Music & Entertainment

Screenwriting Case Study: Roxanne

Steve Martin

Lesson time 11:01 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.

Steve Martin
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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 ...

A comedian walks into a classroom...

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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

LOVE STEVE. There was room for him here. (Ha-ha)

The biggest takeaway was that everyone is just a regular person, not some pre-destined star, and hard work and trial and error is what gets them to success. Steve Martin being so honest about his process, wins and losses, breaking down every trick and attempt so humbly truly brought that point home.

Martin shares a deep understanding of his process and comic persona, allowing me to develop inklings of how I could create my own.

The best yet and I've done a lot of them. Steve Martin is brilliant, hilarious and pure class. I would subscribe to watch him mentor comedians, kind of documentary style. That would be a fun show.



I honestly had no idea that Steve was involved in the screenwriting of some of my favorite movies: The Jerk, The Man with Two Brains, Roxeanne--all brilliantly acted, and the physical comedy is incredible. These clips bring back so many memories and remind me how and when we all fell in love with Daryl Hannah. Thank you, Steve!

Alan H. J.

I took this class to hone my ability to write character-driven comedic children's picture books. I didn't really expect to have a great time in the process. Thanks.

Tom B.

I can see Carl Reiner backing Mel Brooks to wilder and wilder solutions to a problem!!! Would love to be a fly on the wall! This was a great lesson Steve!!!

Asia N.

I have to stop watching these things in cafes. Just sitting here by the window, giggling to myself.

Louanne F.

Also loved the idea that writing an adaptation is like a bad marriage, lol!

Ananya A.

Enjoying this class so far. Very different from what I would normally do, both as a hobby or for work.

Barbara G.

Seeing this scene from Roxanne brought back such a delicious memory. Many years ago, I met Daryl Hannah because she was the best friend of my best friend's daughter. (Say that three times fast.) Daryl was so lovely and so beautiful and talented and just seeing her again on screen, even so briefly, was a joy. And SPLASH came into my mind. Dear Daryl, you were amazing!

D B.

Making the problem worse is great. The first, easiest solutions are the low-hanging fruit. The more solutions you need to come up with, the more interesting it gets.

Ryan L.

After writing a book of my own, every time I hear someone talk about doing dozens or hundreds of drafts of something I just think "Jesus Christ, where did you find the time?" I really am in awe of anyone who's able to stick with something that long until it works.

Regina P.

I am hoping, after all the lessons are through, I still have access to watch them. I feel like there is so much for me to take in. What a wonderful class.