The Director of the Steve Martin Documentary Raided His Diary to Make It

Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville’s team spent two months digging through Martin’s journals and personal belongings
The Director of the Steve Martin Documentary Raided His Diary to Make It

Steve Martin is already one of the most accomplished authors of the stand-up comedy world, and his next project will be based on his most personal written work yet — his diary.

After three years of planning and production, Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville is almost ready to release his two-part documentary on the life and career of Steve Martin, simply titled, Steve! The project will premiere on Apple TV+ this March 29th, and it will start with Martin’s beginnings as a prominent writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour as well as a perennial host on the budding series Saturday Night Live before exploring his professional and personal arc into the present day. 

Neville’s portrait of the entertainment titan is shaping up to be more unconventional than a comedian releasing a full-length album of banjo music in earnestSteve! is separated into two parts that will reportedly work as standalone pieces, documenting Martin's career and his emotional inner life respectively — as Neville revealed to Vanity Fair, upon watching the final cut, Martin emailed the director with the question, “Can I show it to my shrink?”

Neville, who directed celebrity documentaries like the Fred Rogers feature Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and the Anthony Bourdain profile Roadrunner, decided to go about telling the story of his rare pre-mortem subject Martin as intimately (or even intrusively) as possible. When Martin allowed Neville into his home, the director immediately set out scouring every inch of the estate for material that would be revealing of Martin’s subjective journey through show business - “I had two people in his basement scanning things for two months,” Neville said, with the biggest find from some 5,000 pages of scanned journals and articles being Martin’s diary from the year 1975, just one year before he would first appear on SNL and two years prior to releasing his debut comedy album, the Grammy-winning Let’s Get Small.

In the first part of Steve!, which will focus on Martin’s professional accomplishments, the multi-hyphenate artist will serve as narrator. “There’s so much archival footage that has never been seen in there,” Neville says of Martin’s many TV and film appearances which were carefully chronicled for the documentary, “It keeps you in that time period. You’re not now looking at older people talking about back then. Hopefully it feels more like you are on this journey with him—and you don’t know how it’s going to end.”

But the really interesting aspect of Steve! is the promise of the second part, which will feature present-day Martin in conversation with Neville as Martin explains the inner thoughts and feelings that didn’t make it onstage, on camera, on his many music and comedy albums or in the various fiction and non-fiction books Martin has published.  “Taking somebody off a pedestal and saying, ‘They’re just a person who’s trying to figure this out’—that stuff resonates to me as a storyteller because I feel like we’re all just trying to figure it out,” says Neville.

As such, Martin’s diary from the burgeoning years of his career will undoubtedly serve as the emotional backbone for the introspective side of his retrospective. And, if we're lucky, the journal might just give us all the Chevy Chase stories Martin didn't tell.


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