Kind souls would call it a tribute; less-than-kind ones will call it a parody. The gentle portrayals of many of the characters in Tom Hanks's The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, however, will leave readers inclined towards the former.
Spanning eight decades of America's history right up to the post-COVID present, this novel showcases the lives of key figures in the production of a superhero flick, including a comic book artist, the artist's soldier uncle, the director, his hypercompetent assistant, the film's principal actors, the make-up artist, and a ride-share driver pulled into the production to run errands.
In about 430 pages, which include a selection of comics that give readers an idea of what the finished film looks like and what inspired it, Hanks delivers a vivid, sweeping tale of how movie magic is made. Those who make it happen aren't just the cast and crew, but their friends and family as well.
Quiet (and chaos) on the set
The film in this novel had its beginnings in a satirical anti-war comic, born out of a boy's recollections about his uncle, who went to war and returned emotionally damaged by it, plus some of the anti-war sentiments that hung heavy during the Vietnam War era. A copy of this comic would be discovered by the director, who was in the middle of drafting a screenplay for his next project. Getting to this point takes quite a while as the story of this piece of source material unfolds.
Of course, this book wouldn't be about the making of another major motion picture masterpiece without some movie-set shenanigans. As an actor and screenwriter, Hanks is an authority on both and splendidly describes the atmosphere when writing a screenplay and filming a movie. Various typefaces and narrative formats take readers as close to the action as possible: the pandemonium on a movie set, a humorous dinner-table conversation, terse text exchanges between characters, the director's muddled screenplay writing, and more.
From the various in-universe pseudonyms of known real-life brands and how some situations feel over the top, one can't blame those for seeing this novel as a satire of a film being made. But many of the characters, like part of the cast and crew, are depicted kindly. Several are almost heroic, like the director's assistant and the ride-share driver. You can't help but cheer them on at their lowest, be happy for them at their highest, and when tragedy strikes, you feel for them.
No hate for movies
Such a heartfelt tribute to moviemakers – not the suits but the people on set and behind the scenes doing the actual work – could only have come from an actor of Hanks's experience. What makes the release date of this novel so serendipitous is that it was around the beginning of the strike by the Writers' Guild of America, an association that includes screenwriters, over their livelihoods. Since then the Screen Actors Guild, of which Hanks is a member, has joined the strike, united by common goals.
Hanks's apparent love of movies is also present, echoed by the director (the stand-in for Hanks the screenwriter, maybe?) who deplores the idea of hating a movie. Similar sentiments are also shared by another character, the writer being assigned to write the book that would become this novel – perhaps the avatar of Hanks as an actor and producer.
"Movies last forever," he writes. "So do characters in books. Blending the two in this volume may be a fool's errand, wasted effort in the mining of fool's gold. Don't hate the final product. Think of it as quite good."
As it happens, this book is "quite good" too.
Get The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece here.