Paul Henroid thought he'd landed a reel big fish.
On October 20, the 31-year-old Central West End filmmaker received $10,000 from a University City grant program to help fund a historical documentary on the fabled Chase Park Plaza. For months, Henroid, who produces wedding videos to finance his arts-ier endeavors, had been poring through news clippings, culling historical photos and meeting with the likes of developer Bill Stallings Jr. and the Chase's current managing general partner, Jim Smith -- the two men considered primarily responsible for resurrecting the historic property from a decade of dilapidation.
From a past haunted by an invasion-of-privacy conviction involving a hidden camera and intimate acts with several unwitting co-stars, Henroid has emerged as an accomplished filmmaker, producing the hilarious Hoosiers trilogy of film shorts and garnering a national Telly Award for a 2002 documentary on the Lemp brewing dynasty. Henroid felt the 30-minute Chase piece, which would premiere on U. City's cable-access station per the terms of his grant, would merit a wider audience. Persistent correspondence with Patrick Murphy, executive producer of local PBS affiliate KETC-TV (Channel 9), yielded assurances that the station would consider his completed work for a screening.
But on November 28, barely a month after he received his first check, Henroid got a letter from the grant program informing him that his funding had been pulled -- and ordering him to return the $2,500 he'd already been given.
Attached to the November 28 letter was a copy of another missive. This one, dated November 24, was addressed to the grant program from Chase managing partner Jim Smith. "The Chase Park Plaza has in no way entered into any agreements or authorized Paul Henroid to act on our behalf with reference [sic] a documentary on the rebirth of this property," the letter reads in part. "Furthermore, if he attempts to enter this property for the purpose of filming, he will be escorted off the premises by our security personnel."
The grant program, known as CALOP (shorthand for Committee for Access and Local Origination Programming), is funded by University City's cable provider and doles out $125,000 annually to the St. Louis film community to fund documentary productions at $5,000 to $10,000 a pop. (For more about CALOP, see "Grant Farm," in the August 6 Riverfront Times.) Over the program's fourteen-year existence, a handful of recipients have voluntarily returned funds mid-project. But Henroid's case marks the first time University City has demanded that a grant recipient return CALOP funds.
The filmmaker says he has no intention of returning the money -- or, for that matter, of halting production.
In U. City's letter to Henroid, CALOP chairwoman Stefany Brot claims the filmmaker misled the grant committee: "CALOP asked if you had the permission and cooperation of the owner of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel to do this documentary. You said 'yes.'"
No such dialogue occurred, Henroid insists. Rather, he claims, he was asked only whether he had secured the cooperation of "bigwigs." Having already secured an interview with Stallings, he replied in the affirmative.
And indeed, a copy of Henroid's application provided by CALOP contains a committee member's scribbled notes referring to "bigwigs" but not specifically to Smith or anyone else connected with the Chase.
"They magically transform interviewing 'bigwigs' into 'gaining the owners' full cooperation, permission and access?'" marvels Henroid, a graduate of Washington University's law school and a licensed attorney in California. "Maybe I need Smith to do a great piece, but what about a good piece?"
But good isn't necessarily good enough for CALOP, according to U. City's city attorney, John Mulligan.
"The standard [CALOP] employs is not, 'Can it be done without that?'" asserts Mulligan. "The question is, 'Is it the kind of project that is worthy of the award of a grant?' And that's the issue. Wouldn't you agree that if the manager says, 'We're not going to be cooperative and provide access to property,' that could affect the quality of the project? It would seem to me that you would want current access instead of access to one of the developers."
"It's a historical piece," Henroid counters. "I don't need the Chase's authorization, because they don't own the fucking history. I've always categorized Smith's involvement as nice but not necessary."
