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Turns Out Tom Hanks Isn’t Just a Stellar Actor — He’s a Great Novelist, Too

His new book, ‘The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece,’ is a fun read that will delight movie buffs

spinner image left author and actor tom hanks right the book cover for the making of another major motion picture masterpiece by tom hanks
Photo by Juan Naharro Gimenez/WireImage / Knopf

So you know how Tom Hanks is considered a (the?) top actor of his generation — winner of two Oscars, seven Primetime Emmys and eight Golden Globes; the star of beloved films like Sleepless in Seattle, Big, Forrest Gump. Well, guess what? He’s also a darn good novelist.

His first novel, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece (May 9), is an entertaining, often humorous story that jumps from 1947 to 1970 and on to the present-day creation of a splashy superhero action movie based on an old comic book series — written for the novel by Hanks and drawn by R. Sikoryak.

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Essentially, it’s a heartfelt homage to filmmaking, which the seasoned, famously good-natured actor portrays as a wildly unpredictable, utterly exhausting, periodically dull but ultimately exhilarating mix of the magical and mundane.

Movie lovers will eat it up.

The plot

The story begins in 1947, when a boy named Robby Anderson, growing up in the sleepy town of Lone Butte, California, first meets his troubled Uncle Bob after he returns from the war. Robby is dutifully impressed by his mom’s hard-drinking, motorcycle-riding brother. Cut to the Bay Area in the early 1970s: Robby is a young artist working for Kool Katz Komix and writing a comic book about a heroic World War II soldier based on Uncle Bob.

Then the tale jumps to 1990, when the moviemaking begins. The film, a Marvel-style blockbuster called Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall, is based on Robby’s old comic book characters. And where do the producers decide to shoot it, after scouting possible locations? Lone Butte, due to its decline through the decades into “a marvel of All-American Anytown-ness, a time capsule, inside a snow globe without the snow,” empty of life, and therefore “a cinch to shoot in.”

But the shooting is not a cinch. In fact, each day (there’s meant to be only 53 of them) brings new crises and quandaries, including the frustrations of dealing with a wildly self-absorbed leading man, a weirdo stalking the leading lady and last-minute casting changes. Most of the kinks end up being smoothed out by a few uber-capable and efficient crew members with quietly powerful roles — the real heroes of filmmaking, Hanks seems to suggest, even if they remain invisible to movie fans (and maybe many movie stars).

They include two of the most interesting characters in the book: the preternaturally competent Al Mac-Teer, the director’s right-hand woman; and Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz, a ride-share driver from Sacramento whom Al takes under her wing and ushers into the movie biz.

The reader views the filming through the eyes of Ynez as she’s introduced to this magical new world — and falls in love.

“I feel kind of sad,” she says to Al toward the end of filming. “After we started shooting? Everywhere my eyes landed, every word I heard taught me something I didn’t know. It’s hard work, but it’s fun, too.”

Al says, with a smile, “That’s making motion pictures.”

A bit corny, but, hey, that’s Hollywood for you.

The bottom line

Is it worth reading? Yes, particularly if you love movies. It’s a fun, smart whirlwind of a story, a lively look at how big-budget films go from the germ of an idea to the big screen.

That said, one critique of the book might be that Hanks’ descriptions of the process get rather granular, maybe unnecessarily so. We learn that for breakfast, for instance, the crew is fed a morning buffet “heavy on the high-calorie comfort foods — porridge by the vat, waffles off the iron” (he goes on to list a menu of other dishes here), but “ask for a bowl of loganberries and goat-milk kefir and you’ll find it available the next day.”

A few pages later he offers an even more elaborate description of lunch. I actually got hungry reading it.

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And Hanks includes slightly distracting footnotes throughout, including definitions of moviemaking lingo (“FG” means “foreground”), funny asides and lively riffs on a character’s quirky backstory.

But it all rings true. In a quote shared with the media by his publisher, Knopf, Hanks said that “every character in the book does something I’ve experienced while making a movie, as well as discovered a philosophy or learned an important lesson. Even the foolish moments are some kind of stunt I’ve pulled or mistake I’ve survived.”

The book tour

Hanks, whose other work of published fiction is his 2017 short story collection, Common Type, hits the road this week for a book tour that starts tonight (May 9) at New York’s Symphony Space, where he’ll talk with David Remnick for The New Yorker Live. He’ll be at Nashville’s Parnassus Books for a talk with the store’s owner, author Ann Patchett (he narrated the audiobook of her 2019 novel, The Dutch House), on May 11. And he’s scheduled to appear in at least six more cities.

The audiobook

Hanks narrates the audiobook along with a group of actors that includes Peter Gerety (who appeared in Charlie Wilson’s War with Hanks), Natalie Morales and Rita Wilson (Hanks’ wife).​​

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