Ebert loves Bobby Loves Mangos
Acher and Catalino ride a dark horse to victory at Sundance
By Eric McHenry
The balcony wasn't closed to Stuart Acher. Between screenings at last month's Sundance Film Festival, Acher (COM'98) convinced Roger Ebert to have a look at Bobby Loves Mangos, a short movie he'd directed and produced as his senior thesis. The fastidious film critic gave it a coveted "thumbs up," recommended Acher to a USA network executive, and wrote a column about the encounter for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Things are looking up for Bobby, for its author Jeremy Catalino (COM'99), and for Acher, who couldn't be reached for comment but who, according to the online entertainment column Showbiz Confidential, "has seven or eight agents after him."
"It's been an onslaught. He got a call from every agency out there," says Catalino, adding that his collaborator will most likely bypass the famous and famously impersonal representation of the industry giants in favor of a smaller-name, smaller-roster agency.
Bobby Loves Mangos caught Acher's attention last year when it won the University's first annual Scott Rosenberg/Gary Fleder Award for the best short screenplay by a student. It's a preter natural tale about a principal who must act to prevent a fatal school bus accident he learns is going to happen. The narrative of its backdoor success at Sundance could itself be a short feature film: up-start badgers gruff bigwig into giving him a shot; bigwig is impressed and begins pulling strings.
Acher traveled to Park City, Utah, home of the annual festival, to volunteer at the Yarrow Inn's screening rooms. His real objective, of course, was to get his film into the hands of anyone with an industry connection. He approached Ebert in a lobby and was initially rebuffed. Two days later, however, circumstances conspired to give him another chance. He spotted Ebert in the Yarrow coffee shop and swung into action.
"A voice in my ear says: 'All you have to do is turn around. My movie is on the TV set,' " Ebert wrote in the Sun-Times. "It's the kid. The giant screen TV is no longer tuned to ESPN. Now we are looking at 'Bobby Loves Mangos,' and it says, 'A Film by Stuart Acher.' "
Ebert protested that he had a screening to attend, but Acher assured him that he was a Yarrow employee, which was true, and that the screening would be held until Ebert was ready, which was false. Placated, or perhaps just tired of resisting, Ebert sat down and watched.
And the rest is either history or is currently being hammered out in conference rooms. By popular demand, Acher and Catalino are extending what was originally a 20-minute screenplay to feature length.
"Stuart went out to Hollywood earlier this month," Catalino says, "and had about four meetings a day, all of which he was able to set up as a result of this Sundance thing. It's gotten to the point where we have enough people interested that we need a script within a week."
Catalino's prospects for personal success, like Acher's, aren't tied exclusively to Bobby Loves Mangos. He has other lines in the water, and has had other bites. After completing his degree in film production this semester, he'll head straight for Hollywood to begin collaborating with independent producer and fellow alumnus Larry Weinberg (COM'86).
"I'd given him a script that I'd written as a freshman -- a high school comedy/fantasy called Buck Ruthless," Catalino says, "and he actually got an option on it. We're working on distribution right now, and we're going to start principal photography in June."
The Ebert episode wasn't the only harbinger of success for Bobby Loves Mangos, either. Last October, Acher had it screened at the Marco Island Film Festival in southwest Florida. One of the festival's directors expressed her admiration to him, and the two struck up a friendship. He didn't realize, at the time, just who he was befriending.
"She told Stuart that her son was in the industry," Catalino says, "and that she'd promised to show him the best work she'd seen at the festival."
Acher gladly acceded, and out of curiosity asked if he'd be familiar with any of her son's work. "Probably," she said. Her son is Tom Cruise.
"So she stuck to her word and got the tape to Tom Cruise," Catalino says. "He watched it, really enjoyed it, and actually called Stuart at home. We're not sure if it was just a courtesy call, if he was just being nagged by his mom. In any case, it was exciting at the time.
"Once we finish the second draft of this feature-length script, we're going to send to Tom," Catalino adds. "We call him Tom now."