Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Jonathan Gording, OD: Eyes on the Prize

So Guardians of the Galaxy is once again at the top of the domestic box office. I’m someone who generally prefers artier films (like the dark but fascinating Calvary). But every once in a while I need my popcorn-movie fix, and Guardians certainly provides that. For one thing, it’s a visual treat: this is a galaxy in which nearly everyone has a spectacularly off-kilter look. In one of the earliest scenes, when Djimon Hounsou opened wide his powder-blue eyes, I couldn’t help thinking about my optometrist, Dr. Jonathan Gording.

Dr. Gording, who did some minor work on Guardians of the Galaxy, has an award-winning sideline crafting contact lenses for Hollywood. The walls of his office are full of posters from big-name movies like 127 Hours (for James Franco he made lenses that simulated pink eye) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He’s something of a Tom Cruise specialist, having worked on Interview with the Vampire, Vanilla Sky, and Minority Report.  For 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol he joined with an SFX team to concoct a video camera embedded in a contact lens and supposedly activated by blinking. But his real expertise is in the realm of the supernatural. He’s the go-to guy for zombie and vampire eyes, on such shows as The X-Files and True Blood. Southern California is a land where delis and drycleaners decorate their walls with autographed headshots of their celebrity clientele. But Jonathan Gording, OD,  has on his wall a wooden stake, a souvenir of the 100th episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Naturally, for Hollywood creative types, it’s all about the look of Dr. Gording’s lenses. But as a optical professional, he puts much effort into ensuring cast members’ comfort and eye health. When I mentioned a well-known star who had a terrible time adapting to the full-eyeball yellow lenses required for one fantasy production, Gording made clear that if he’d been charge, the lenses might have caused far less problem. But he also emphasized that this particular star – who’d been fitted by Gording on his breakout film – was a chronic complainer, rarely satisfied with any aspect of his costumes and makeup.

Working with Hollywood folk, it seems, is a big challenge, for reasons that have nothing to do with the medical. Just recently Gording had to help an award-winning but now elderly actress turn into a zombie. When he showed up, she was already notorious on-set for stripping off her top to reveal what he delicate calls “her womanly wiles.” When he went to do measurements on her eyes for “zombie lenses,” she announced she was a 36 and threatened to prove it. The skewed priorities of showbiz types also give him pause. He remembers getting a Monday morning call from an assistant director, “Dave,” who had signs of a detached retina. In this critical situation, Gording urged Dave to come to his office immediately. Then Dave started stalling, citing a heavy workload. Eventually he accepted a Wednesday appointment. On Tuesday, though, he was carted off to the emergency room.

When Gording decided to pursue a Hollywood career, other optometrists in the biz gave him the cold shoulder. But he enjoyed a warm welcome from the late Dick Smith, whose prosthetic work on such films as The Godfather and The Exorcist revolutionized the field of movie makeup. The gentlemanly Smith told him he’d have a ball. Which, of course, has been quite true.
Leaving his office one day, Gording cheerily told me, “I’ve got to go torture someone.” Yes – someone needed his eyes propped open on CSI

For those who appreciate things that go bump in the night, I’ll be speaking on Roger Corman’s screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death at the Weird Weekend (featuring screenings, a storytelling competition, and other fun) sponsored by the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert. The dates are September 12-13 and the place is Ridgecrest, California. More info awaits at 760-375-8456.    

Dr. Gording (he's on the right) and friend from Buffy 



  1. I love weird eyes in my genre TV and movies - so thank you Dr. Gording! Over on this coast my makeup artist friend Jeff always worked with the same optometrist to produce those lenses. I'm pleased Dr. Gording enjoys it - and it's always nice to hear another story of the warmth and inclusive nature of the late great Dick Smith. For this post - it must be said - the "eyes" have it!

  2. Thanks, Mr. C. Dr. Gording was not around in the era when Roger Corman made "X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes," but I'd like to think he would have appreciated it. Of course, Roger never, to my knowledge, spent the big bucks on fancy lenses.