Later this week, ownership of a downtown Sault landmark will be turned over to a Hollywood/Toronto film producer with larger-than-life plans for the 118-year-old CTV building.
Justin L. Levine, who's produced or has in current development 17 films, will take possession of the former television station at 119 East St. on Friday Aug. 5, SooToday has learned.
The party-loving, fun-loving Levine wants to add as many as two storeys on top of the existing building, as well as a terraced rooftop patio (see 15-image gallery above).
CTV/Bell Media will continue to lease the broadcast tower.
Levine's plan, as outlined in his pitch, is to create "a one-stop studio full of resources specifically tailored to the film and television industry: film studio, equipment, trailers, vehicles, set decoration and prop houses, wardrobe supplies etc."
He's undertaking the ambitious project with help from a pair of Sault film entrepreneurs and a former star from ABC's popular Full House sitcom.
Coffee shop open to the public
"The plan is simple," Levine says.
"Office space, studio space, production companies and individual film professionals working together under one roof to create, collaborate and grow."
All that, plus a coffee shop open to anyone who wants to enter, and who knows, maybe get discovered by film industry types?
"Everything's signed. Everything's set to close," Levine tells SooToday, referring to this Friday's closing date.
Levine describes his Sault venture as a kind of WeWork for the entertainment sector, interestingly referencing the controversial global co-working giant depicted in this year's Apple TV+ drama series WeCrashed, starring Anne Hathaway and Jared Leto.
"Kind of like a WeWork," he says, "but just a very small version of that, in the same business."
Former home of Bell Canada
"The East Street property is such a unique building with enormous potential," says James Caicco, the Century 21 broker who acted for Levine and his Stardust Pictures Inc. in buying the historic building, originally home to the Sault's Bell Telephone offices before CJIC-TV started operations there in November 1955.
"I believe it found the right buyer in Justin," Caicco says.
"Justin's intended use of the building is very complementary to the emerging film industry in our city."
"Justin is very well networked in the film business but he also has a large real estate portfolio. His real estate experience will only help as he looks to utilize the property," Caicco says.
Selling price for the East Street location has not been disclosed, but Levine says he bought the place sight-unseen and paid "substantially less" than the $450,000 asking price.
"It's kinda funny hearing I'm buying this in the Sault and I haven't been there. That's the best part of the whole story, probably," he says. "Toronto movie-guy developer who's never been here buys a landmark building."
That unlikely vision developed after Levine worked on a 2021 Christmas movie, A Christmas Letter, with Trish Rainone and Rebeka Herron of Sault-based 180 Sisterhood Productions.
"It's always been a dream of mine to have a studio," he explains.
"The opportunity came up. You know what? Why not? Especially since we shot A Christmas Letter up there last year with the [Sisterhood] girls."
"I know how they ran it and how things went and how things can go better going forward."
Levine, Rainone and Herron now have three films in pre-production, and 180 Sisterhood is expected to play a major role in running the Sault's newest studio facility.
Full House star
Another significant player in the East Street operation, Levine says, will be David Lipper, an actor, producer and director best known for playing the role of Viper on the popular ABC sitcom Full House (1987-1995).
Viper ended up making out with D.J. Tanner during the final season when D.J. broke up with her boyfriend Steve.
Lipper reprised his Viper role in Fuller House, which ran from 2016 to 2020.
He's had a busy career in film and television, including numerous appearances in Levine's projects.
Lipper won't be moving to the Sault, but Levine says he'll be very much involved at 119 East St.
Levine himself has also been busy.
The head office of his Stardust Pictures Inc. is based, according to federal corporate registration records, in a mailbox at a UPS Store on Pleasant Boulevard in Toronto.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) shows the 16-year-old firm has churned out an average of one film a year, including some starring comedians Harland Williams, Pauly Shore and Jamie Kennedy; and Wolf Mountain, a horror film with Danny Trejo, currently in post-production.
Levine talked about his early years in business in Toronto, in a 2010 episode of Bravo's reality television show The Millionaire Matchmaker.
At the time that program was prepared, Levine was freshly arrived in Hollywood, a 40-year-old Canadian dreaming of furthering his career in the film business.
The popular show was built around Patti Stanger, owner of the Beverly Hills Millionaires Club, who tried to find compatible dates for the Canadian newcomer.
The Bravo program painted Levine as a "trust-fund baby" with a net worth at the time between $9 million and $12 million.
"How did you get your wealth?" Stanger asked him.
Levine responded: "Truth be told, at the age of 25, my birthday present, my dad gave me a set of buildings. He said: 'This is a start to your life and see you later."
"Do you think you have delayed adolescence?" Stanger asked.
"No," Levine said. "But everyone who knows me for for 20 years says: 'What's Justin like now?' The same."
"I'm 30 plus 10 and I still act 20."
"My friends would describe me as a little crazy and a lot of fun."
"I haven't grown up. I really don't want to."
'My goal is to be a Charlie Chaplin'
Levine told Stanger that his family background is in real estate, and he does real estate deals to finance his film ventures.
"I'm a film producer as well as a realty entrepreneur."
"My goal is like the old studio system. To be a Charlie Chaplin."
"I'm still that kid inside."
Asked by SooToday what he's learned in the 12 years since he participated in the reality television show, Levine replied that it was a "fake" show, "as everyone knows.'"
"It was a dare and a joke way in my past... at that time just first getting to L.A.." he tells SooToday.
"It has less than zero bearing on anything to do with the company, the studio or me."
Levine is registering a new corporate entity for the Sault production hub, to be known as Stardust Pictures Studios.
"A new facility that everyone can use, everyone can go to, and take advantage of the tax credits," he says.
A major selling point will be the studio's proximity to the United States border, offering maximum convenience to U.S. film stars.
"I believe it will be the closest studio to America. I don't think Windsor has one. Even if they do, not closer."
"My marketing campaign is to simply tell American stars they can fly within America.... Walk across the border, or take a horse. Make it fun," he laughs.
"Fly them on a private jet, through America, which would be cheaper. Kinda market it that way, so the studio is accessible more so than any other for Americans."
'Round about a million-dollar spend'
If the price paid for the old television station is a mystery, so are the cost of the renovations shown in his architectural renderings, and the number of jobs he intends to create in exchange for government fiscal support.
"Who knows what an edit suite's going to cost? $300,000 for an edit suite alone? I don't know," he tells SooToday.
"For now, I'll slap on a facade and make it glowing. Get lights on the place and make it glow."
"But eventually... it's going to be a serious building."
"By the time it's done, you're talking about a seven-figure spend to get that rendering up and going. It's a million-dollar spend, at least, to get this rendering going."
"Give or take the math, if you want to print a number, you can just say round about a million-dollar spend. I'm not going to say what that's inclusive of or exclusive of, I'll just say that's what the number is."
"To create what I'm going to do, normally that would cost a hell of a lot more money to in Toronto."
Helping the town grow
But Levine wants to make us proud.
"I just want to make this thing a stunning, downtown building. Almost a flagship."
"I want to be part of the community and help the community grow, help the town grow."
Hints of Levine's old-school, studio-system, Chaplinesque aspirations may be found in the description of a proposed film he's cowritten titled Stealing Hollywood:
"In an attempt to seek validation, the third-richest man in the world decides to produce the most expensive epic movie in history with a $1 billion budget starring the largest A-list cast ever assembled."