When the subject of homegrown Kentucky production companies comes up these days, the first name out of anyone’s mouth is Wrigley Media Group, which is transforming an abandoned multiplex in the city of Lexington into a full-service state-of-the-art art 52,000-sq.-ft. studio complex, dubbed Wrigley Woodhill Studios.
Currently, it has a single soundstage, which is hosting the second season of the group’s nationally syndicated courtroom reality show “Relative Justice,” starring Judge Rhonda Wills. But when the second phase of the renovation is finished in early 2023, it will be the largest studio facility in Kentucky, with room to host outside productions drawn to the commonwealth by its revived film and TV incentive, featuring a 30%-35% refundable tax credit.
“We developed ‘Relative Justice’ and sold it into most of the country, and then we had to make it,” says Ross Babbit, Wrigley Media’s executive producer and chief content officer. “We knew that we needed a space big enough to have court set and a gallery audience, along with all the support spaces, and there wasn’t a ready-made space in Lexington.”
They looked at warehouses and airplane hangars, finally, they discovered the 10-theater Woodhill Cinemas multiplex.
“It was an ‘a-ha’ moment,” Babbit says. “I walked in there and saw that massive movie theater with no columns, a 30-foot ceiling, soundproofing already in place and an air conditioning unit that wouldn’t interfere with production.”
After the seats were removed, the floor leveled and new electronics installed, the theater was ready to play as a soundstage for “Relative Justice.” Once the build-out of the entire complex is completed next year, it will boast three soundstages, along with productions offices, wardrobe and prop storage, and parking for nearly 100 cars.
“I’m very proud that we took an old, abandoned building that was an eyesore and we’re giving it a new life,” says Misdee Wrigley Miller, CEO and owner. “It’s right next to a community center, and I foresee a partnership with them to bring in interns and train the next generation of people to work in this industry.”
“The film tax incentive was essential to leveling the playing field for Kentucky with states like Georgia. We are already seeing that first hand with Misdee’s commitment to the Commonwealth,” says State Sen. Damon Thayer.
Founded in 1993 as Post Time Prods., the company was rebranded Wrigley Media Group in 2017 after Wrigley Miller purchased a majority stake from co-founder Wood Simpson. One of Wrigley Miller’s first orders of business was persuading Jayne Hancock, a former DirecTV exec who was one of the driving forces behind “NFL Sunday Ticket,” to relocate to Lexington and take the reins as CEO.
Hancock built up the company’s executive ranks with fellow out-of-town recruit Babbit, formerly a senior VP of programming and development for the Travel Channel, and chief revenue officer David Bertram, a Lexington local. WMG ramped up production with original projects for outlets such as NBC Sports, Discovery ID and HGTV, including 2020’s “Joe Exotic: Before He Was King.”
Hancock was also one of the executive producers, alongside Wrigley Miller, of the big-screen comedy “The Stand-In,” starring Drew Barrymore, which was partially shot in Lexington. When Hancock died of breast cancer in September 2020, Wrigley Miller assumed the position of CEO.
In December, WMG expanded its longstanding partnership with the University of Kentucky in a deal that will have it sponsoring the school’s esports initiatives and producing in-game videos for athletic events, as well as working to develop practical experiences for students in production.
“We’re integrated into communications department to the point that we’re helping them create curriculum specific to what we need them to produce,” says Bertram.