Henroid says he has interviewed Barbara Hemphill, a longtime aide to the Koplar family, which owned the property from 1947 until 1981 and whose patriarch, Sam Koplar, was the original owner of the 28-story Park Plaza Hotel, opened in 1929 as a separate entity from the Chase. Furthermore, the filmmaker argues that Stallings was a more crucial player than Smith in the long-dormant Chase's majestic redevelopment. Stallings, who now operates the WS Hotel downtown, sold his interest in the Chase in 2000 and shortly thereafter was convicted of bank fraud. Sentenced to a brief jail term, he paid restitution of $435,301, plus an additional $10,000 in fines, and received two years' probation.
But city attorney Mulligan is quick to point out that regardless of U. City's stated reasons for terminating the grant, CALOP's standard contract allows the municipality to terminate any agreement, requiring only that the filmmaker be given 30 days to return any money -- in Henroid's case the $2,500 he'd already received.
Putting aside the fate of the remaining $7,500, Henroid claims that loophole is illegal. Longtime entertainment lawyer Emmett McAuliffe of Thompson Coburn says he may have a point.
"You can't terminate an agreement and then go back to square one," explains McAuliffe, referring to the first $2,500 installment. "Henroid did everything he was supposed to do. [U. City] could get really messy and maybe sue him for fraud and inducement if it's true that he defrauded them into thinking he had or needed full access to the Chase. But it seems to me that's it's either illusory or a lack of mutuality if you say that the other party has to perform, perform, perform and then, at any point, you go back to square one unscathed. Everybody's got to have something to lose in a contract, and U. City has nothing to lose. It's not like this is a construction project in U. City that has to happen."
If Henroid is miffed at the CALOP crew, he's positively livid at Jim Smith. On December 1, the filmmaker put pen to paper and addressed a letter to the Chase chief. "Congratulations!" the missive begins. "You were successful in scaring off a spineless municipality from funding an independent documentary. Without your intervention, CALOP would not have breached the contract. Consequently, your conduct gives rise to a legal cause of action known as Tortious Interference With A Contract."
Henroid claims that Smith and a business associate, Ron Elz -- better known to St. Louis radio listeners as disc jockey Johnny Rabbit of WRTH (1430 AM) and the late KXOK -- teamed up to produce a competing Chase documentary. In fact, when he got wind of the project over the summer, Henroid wrote Smith and proposed merging the two projects into one, with Elz writing a script under Henroid's technical supervision. In retrospect, Henroid believes the letter motivated Smith to sour on the prospect of cooperating with Henroid's documentary and to move instead to quash his CALOP grant.
Another issue may have been Henroid's intent to include Stallings in the documentary. When he met with Smith, Henroid says, the Chase's managing partner told him that while Stallings' name could be mentioned in the documentary, it would be unseemly to interview the hotelier.
Smith confirms that he discouraged Henroid from highlighting Stallings' involvement but says it was simply because his former partner is "not part of the deal" anymore. Moreover, Smith adds, he never had a deal with Elz to produce a documentary.
"Johnny Rabbit's only relationship with me or the Chase is that he helped gather some memorabilia for our Legacy Room," Smith says.
But KETC's Patrick Murphy says Elz proposed a documentary to the PBS affiliate.
"[Elz] pitched a documentary idea," Murphy says of a meeting he had with Elz and Murphy's boss, KETC president and CEO James Baum. "We told him the subject of the Chase could lend itself to a great documentary, but we didn't have the funding or the resources to do it in the foreseeable future."
Murphy doesn't rule out the possibility of KETC running some sort of segment on the Chase, perhaps on the station's current top priority, a new local show called Living St. Louis that debuts January 5. But if KETC were to air a full-length feature about the property's rebirth, an independently produced piece like the one Henroid set out to make would be the only type that would stand a chance of making the grade. "It sounds to me like it would be an infomercial," Murphy says of the project Elz pitched in their initial meeting. "If you produce a piece about you and submit it to air, there isn't the necessary distance there to produce a very good work. We kind of like to produce our own things, unless we're working with an independent producer who doesn't have a conflict of interest."
Henroid, meanwhile, is holding on to the $2,500 he received from University City -- and vowing to fight for the $7,500 he feels he's owed.
Sums up Monica McFee, U.City's public relations manager and CALOP liaison: "This is a matter probably going to litigation."