Arts & Entertainment

Screenwriting Case Study: Roxanne

Steve Martin

Lesson time 11:00 min

Steve discusses his experience writing Roxanne, the inspirations behind some of its funniest scenes, and how he adapted a 19th century play into what became one of his most beloved films.

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Topics include: Make the Problem Worse • Find Character Through Physicality • Take Excursions From Story


I had an idea to do Roxanne, which was a update of Cyrano de Bergerac. And I went to Neil Simon. I said, can you write this? Can you write this? And I couldn't get anybody to write it. And I thought, well, I've written-- I've collaborated with some-- maybe I could write it. So I sat down. I wrote it, and on a typewriter with yellow paper and doing the cut and paste, moving things around. And the first draft was very faithful to the play. But I went through hundreds of drafts, as I moved away from the structure of the play or the actual lines from the play, into becoming its own thing. And I realized the process of adaptation is the same process as a failed marriage, which is first, fidelity; then, transgression; and then, divorce. So at first you're faithful to the original source material. Then, you say, oh, maybe if we didn't go there and went here and didn't say that-- what if it was this? And you have a new scene. And now, suddenly, you have a fresh scene. And then, you finally divorce yourself from the source material. In the opening of Cyrano de Bergerac, there's a sword fight, where he wounds somebody. And I thought, well, can't have him wound anybody. What can this be? But I really like the scene where someone insults him, and he fights back. So we changed it to tennis rackets. And we were like sword fighting with tennis rackets. And I was able to thwack the villains. Kevin Nealon, by the way, and Ritch Shydner played those parts. Here it comes. Knock knock. 3D coming at you. I really admire your shoes. I love your shoes. What do you mean? And I was just thinking that as much as I really admire your shoes, and as much as I'd love to have a pair just like them, I really wouldn't want to be in your shoes at this particular time and place. [KARATE CRY] [KARATE CRY] I don't really know karate. I didn't think so. [KARATE CRY] Yow. Oh, damn. Son of a. Get pissed, Ritch. I am pissed. OK. OK. Ah, 15-love. There's an opening scene where somebody insults Cyrano's extra large nose. And then he gives a bunch of-- well, you could have said this. You could have said this. You could have said this. And he's beautiful and eloquent. And I wanted to recreate that scene in a modern way in a bar. So I came up with the idea-- I'd say, well, the guy will insult me. And then, I'll say-- I'll tell you what. He said, you can come up with something better? I said, I think I could. I said, tell you what take the dart, throw it at the dart board, and whatever number it lands on, that's the number of put downs, responses I'll do. And so I thought, well, OK, maybe if it lands on six, that would be good, six. I could probably get six good jokes. And I thought, no, it's got to land on 20. That's the highest number on the dartboard. That's ...

About the Instructor

One of Steve’s first gigs was at the drive-in movies. When the audience liked a joke, they honked. In this comedy class, Steve shares insights from performing for cars and humans over a 50-year career spanning sold-out arenas and blockbuster films. Learn how to find your voice, gather material, develop an act, and take your comedy writing to the next level.

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Steve Martin

Steve Martin teaches you everything from finding your comedic voice to nailing your act.

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