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Joshua Schilling was ecstatic when his team’s film won the Critic’s Choice award in the Windie City Shootout. The 72-hour moviemaking race held in August promised $2,500 in cash and a $10,000 production budget.
“It was the biggest prize I’d ever seen for a little film contest,” the 35-year-old says. The money would allow his Redleg Films production company to make the pilot episode of his comedy Monkey Horse Cop, about an orangutan and a horse that are Chicago vice detectives. An equally silly concept helped Schilling’s team sway the contest judges: a Dungeons & Dragons musical called Role Initiative.
The frantic filmmaking adventure started on August 12. Around two-dozen filmmaking teams each paid $100 to $150 to enter. “We got four hours of sleep” in three days, Schilling says of his team. He estimates he spent about $2,000 renting equipment. “We figured the Windie City Shootout would be a good way to get Redleg’s name out there,” he says. “A lot of filmmakers move to L.A., but we’re trying to get something started here in Chicago.”
A few days after the entries were submitted, a screening was held in a Pilsen bank parking lot. People ponied up $10 a pop for entry and the right to vote for the Audience Choice award. Schilling’s squad accepted its award at a ceremony on August 27 at Thalia Hall in Pilsen.
A few months passed and Schilling’s team hadn’t received the prize promised by event organizer Kenny Stein. Phone calls and e-mails were unreturned. Then someone from another contest team told Schilling to google the name Kenny Arron, a.k.a. Stein. The results were an eye-opener.
First, there was the headline from a September 2010 Chicago Breaking News story: “Cops: Man faked identity to take over historic theater.” Park Forest police made a traffic stop and cited the man behind the wheel for using a suspended license and driving without insurance. The driver gave his name as Kenny Arron. But the officer recognized the man as Kenny Yochelson, manager of the Holiday Star Theater. Arron had applied for a business license under the assumed name to hide his arrest record. He had served 18 years in prison on various fraud convictions, the story said.
The blog eNews Park Forest dug a little deeper (and included photos of Arron). In 2004, he was convicted of forgery and sentenced to three years’ probation in Ohio for pledging more than $200,000 to a handful of nonprofit organizations and never paying up. Through a fake charitable organization he claimed to run, Arron promised $19,000 to fund scholarships to an art museum’s kids summer camp. “You are a fraud,” the judge at Arron’s sentencing was quoted as saying. “You raised people’s expectations and then took them away.”
Schilling soon discovered he and his team weren’t alone. Leo Flores, a local videographer, and his crew won the Audience Choice award. They were also promised $2,500 in cash and a $10,000 production budget for their crime drama East of Cicero. “We’re not just after the money,” Flores says. “We want to make this film.”
“There’s no doubt they won,” Arron, 49, says of Flores’s and Schilling’s teams. He claims the prizes haven’t been handed out due to a “contract dispute.” “Some of the compliance measures didn’t happen correctly,” he says, while refusing to be more specific. “I think there was some bad verbiage used [in the contest form], and I think it’s ambiguous.”
“The only contract dispute is that [Arron] hasn’t lived up to any of his obligations,” Chicago attorney Scott Andresen says. He is representing Flores pro bono through the Lawyers for the Creative Arts, but neither Flores nor Schilling has filed a lawsuit against Arron. (“We don’t believe he has any money,” Flores explains.)
Arron says his criminal history is being used as “a leveraging tool” and it shouldn’t play a role in the matter. “I’ve had 105 second chances,” he says. “That’s not me any longer.”
Of the 2012 Windie City Shootout, Arron says, “I think it’ll be even better this year.”