Bert I. Gordon had headed out to California as a young man from Minnesota where he had been making car commercials. He brought his camera, some talent and a lot of ambition. From a chance meeting he grasped an opportunity and made two films with a promoter who absconded with the money soon afterwards. Down, but not out, Bert pulled himself back up by his bootstraps and decided that he had to become his own writer, director, and producer if he was going to make it.
"So I sat down and thought a few moments, maybe a little longer, and I came up with the idea that I was going to make a picture called The Cyclops, about a giant with one eye. I started to write it. I put paper in the typewriter, back then it was a typewriter not a computer, and a very, very close female friend came into the room. She said, What are you doing, Bert? I said, I'm writing a screenplay, going to make it into a movie. Well that made her day. She laughed. She said, You're not a writer, and da, da, da. The reason I mention that is because that's the attitude I had in St. Paul and everywhere. How do you expect to break into Hollywood? You're not a....
"So I wrote the screenplay and I went around trying to raise money and wasn't getting anywhere. Someone told me there was a lawyer in town, in Beverly Hills, who helped people with screenplays to raise independent financing. So I went to see him. He said, Okay, I'll look your script over. How much is it going to cost? I told him $100,000. So a week later I called him and said, Did you read the script? He said, Yeah, but I'm not gonna help you raise money on this script. I'm going to finance it myself."
$100,000 was a lot of money in the late Fifties, especially for an independent horror film. So Bert jumped on the offer before the lawyer could change his mind.
"Oh heck yeah. But that is how I got rolling again."
Bert was a contemporary of the famous low-budget indie horror filmmakers like Roger Corman and William Castle. He needed to stand out, to make his own mark on the black and white Saturday matinee filmgoers' minds.
"For one thing, because I was making films back when I was nine years old, I wanted to do trick effects. My favorite films were like King Kong and Frankenstein. But I saw every kind of movie that ever came out in the small town I grew up in because I loved movies. Whether I liked that particular genre or not it didn't matter. So when I was making my movies at nine years old with my sixteen millimeter camera I wanted to do trick effects. So I figured out how to do certain trick effects, how to make ghosts and so on. They weren't the way or the methods Hollywood would use. They weren't sophisticated.
"I figured it out. How can I make a...whatever. So now I'm in Hollywood and I'm going to make The Cyclops and the following films. I did my own visual effects. When I would be writing a script and it would come to an effect, if I didn't know how to do it I wouldn't write it. So I wrote, produced, directed, and did the special visual effects. That is what made me different as a filmmaker"
Bert's last film was Satan's Princess in 1990, twenty-two years ago. But his creative juices could not be contained and even though the industry has changed drastically in those two decades he's right to jump back in.
"This screenplay that I have, The Toy Room, doesn't require visual effects or very, very few practical effects. Almost none. So that's the number one change for me in the last twenty years. But if it did have visual effects some would be digital, as of today, but many wouldn't be digital.
"Well, I've been writing a book, you know (his autobiography The Amazing Colossal Worlds of Mr. B.I.G.). And now this screenplay is fresh. I wrote it a short time ago or maybe a little longer than that and put it together. I do have some studios that are interested, like Warners. They have some of my films I might like to redo and they said, You can remake it somewhere else but you have to submit it to us first. So I've got a couple of things there. They have The Cyclops and they have Tormented which is a good ghost story. Then Metro has about seven of my films but they're not in good shape to produce anything.
"I enjoyed Psycho very much and The Toy Room has the flavor of Psycho. This story just came to me. A lot of stories or ideas would come to me in the middle of the night. I always have a pad at the side of my bed and I would write them down. This just came to me… that… geez, this is a hellluva good story. It's different. It's really different. It's a psychological story about a psychological sex killer."
Mr. Gordon may get a chance to do that film someday. With his sense of persistence nobody has ever been able to stop him yet. It's a brave new filmmaking world and the gauntlet has been thrown.
"If someone wants to be a filmmaker they have to decide whether or not they have the talent for it. I mean really the talent for it; however they come to that conclusion. In that case they have to look into the mirror – as I did way back there – and ask the mirror, Do you think I can make it? The mirror has to come back and say, You definitely can make it. The person cannot listen to anybody talk them out of it.
"Just one more thing; when I made it in Hollywood, my hometown paper ran a full page special on me. They sent this reporter out to interview me. "Local Boy Makes Good," right? So I got letters from wannabes, Kenosha, Wisconsin it was and also Racine, writing me on ‘how can I be successful?' etc. So one letter I remember wrote I want to come to Hollywood like you did and make it. And it said, I'm gonna give myself six months. I said, Don't waste your time. But just about everything I set my mind to do I got very little encouragement from anybody. Don't let anybody talk you out of anything you want to do."
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Bert I. Gordon can be found on the web at http://www.bertigordon.com/
Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies "The Home of Horror" in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com. If you have any ideas for an upcoming column he would love to hear from you.