Bert I. Gordon is the legendary director of “The Amazing Colossal Man”, “Empire of the Ants”, “Earth vs. The Spider” and so many other classics. When you think 50’s creature feature sci-fi…you should be thinking about Bert I. Gordon. He is known for using “Rear projection effect” in his films to create his monster effects. Bert was given the nickname “Mister B.I.G.” which refers to his initials and to his love for making movies about giant creatures. Movie Mikes had the privilege with chatting with Mr. Gordon about his films and his amazing career.
Click here to purchase Bert’s autobiography and his films
Mike Gencarelli: Have you always been a fan of the sci-fi genre?
Bert I. Gordon: No. I’ve always been a fan of watching movies on the screen.
MG: Working with the original monster films of the 50’s, what was the hardest task for you?
BG: The creatures were fun. They gave me a little problem at the beginning when we started to train them! But we finally got to be friends (laughs).
MG: “The Amazing Colossal Man” is one of my favorite films. How was it working on that film and the special effects?
BG: I enjoyed making that. But self appointed critics criticized my effects by saying I used rear projection on my films. On all of the films I made I used rear projection maybe a dozen times. On “The Amazing Colossal Man” I used some blue backing, some matting and also some split screens. One nice effect is at the very beginning when he is hit by the atom blast. And what I did was I had some powerful fans blowing little particles to block out the screen. Then we’d cut the cameras and I had my special make up people put on the make up, which took a long time. Then, with the cameras in the same position, I started the fans and hit him with the little white specks again to block out the screen. We slowed down the fans until there he was, all “burned” up.
MG: Are you aware that “The Amazing Colossal Man” trailer is on a constant loop in the Sci-Fi Dinner in Walt Disney World?
BG: Yes I am. How is it being presented?
MG: It’s a 1950’s themed diner and they have a large screen that shows a lot of the 50’s sci-fi trailers.
BG: That’s terrific. Disneyland here in California has also run several clips of my films.
MG: What inspired you to write your autobiography “The Amazing Colossal Worlds of Mr. B.I.G.?”
BG: I had been approached in years past but I didn’t really want to write it. Then I attended a film festival called Monster Bash in Philadelphia in 2004. In going there I was so pleased to find out that I had so many fans, both from the period when I made the films and the younger fans who had seen them on television and DVDs. So I decided that I would write the book.
MG: Tell us about working on “Earth Vs. the Spider”. Was it a difficult production?
BG: Not at all. It was actually one of the easier films. It appears to be shot in the Carlsbad Caverns and I wanted to film all of the caverns there. So I contacted the people in charge from the state (New Mexico) and they invited me down. They took me through and it was fantastic. Beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. I told them that I wanted to film a movie there. They said fine…BUT…you can’t use your lights. The lights they have there are all indirect to bring out the beauty of the rock formations in the caverns. There’s no way without lights that you could shoot a movie down there. So I was unhappy because I thought without some nice caverns…what was I going to do? Then I got the idea to come back and shoot still photos with a long timed exposure, because that is what it took because the lights were so dim. They said that was fine. I went back with my camera and my tripod and some assistants and they took me through some different caverns. I set up the camera and took the photos. They lasted many, many minutes because of the time exposure. I took those photographic plates and split screened many of them and that’s how I put the people and the spider in the Carlsbad Caverns. As for the spider yes, I used a real spider in the film…as I did on many of my films. I used some nice tarantulas that were very friendly. I put some in with split screen and some with blue screen travel mattes.
MG: “Empire of the Ants” is such a cult classic. Can you tell us about working on that film?
BG: We shot the film in Florida in an area that was very much like Africa. We had a boat on the river and the film called for Joan Collins to fall into the water where there were real alligators. They were all around and we had to have the grips hold them back. I know Joan made a comment in one of her books that it was the roughest picture she had ever worked on. The ants I shot down in Panama. A lot of the so called critics complained that I used stock footage of the ants but I never used stock footage at all. I went into the jungle with an entomologist from UCLA and we filmed the preface for the film in the jungles of Panama. For the ants that were in the story I had the entomologist collect a lot of the them. The ones I wanted to use were poisonous but they had fuller bodies. He collected them and in my hotel room I had a blue backing and lights and we shot the miniature stuff with the ants. We shot all the ant stuff down there…didn’t want to bring them back! In “The Beginning of the End,” when we needed grasshoppers, I didn’t want to use the ones we had in California. At that time there had been almost a plague of locusts in Texas and I saw them in the paper. They were perfect….just the kind I wanted. I thought I would contact an entomologist there and have him ship me a bunch. But the state of California said no, you can’t bring them into the state. They were afraid they would mate and create another plague. So I asked if I could just bring in the male locusts, no females and they agreed to that. So I had an entomologist in Texas collect hundreds of them, put them in crates and ship them to me. When they arrived at the airport the state of California had their own entomologist examine each one to make sure it was a male. I forgot to ask them how they tell if it’s a male or a female.
MG: Can you tell us about how you seemed to always take the role of director, producer and writer on your films?
BG: And I also did my own visual effects! From the time I was a very young kid I didn’t want to do anything but make movies the rest of my life. My aunt gave me a movie camera when I was 9 and I started to make home movies…not family stuff but movies…I’d write the stories. My family and friends would act them out and I would film them. When I got to university I started a campus newsreel, shot on 35 mm and the theatres in the town would play them. After that I started making television commercials and industrial films. I thought I was happy because I was making movies. But one day while shaving I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Hey…you’re not making movies…movies are made in Hollywood.” So after three months I closed my business and moved to Hollywood. It wasn’t easy, of course. But in all those years, while growing up, I learned all kinds of methods to do visual effects. To answer your question…why I did everything…I liked doing it all! (laughs) What can I say?
MG: What was your favorite film that you made? Least Favorite?
BG: I’ve been asked that before and I always say that my next film is my favorite. (laughs) But I’d have to say that “Food of the Gods” is my favorite. My least? I love them all. I love all my children.
MG: How do you feel about the horror films being made today?
BG: I’m currently working on a screenplay that takes a look at all of my films and the genre’. It will be like “Airplane.” I like some of the sci fi and horror films made today but too many of them rely on digital effects, even when they’re not really called for. One film I really liked was “Avatar.” That’s my favorite of the recent films.