Filmmaker Ron Howard has always admired aging directors who continue to ply their craft. It is his goal to someday emulate the late John Huston on the set of his last film, “out there at eighty-one or eighty-two, wheezing in a wheelchair.” Remarkably, back in 1965 when Ron Howard was eight-year-old Ronny, he was directed by a man who is today still actively making films. The project was Village of the Giants. Its director (who also served as producer, screenwriter, and creator of visual effects) was Bert I. Gordon, also known as Mister B.I.G.
Mister B.I.G. was given his nickname by sci-fi maven Forrest J. Ackerman, in tribute both to Bert’s initials and his fondness for using camera tricks to put on screen various enormously oversized creatures, including giant ducks, giant ants, and The Amazing Colossal Man. In Village of the Giants, Ronny Howard played a boy genius whose invention (a magic growth compound called “Goo”) is stolen by marauding teenagers led by Beau Bridges. Next thing you know, the teens are thirty feet tall. As the ad campaign promises: “SEE THEM BURST OUT OF THEIR CLOTHES AND TERRORIZE A TOWN.”
I was a high school classmate of Bert Gordon’s eldest daughter, Carol. Years later I spoke at length to Susan Gordon, whose stellar career as a child actress began in 1958 when she subbed for an ailing performer on her dad’s Attack of the Puppet People. Sadly, we lost Susan in 2011. But Bert stays busy. His 2010 memoir recounts that when he arrived in SoCal from Wisconsin, he fantasized buying a yacht. Now, his office is a boat docked at Marina del Rey, where he’s writing a second book and working out details for the release of his newly-completed movie, Secrets of a Psychopath. He also spends time tending his website: www.bertigordon.com
Bert admitted to me that many of his lifelong dreams have come true. From the time he got his first movie camera at age 9, he’s been determined to make his way in Hollywood. The fact that his productive years have been spent in the B-movie world, making low-budget horror flicks interspersed with a few sex comedies, has never bothered him. Unlike Roger Corman, whose career paralleled his when both were creating films for American International Pictures, Bert has never given much thought to social message. Yes, in several of his movies, it’s radioactive matter that causes tiny critters to mutate into giants. Still, he doesn’t seem much interested in the political implications of such things as plutonium blasts. Above all, he just wants to tell stories on film.
The challenges he’s most enjoyed over the years have largely been on the technical side. At the Directors Guild’s recent Digital Day, he found a session on the making of Avatar “as fascinating as hell.” But such trendy terms as Motion Capture don’t have much meaning for him, and if he were doing visual effects today he’d rely on a tied-down camera, just as he did in the past, instead of opting for contemporary CGI technology. One modern innovation, though, definitely has the B.I.G. seal of approval: he loves shooting digital, which allows the director to see his footage immediately, instead of waiting for expensive film stock to be processed.