Beyond the Voices

Studio Center, Headquartered In Virginia Beach, Is Now The Largest Production Company In The Country, Offering Casting, Catchy Jingles, Creativity ... And Plenty Of Cookies

Studio Center In Virginia Beach

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The first thing you notice when you visit Studio Center is the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

“Help yourselves,” Chris Wilson says as she offers a plate of gooey goodness to the group of visitors relaxing in the recording studio’s well-cushioned lounge, tricked out with multiple TV screens and a pingpong table.

The Studio Center staff was directed to taste-test dozens of brands just to get the right company cookie, the marketing director says. Both Virginia Beach locations of Studio Center, including the company’s main corporate office (a former headquarters for Gene Walter Homes), boast video editing suites, soundproofed studios and casting rooms that share the dreamy aroma. “Chocolate Chip cookies are one of the things that Woody likes to have at all of our locations,” Wilson says.

Woody is William “Woody” Prettyman, a former radio ad salesman and executive who, 10 years ago, bought the long-running, Norfolk-based Studio Center, moved it to the beach and expanded it both physically and creatively. The CEO has added a “Total Production” tag to the company name and opened handsome new Studio Center locations in New York; Santa Monica, Calif.; and Richmond, with a soon-to-be location in the Georgetown area of Washington D.C. A long-standing branch in Las Vegas is still going strong.

“We’re the largest production company in the United States,” the 51-year-old Pettyman says with no small bit of pride, petting his beloved Labradoodle, Chloe, who is along for the tour.  

Evidence would suggest he’s not just bragging. Studio Center works with roughly 15,000 different clients every year, including bigtimers such as Starbucks, Comcast, Audi, McDonalds, HBO and FedEx. The recording and voiceover specialists have copped thousands of industry awards—Addys, Andys, Tellys, Clios, and even a Grammy for a George Carlin book-on-tape. In recent years, the company has expanded its reach to include on-camera talent casting, full-service video production, translator services, a Studio Center Network for radio, and more. The risks are paying off—with 68 employees spread across six locations, Studio Center posted record earnings of $20 million last year.

“Look, here’s our philosophy,” Prettyman says, deeply tanned and dressed casually. “I’m no genius. I look at how much we spend on translations, say, and it’s a lot. So I say, huh, let’s buy a translation company.”

So he did. And now Studio Center, among its other offerings, is a major player in the language conversion business. ”We have certified translators in just about every language imaginable,” he says.

He offers up another cookie. “Everything is organic in our approach. I’m a sales and marketing guy, but I learned a long time ago that we can’t sell anybody anything. It’s our job to tell them how to buy it.”

Inside the Studio
It can be hard to get a handle on all that Studio Center does. Walk into a random studio or office and you might find a voice actor recording GPS prompts for automobiles, or an engineer mixing down a Subway sandwich commercial, or casting directors auditioning actors for a cable TV ghost show.

Today, sitting before a giant screen, Jeff Russell—director of the motion graphics department—is subtitling an online advertisement for an insurance company. “It started out at as an American TV ad,” he says. “I’m dubbing it all into 18 different languages. I’m working on Russian right now.” A formidable band of monster figurines keeps careful watch on him as he works.

In the company’s “Design Center,” Ken Whitaker and John Carolino are building websites and working up brochures and posters. The duo recently wrapped up local work for Ellwood Thompson, Atlantic Shores, Rowena’s Kitchen, Back Bay Gourmet and Norfolk FestEvents “A lot of the jobs come from clients we already have,” Whitaker says. “It’s kind of a progression.”

 “The Studio Center team is extremely creative, responsive and professional,” says Karen Scherberger, the president/CEO of FestEvents, which first worked with the company 15 years ago. “They did a series of radio spots for us. Two years ago, we started engaging their services for writing press releases, developing social media strategies, helping us with some new creative design work. And then last year we engaged them to do a complete overhaul of our website, which we just launched.”

In its relationship with certain clients, like FestEvents, Studio Center functions as more of an ad agency than a recording studio. “We’ll never use the word ‘agency’,” Prettyman maintains. “That denotes misogynistic men drinking Scotch. Most of our department heads are women. We have all kinds of folks working here. If you walk around here, you’ll see 22-year-old people and you’ll see 65-year-old people.”

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