Grace & Wild: A Studio Success Before Hollywood Came Calling

The announcement of Michigan’s film incentive program in 2008 sent
civic and business leaders around the state frantically scrambling to
prepare for an influx of new productions. Talk of new studio complexes
and multi-million dollar infrastructure projects in Pontiac and Allen
Park hit the wires, proclaiming the overnight transformation of the
Motor City into Studio City Midwest. But while those projects are still
waiting to put shovels in the ground, one local company, a polished
veteran player in the business, stands uniquely poised to cash in on
the production boom. 

Farmington Hills-based Grace & Wild is the parent company of a
multi-headed technical and creative services conglomerate, and the hub
for several other independent creative service businesses clustered in
a sprawling seven-acre compound known as Studio Center. Quietly tucked
away behind a drab industrial park, the tidy hive of tree-shrouded
buildings resembles an elite summer camp, where the laid back creative
atmosphere belies the technical precision of the job at hand.

This attitude is most clearly embodied in Grace & Wild President
Steven Wild, a shock of white hair offsetting his calm demeanor, speaks
with passion, clarity and pride about the company. He’s an apparent
master of casual Fridays. Strolling around the cozy campus, it’s easy
to be impressed with the dozens of state-of-the-art editing suites,
massive soundstage, and recording studio. The mixing board looks like a
starship’s controls. With a mostly young and very enthusiastic staff of
creative folks, it’s exactly the kind of enterprise Governor Granholm
has been pushing as the future of the state’s economy.

But Grace & Wild is far from a start-up operation, as Wild is quick to point out. It’s a mature organization built to last.

“We have a long history in the marketplace providing creative
technical services to the audio /video and film industry,” Wild claims.
“We saw our business decline with the economy at large, as well as the
auto industry here, and having this other source of income from the
feature film work has been very helpful.”

Luckily, the influx of studio gigs has helped compensate for
dwindling advertising revenues across the board. Wild is cautiously
optimistic moving forward. “Obviously the film incentives began picking
up steam last spring and summer. We saw from 11 to 13 movies made in the area this last year, compared to about three the previous year.” 

From Wild’s perspective, the job is to keep the momentum rolling,
and to make sure that Michigan and Hollywood have a lasting
relationship, not just a passing fling.

“I think there is a lot of concern on behalf of the movie producing
industry that the incentives are either going to be eliminated or
restricted,” Wild says. “Because of that I think there has been some
negative impact on business within the state.”

Wild worries that even talk of curtailing the incentives will breed
uncertainty with investors and producers, turning them toward
communities that have more fully embraced their incentives.

“There is misinformation out there, and hopefully Janet Lockwood
(Michigan Film Office director) is in California right now sitting on a
panel somewhere trying to dispel the rumor that the programs have been
eliminated,” Wild says.

Wild sees the influx of film productions as one of the few bright
spots in his industry. “I think the overall impact on the economy has
been extremely severe to the advertising business as well as the
communications industry at large,” he explains. “The
economic free fall hasn’t stopped the flow of advertising projects at
Grace & Wild, but it has created the inevitable belt tightening.
…Though maybe the overall number of commercials produced hasn’t
changed that much, the money has to stretch farther.”

In an ever-expanding and morphing media universe, older media
outlets have ironically found their influence shrinking, forcing
advertisers to be more agile and innovative in their approaches.

“Campaigns from retailers now are looking at multiple ways of
communicating, reaching their audience.” Wild says, “[They’re]
searching for niche: Email blasts, viral video and other kinds of
non-traditional media.” 

This has led Grace & Wild to change along with the trade,
continually updating not just their equipment, but their mindset and
techniques, as the center of gravity is in near constant flux. It’s
this sort of adaptive run-and-gun thinking that Wild seems to be most
comfortable with, as his company has been doing it since it first
opened its doors. 

“We’ve been evolving for the last several years, and actually we’ve
developed over the last five years a very strong competency in
producing content for multiple channel distribution,” he explains. “In
other words we can produce content for broadcast as easily as other
formats, and multi-purpose it. Our clients are coming to us… to
provide solutions rather than just making a radio or television
commercial.” 

While
far from the flush days of yesteryear when big three money flowed as
freely as the Detroit River in summer, there is still work to be had in
automotive advertising, and Wild seems especially proud of his firm’s
efforts in that arena. Specializing in 3D CGI models, the studio
renders images using the autocad data supplied directly from the
manufacturers, leading to photo-realistic graphics that look ready for
the showroom.

Still, Wild recognizes the need for diversification, and the film
incentives are a near perfect source of stimulus, creating all sorts of
work, from audio mixing, editing, color correction, to equipment
rentals, like the lighting units at Studio Center tenant Detroit Power
and Light.    

Wild isn’t particularly concerned about the move into full form
narrative work. “For us, unlike the rest of the community, our history
is in the movie business.”  

Indeed, the firm’s origins lay in the exciting early days of the
nascent home video market, when Beta and VHS were still locked in a
death grip for supremacy.
In the mid ’70s Wild began working for
Magnetic Video Corporation, the world’s first full scale manufacturer
of home video cassettes, located in the same building Grace & Wild
now occupies. By 1984, Wild was director of studio operations for
CBS-Fox Home Video, and he leveraged that position into an opportunity
to purchase a portion of the company, alongside partner Harvey Grace.
This new venture was unique, a figurative canary in the coal mine of a
new field, at a time when Detroit was still very much a one industry
town. As Wild explains; “The marketplace in the ’80s when we were creating Studio Center, had nothing else like it.”

“We have the only motion picture film processing laboratory in the state, so any movies that were being shot here, from 8 Mile to Jeff Daniels [projects], basically anyone who shot film in Michigan came to us.”

And they still do, with new projects passing through the halls of Studio Center, such as Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, Drew Barrymore’s roller derby comedy Whip It, and an upcoming  children’s fantasy called Oogie Loves, from the producers of the Teletubbies.

The next step is ensuring that Michigan breeds the talent and trains
the workforce required to sustain film production. To that end, Grace
& Wild has welcomed Specs Howard school of broadcast arts into the
Studio Center family with a brand new satellite facility, training
adaptive local talent ready to live and work in Michigan. 

Though he claims to not to play politics, it’s pretty clear that
Wild feels the Holly/Motown connection is a vital one. “We want the
film business in Michigan,” he says. “I believe it’s valuable for the
state, the amount of money spent here, the trickle down from that more
than justifies the expense.”   

To sign up to receive Prosper in your e-mail box, click here. It’s free.


Corey Hall is a freelance writer, stand up comedian, and film critic for Detroit’s Metro Times.

Photos:

 Sound stage A

President, Steven Wild

Live feed

Dressing room

Post production / Editing suite

Film dolly and slider

Photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D Contact Marvin here