Home Media Wrigley Media transforms former Woodhill Cinemas into new studio complex

Wrigley Media transforms former Woodhill Cinemas into new studio complex

Wrigley Media Group CCO Ross Babbit and EVP Elizabeth Combs. (Photo by Megan McCardwell)

That’s a Wrap

Wrigley brings nationally-syndicated production to Lexington

By Kristina Rosen

Wrigley Media Group recently completed production of ‘Relative Justice,’ a new nationally syndicated reality court show, filmed in Wrigley’s newly built studio complex inside the former Woodhill movie theater on Codell Drive.  The show premieres September 2021.

Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit offered Lexington a moment in the Hollywood sun, but it wasn’t actually filmed here. Justified ran for six wildly popular seasons, and was set largely in Harlan and Lexington… but the pilot was filmed in Pennsylvania and the series was painfully obviously shot in California. (If you believe the implied geography of the show, Harlan was practically a suburb of Lexington.)

“Believe me, we have been frustrated by the fact that even shows that are based in Kentucky aren’t even shot in Kentucky,” says Ross Babbit, Relative Justice Executive Producer, and Wrigley Media’s Chief Content Officer.

Photo by Megan McCardwell

Most productions that are set in Kentucky tend to shoot elsewhere — places that are more economically attractive. 

With help from Kentucky’s Film Incentive, Wrigley was recently able to transform the abandoned Woodhill movie theater on Codell Drive into a state-of-the-art studio complex for production on ‘Relative Justice’ this summer.  The project created more than 300 jobs and will inject nearly $10 million into the Lexington economy. (Wrigley also brought Drew Barrymore’s The Stand In to film on site in Lexington in 2019.)

“We weren’t sure exactly where we were going to tape the show,” says Babbit, who spent nearly six months scouring the greater Lexington area looking for the perfect space to build a set and launch production. Their Newtown Pike facility wasn’t big enough.

“I looked at airplane hangers, warehouse space, abandoned indoor trampoline parks—nothing quite fit the bill,” he continues, “and when I walked into the Woodhill cinemas, it was like a lightbulb moment…We like to tell stories and entertain people. Why not come to a renovated theater to do that?”

The stories don’t stop there. 

With production of Relative Justice wrapped and 50,000 plus square feet of space to work with, Wrigley signed a long-term lease on the former theater with plans to renovate the entire building into a full-scale production facility under one roof that supports production from start to finish.

Wrigley CEO and owner Misdee Wrigley Miller says, “I am ecstatic that we are able to bring this level of production to Kentucky, thanks in part to the Kentucky Film Incentive program. Relative Justice is a project we are extremely proud to be launching, offering Kentuckians the unique opportunity to be involved in a show typically taped in Atlanta, Los Angeles or New York.”

Babbit began his career in NYC and echoes her goals, saying, “Misdee’s dream and vision — and why I joined Wrigley a couple years ago — was to help her create the infrastructure of a studio complex here in Lexington that rivals anything you’d see in a bigger market.” He adds, “I think we’re off to a great start with that.”

The Kentucky Film Incentive is refundable again as of January 2022, which makes it more useful, competitive, and is very much part of the reason that Wrigley took a leap to continue building out the Woodhill theater. Wrigley uses the film tax credits to help pay for projects, including Relative Justice.

Wrigley Media Group CCO Ross Babbit and EVP Elizabeth Combs. (Photo by Megan McCardwell)

WMG EVP, Strategic Initiatives Elizabeth Combs says, “We truly believe if you build it they will come because they will have a reason to come.”

The litigants in the new show are not actors. Combs says, “They came here from all around the country into Lexington to tell their stories.” Litigants were brought in nearly every day from all over the country. They flew into Bluegrass Airport, (some) stayed at 21c downtown, and of course, dined at our locally owned restaurants.  “The economic impact was absolutely clear,” she says.

The filming of Relative Justice created nearly 300 jobs — both above and below the line production roles. From writers and producers to camera people and stage managers. There were casting producers, audience coordinators, and craft service people needed. Production assistants who often had to make multiple daily trips to Chevy Chase Hardware store were crucial to the team.

Wrigley tried to hire a majority local crew, and included UK students via their strong internship program. 

“There are a lot of really young talented folks in our industry coming out of school in this region and typically if they want to follow their path, they have been forced to go to another part of the country to do that,” says Babbit, “We were able to get the cream of the crop to stay, put them to work, and keep them here.”


This article also appears on page 9 of the September 2021 print edition of Ace. 

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