Naked City Films and Woodward Original Form Alliance; Rosters Expand For Both Companies
Ariel Ellis
  • --

Naked City, the production boutique here led by executive producer Mark Sitley, and Woodward Original (WO), an award-winning shop based in Detroit, have formed an alliance that gains Naked City a production stronghold in the Midwest and WO a presence in both the East and West Coast markets.

As a result of this move, both companies expand and further diversify their rosters: Naked City directors Dave Schmidt, Chris Shimojima, Brent Bonacorso, and Craig Melville will now join the WO lineup for Midwest representation; and Ariel Ellis, Emmanuel Afolabi, and Rory McHarg will be represented by Naked City in the East and West Coast markets. In addition, Naked City will be able to take advantage of the substantial postproduction resources WO has established in Detroit.

The connection between the two companies began when one of Naked City’s East Coast reps, Shauna Seresin of Minerva, met WO director Ellis at last year’s SHOOT New Directors Showcase. (Ellis was part of the 2022 Showcase lineup.) Their acquaintance led to Seresin and her partner, Mary Knox, meeting WO’s Detroit-based partners, which led to thinking the two companies were a complementary fit. A creative and production alliance came to be mutually welcomed.

According to Sitley, “Woodward Original has a commitment to diversity and the development of young talent. It was very attractive to see how they were cultivating directors worthy of national exposure.” He described the new alliance as a “like-minded partnership” that broadens the opportunities for both companies in terms of national exposure as well as opening the door to a wider range of projects, from conceptual to documentary to style-driven branding.

That search for more opportunities is what drew WO co-founder/executive producer Jonathan Braue to the alliance. “As a young company that’s spent the last six years cultivating talent in Detroit, we were ready to expand our reach with an experienced production partnership,” he explained. “Naked City also instantly bolsters our roster in the automotive and healthcare sectors.”

The new alliance adds an experienced car and live action/VFX director (Bonacorso) to the WO lineup as well as documentary (both Schmidt and Shimojima), sometimes quirky storytelling (Shimojima and Melville), and comedy (Melville). Naked City gains three docu-style directors who come at the discipline from different perspectives: Ellis, who is African American, is more of a visual storyteller; Afolabi, who is from Nigeria, takes a more dialogue-driven approach; and McHarg, who hails from New Zealand and is a former creative director at Vice, has documentary short films to his credit.

Both production companies are nonunion and relatively young: WO started up in 2017 and Naked City in 2019. Since then, WO has won multiple awards, including many Black and Silver D awards at Adcraft Detroit’s annual D Show (notably for Shinola), a regional Emmy win and nomination for its work with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and a Bronze Lion for Ellis’ campaign for Kingsford Charcoal. A short film directed by Braue in 2019, The Pearson Twins, about identical twin brothers affected quite differently by the same genetic disorder, received several awards that year and was a Vimeo Staff Pick.

Recent WO work includes one of the country’s largest tourism campaigns for Pure Michigan (directed by Ellis and The Deka Brothers), as well as a documentary film about Bell’s Brewery and its infamous beer label art–-currently doing the festival circuit--directed and produced by McHarg. Ellis has just wrapped production on Shinola’s first broadcast commercial.

Recent work from Naked City includes an ongoing campaign for agency Iris and Barclay’s Bank about its sponsorship of England’s Premier League (directed by Schmidt); another campaign for Synovus Bank and Deloitte Digital (directed by Bonacorso); and spots for Parkview Hospital and White Plains Hospital (directed by Shimojima).

The new Naked City|WO alliance is represented on the East Coast by Minerva and on the West Coast by Marla Mossberg of N’Cahoots. The companies are in the process of securing a new Midwest rep.


MySHOOT Company Profiles