Remember when you were a little kid, and adults seemed to be imbued with powers you couldn’t even imagine? Robby Andersen felt that way when, in 1947, his uncle came to visit with glorious, gory stories of using his flamethrower against the enemy in World War II’s Pacific theater.
Fast forward about a quarter century, and Robby is illustrating underground “comix” inspired by his uncle’s wartime experiences, starring a sort of super-antihero called Firefall. The comic, published during the thick of the Vietnam War, garners a mixed reaction, as American military personnel were not universally revered. After a flurry of sales and hate letters in response to his creation, Robby and the rest of the world move on to other things.
In the present day, movie director Bill Johnson is casting about for his next film, and when he envisions an adaptation of the union of Robby’s superheroes, Firefall and Knightshade, it’s a marriage made in, well, Lone Butte, California. The fictional Lone Butte is the kind of small town that has come to symbolize the “real America,” a trope that Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks used to great effect in his 1996 directorial and screenwriting debut, That Thing You Do! Much like that film follows the arc of a pop band from college talent-show winners to chart-topping sensation, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece pulls its audience behind the velvet rope and into the production offices and soundstages where magic happens.
As an army of “talent,” craftspeople and other workers descends on the hamlet of Lone Butte, readers are offered an unparalleled glimpse into the hurry-up-and-wait nature of filmmaking. Hanks lavishes praise on the largely unsung heroes who keep the machine running, from the gaffers to the makeup artists to the myriad of problem-solvers whose names you miss as you exit the theater. In fact, the story is almost as much about the metamorphosis of young Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz from cabbie to associate producer as it is about the main characters’ journeys.
Hanks’ familiarity with the filmmaking process and keen eye for detail make his first novel (with comic book panels illustrated by R. Sikoryak) a joy for anyone who loves the art of cinema. Hanks retains a childlike sense of wonder even as he moves among adults whose powers, like movies themselves, are just illusions that we will ourselves to believe.