’ll hire myself.’” He formed a comedy troupe, and once while performing with that troupe in London, he was discovered by a Saturday Night Live producer named Pam Thomas. Thomas was in London on vacation and just happened to pop into the club where Myers’ troupe was performing. When Thomas got back to New York City, she recommended Myers to SNL creator Lorne Michaels. Reflecting on his career trajectory—from Canada to London, SNL to Wayne’s World and Austin Powers—Myers noticed a pattern. “Things always happened when I completely gave up the concept of being discovered.”
“Don’t wait to be discovered,” he said. “Discover yourself. Don’t wait to be hired. Hire yourself.”