When Thompson left manufacturing because of the decline in jobs on the East Coast, he simply thought he would enjoy working on movies, since he had always loved them. So he got in touch with someone who was currently producing “13th Child,” a horror film based on the legend of the New Jersey devil, and got hired on as a publicist for the film.
Not long after production started, Thompson met one of the actors starring in the film, veteran screen star Cliff Robertson. The film itself may not have been a huge hit (it went straight to video), but the friendship Thompson sparked with Robertson lasted more than a decade — until Robertson passed away in 2011.
“It was really intimidating for me, being thrown into this environment where I didn’t know what I was doing. But suddenly, there I was, face to face with Cliff Robertson,” Thompson said. “He was really good to me, helping me through the process [of working on my first film]. We just hit it off. He always found ways to make you comfortable.”
Thompson kept in touch with Robertson after filming ended. When Gregory Peck, who was a close friend of Robertson’s, died in 2003, Thompson called him to express condolences — and to inquire if he was planning to release a statement to the press. Robertson, who had never had a publicist, replied he hadn’t planned on it, so Thompson offered to help him draft one, sealing their working relationship that continued until Robertson’s death.
“He was terrific to work with,” Thompson said. “Every time I had a question about the industry, he would answer it and he always helped me out when I needed it. Once, a producer was considering me for a film. Cliff called him to endorse me, and not 10 minutes later, I got a call from the producer. He said Cliff’s opinion was the gold standard for integrity in the industry.”
It’s that reputation that Thompson is now hoping to preserve in the annals of film history. Along with director and producer Brian Gillogly, Thompson’s next film project will be of a more personal nature: a documentary of Robertson’s life, with focus on both his acting and his love of aviation. Robertson, who was born in La Jolla and graduated from La Jolla High School, has starred in countless films and won an Academy Award for his role in the film “Charly,” but, Thompson said, there’s not much of a record of his life and accomplishments.
“Everyone spoke of what a great guy he was,” Thompson said. “Having seen how he affected so many people and because he was so open to me and helped me out, I would like to do a documentary on him. I want to have something to present to his family.”
Thompson is still in the initial phases of planning. The project, he said, will likely cost no more than $200,000 — “A lot to you and me, but a drop in the bucket in the industry,” he said — and he hopes to crowdfund most of that from funding platform Indiegogo. So far, funding hasn’t exactly caught fire, with much of the $9,500 Thompson is hoping to get from the campaign — which ends on May 31 — still unfunded. Still, he said, he hopes fans of Robertson will come out to support the project.
Thompson is also hoping to get support from former colleagues of Robertson’s in the form of participation on the film. He plans to feature clips from some of Robertson’s biggest films, including “PT 109,” “Charly,” “The Pilot,” “J.W. Coop,” “Three Days of the Condor” and “Spider-Man,” and he’s in the process of trying to get Robertson’s co-stars from such films in front of the camera for interviews about their experiences working with him.
“The man was instrumental in my life. He was there for me, and he was there for a lot of other people, too,” Thompson said. “I just don't want to see him lost in history. I don’t know his granddaughter, but I would like to be able to give her something about how great her grandfather was, and to have something to give to all the people who knew him.”
To learn more about the documentary detailing Robertson’s life or to donate to the project, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/cliff-robertson-documentary.