Book Review: The Making Of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece


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Tom Hanks is a renowned actor and an extremely good one at that. He’s been a professional actor since 1977, and wrote a NYT bestseller called ‘Uncommon Type’ so when he writes about the movies, one presumes he knows his stuff. His book isn’t one I’d throw out into the bin completely, but it wasn’t riveting enough to catch my imagination either – considering it was about making a motion picture masterpiece.

The characters were well written whether it is Bill Johnson, the director, with his obsession with typewriters, good work ethic and professor girl-friend or ‘Al’ the director assistant who loves doing her work perfectly. Al has a string of successes in doing so. To Wren Lane who is a gorgeous superstar, into fulfilling her flying hours all across the country but can’t sleep at night. Then there is OKB, a superstar with temper tantrums, newfound love for Paris, a young French girlfriend and such terrible acting in the first few days of shooting, that he is fired.

The characters were fleshed out. The good parts of reading the long narrative were that I came out of the book with a more nuanced understanding of the movie making business – it’s not just lights, camera, action. Similar to life, the movie-making business is full of complex people, with tedious lives, drudgery and long work hours in sometimes thorny dynamics and situations. 

There are sometimes ten-hour long shooting days without not so much as a lunch break, makeup artists start working on actors in the wee hours of the morning and it takes hours and bizzaro fans might turn up at movie stars ranches compromising security, thinking they were her relative and having the whole movie delayed a day or two.

Stars might need to be fired and replaced because they were acting like teenagers, an old actor could die in the middle of the movie and you’d have to resort of CGI to do his remaining scene, there are edits upon edits before the final cut, a director has to handle moody actors, makeup artists, camera crew from several angles, executives from the franchise who fly in to see shoots, the director’s assistants and her wing-woman need to arrange for everything from lodging for a movie star’s family to very specific (of course kale being a must!) smoothies, coffees and lunches to keep the crew happy. All this we learn from the making of Bill Johnson’s movie, “Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall” shot in the small town of Lone Butte. 

The book, which has three comic book sections from those who love doodles, is told through several people’s lens, including that of the director Bill Johnson and his 53-day shooting of the movie Knightshade, starring Wren Lane. The Making of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece, chronicles how Bill Johnson converts a comic book by Robby Andersen (pen-name TREV-VORR), moved by his uncle, Bob Falls, a Marine in World War II, into a screenplay. It takes us all through the production process of the movie and ends at its premiere at the 21st century-Time Square Theatre.  

Hanks’ love for the movie business is apparent when he quotes Bill Johnson as saying: “…But anyone who says they hated a movie is treating a voluntarily shared human experience like a Red-Eye out of LAX…But hating a movie misses the damn point. Would you say you hated the seventh birthday party of your girlfriend’s niece or a ball game that went eleven innings and ended 1-0? Hate should be saved for fascism and steamed broccoli gone cold.” The last sentence hit the nail on the coffin.

You are welcome to disagree, but I was nodding my head and smiling with approval, agreeing with Hanks that surely ‘hate’ should be saved for the bigger eventualities in life, not for the arts? Literature, cinema, photography, painting, music – all these forms of expression add to our collective human experience on the planet. Let’s not ‘hate’ them, pretty please? 

Ready for the bad part? The book starts out exciting in Lone Butte discussing Robby and Bob Falls life, but Hanks’ rather tedious descriptions of its shooting process, character and location jumps and micro-analysis of the hierarchical movie making process makes it a terse and downright boring read.

Who wants to be told about how entitled most celebrities are and how their agents, directors, assistant directors, makeup artists, anyone you can name, cater to their whims unless it is absolutely necessary to say ‘no’? OKB is calling from Paris nonchalantly and obviously driving a new sports car. Wren flies her own plane, wears a Rolex with the words ‘Serenity’ engraved on it and lives on a ranch far away from everyone for privacy, but of course. Ike seems to be the only normal actor and that’s because he wasn’t a A-grade star before he was cast as the hero opposite Wren by Bill.

Sadly, by midway I was only reading ahead because this review had to be filed and if any book is faced with that predicament, the author is in murky waters. A good book, as we all know, keeps you up at night, turning page after page until it’s way past bedtime.

Similar to a good movie or TV series. It is also sad to note that in 2023, with the current Writers Guild of America Strike (WGA) strikes, Hanks considered it appropriate to mention how certain junior staff weren’t allowed to even talk to the director unless spoken to. If the movie business is so non-participatory, so unequal, only Hanks who has benefitted a great deal from it can assume that everyone would dream to join it.

Although here is mention of Ynez Gonzalez-Cru who is struggling and comes from a large family and another makeup artist who sleeps in his car, the emphasis in the narrative is always on how ‘lucky’ they are to be there. I think I’d like to read a book from the perspective of ‘Dalits’ of the movie world, but lest we forget,they all have signed air-tight NDAs to keep mum. 

As for my final verdict on Hanks voluminous foray into literature, I would quote the director of his book, Bill Johnson, “The worst anyone – especially we who take Fountain’- could say about someone else’s movie Well it was not for me, but, actually, I found it quite good.”

Meezan Zahra Khwaja
Meezan Zahra Khwaja
Meezan Zahra Khwaja is the author of ‘Mad, Not Stupid’ the first book about bipolar illness from Pakistan. She has worked in the development sector for over twenty years for the UN, World Bank, Save the Children, SDPI and PCP. She writes freelance for The Scoop, TFT and The News on Sunday.


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