If the Hollywood stars continue to align in Michigan, will Detroit become the next Baller-wood? Maybe so. But 35-year-old Patrick Grayson warns Detroit's young people not to add an Academy Award to their rap star dreams. As an instructor at a grassroots production studio, he insists that his students keep it real.
"This industry is not about glamour, it's about business," said Grayson. "That's what we prepare them for."
Fantasy to reality
For more than a decade, Grayson has worked with Marvin and Maxine Willis at K.E.Y.S. Kids Plaza, a full-service production studio on W. McNichols in Detroit. The lobby of K.E.Y.S. looks like a Victorian parlor, but the rest of the place is indeed, all business. In one of the editing booths hangs the gold and platinum records Marvin Willis earned as a songwriter and producer for the top-selling Floaters. In the 1960s and '70s, he was also a member of the Detroit Emeralds.
Maxine Willis is the power behind "K.E.Y.S. (Kids Enjoy Yourselves) Kids," an antidrug children's TV show that she produces. After 18 years, the half-hour show is still broadcast on TV20 and Comcast.
It was into the arms of this power couple that Grayson wandered about 15 years ago.
"Like so many boys my age, I had wanted to become a basketball player," said Grayson. "But my father pulled me aside and told me to find something else to do -- just in case. He bought me my own video camera. I was hooked."
Grayson was 20 when he met Marvin Willis through mutual friends. At the time, Grayson was producing comedy shows on college campuses, but Willis introduced him to the technical side of video production. He now works at K.E.Y.S. Kids, teaching multimedia production to at-risk children while fostering his own talent scouting and production company, Detroit Hollywood.
"I see that the kids are stuck in the same place that I was stuck in 1992," said Grayson, who teaches about 40 students twice a week. "We take them from fantasy job goals to reality."
Willis agreed: "Everybody gets up from a movie when the credits start to roll," he said. "I tell young people to sit down and pay attention. Each name in the credits is a job."
Behind the scenes
Ashley Jones, 20, was raised in foster care. She always thought that becoming a professional singer would be the answer to her troubles. But singing classical music at Detroit's Mackenzie High School didn't seem to be her ticket to fame and fortune. By age 15, she was a homeless dropout.
That changed when she met the Willises, who were making a documentary about children in foster care. Jones ended up becoming an intern.
"Now I want to be behind the scenes promoting my own singers," said Jones. "With production skills, I can help others with their dreams."
The allure of Hollywood is its rags to riches stories. But at least on the west side of Detroit, they're not waiting for movie magic to rescue them -- they're training Detroit kids to work hard in order to "get reel."
For more info about the Willises, go to www.mwproduction.com and www.keyskids.net, or call 313-836-5397. Grayson's Web site is www.detroithollywood.com.