Justin L. Levine suggests adding one or two floors atop the former television station at 119 East St.
Later this week, ownership of a landmark downtown Sault will pass to a Hollywood/Toronto film producer with larger-than-life plans for the 118-year-old CTV building.
Justin L. Levine, who has produced or is currently in development for 17 films, will take possession of the former television station at 119 East St. on Friday, Aug. 5, SooToday has learned.
The party-loving, upbeat Levine wants to add a whopping two floors on top of the existing building, as well as a terraced roof terrace (see gallery of 15 images above).
CTV/Bell Media will continue to rent the transmission 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 and prop houses, wardrobe essentials, etc.”
He is executing the ambitious project with the help of a pair of Sault film entrepreneurs and a former star of ABC’s Popular Full room 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 get in, and who knows, might be discovered by movie industry types?
“Everything is signed. Everything is going to close,” Levine tells SooToday, referring to this Friday’s closing date.
Levine describes his Sault venture as something of a kind of WeWork for the entertainment industry, and makes interesting reference to the controversial global co-working giant depicted in this year’s Apple TV+ drama series WeCrashed, starring Anne Hathaway and Jared Leto.
“A bit like a WeWork,” he says, “but just a very small version of it, in the same company.”
Former home of Bell Canada
“The East Street property is such a unique building with tremendous potential,” said James Caicco, the Century 21 real estate agent working for Levine and his Stardust Pictures Inc. acted in the purchase of the historic building, which was originally home to the Sault’s Bell Telephone offices before CJIC-TV started there in November 1955.
“I believe it has found the right buyer in Justin,” Caicco says.
“Justin’s intended use of the building is highly complementary to the emerging film industry in our city.”
“Justin has a good network in the film world, but he also has a large real estate portfolio. His real estate experience will only help if he strives to use the property,” Caicco says.
The sale price for the East Street location has not been disclosed, but Levine says he bought the place unseen and paid “significantly less” than the $450,000 asking price.
“It’s pretty funny to hear that I buy this in the Sault and haven’t been there. That’s probably the best part of the whole story,” he says. “Toronto filmmaker developer who’s never been here buys a landmark building.”
That unlikely vision developed after Levine worked on a 2021 Christmas movie, A Christmas letterwith Trish Rainone and Rebeka Herron of Sault-based 180 Sisterhood Productions.
“It has always been a dream of mine to have a studio,” he explains.
“The opportunity presented itself. You know what? Why not? Mainly because we shot A Christmas letter there last year with the [Sisterhood] girls.”
“I know how they ran it and how it went and how it can get better in the future.”
Levine, Rainone and Herron now have three films in pre-production, and 180 Sisterhood is expected to play a major role in running Sault’s newest studio.
Full House star
Another key player in the East Street operation, Levine says, is David Lipper, an actor, producer, and director best known for his role as Viper on the hit ABC sitcom. Full room (1987-1995).
Viper ended up with DJ Tanner during the final season when DJ broke up with her boyfriend Steve.
Lipper reprized his Viper role fuller housewhich ran from 2016 to 2020.
He has 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 involved with 119 East St.
Levine herself has also been busy.
The headquarters of his Stardust Pictures Inc. is, according to the company’s federal registration records, located in a mailbox at a UPS store on Pleasant Boulevard in Toronto.
The Internet movie database (IMDb) shows that the 16-year-old company has made an average of one film a year, including some actors starring Harland Williams, Pauly Shore and Jamie Kennedy; and Wolfsberga horror film starring Danny Trejo, currently in post-production.
Levine spoke about his early years in business in Toronto, on a 2010 episode of Bravo’s reality TV show The millionaire matchmaker.
At the time that program was being prepared, Levine had just arrived in Hollywood, a 40-year-old Canadian who dreamed of furthering his career in the film industry.
The popular show was built around Patti Stanger, owner of the Beverly Hills Millionaires Club, trying to find compatible dates for the Canadian newcomer.
Trust fund baby?
The Bravo program portrayed 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 replied, “Honestly, at 25 my father gave me some buildings, my birthday present. He said, ‘This is a start of your life and see you later.”
“Do you think you’ve been postponing puberty?” asked Stanger.
“No,” Levine said. “But everyone who’s known me for 20 years says, ‘How is Justin now?’ Same.”
“I’m 30 plus 10 and I’m still acting 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 that.’
‘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 fund his film ventures.
“I am both a film producer and a real estate entrepreneur.”
“My goal is like the old studio system. To be a Charlie Chaplin.”
“I’m still that kid inside.”
When asked by SooToday what he’s learned in the 12 years since joining the reality TV show, Levin replied that it was a “fake” show, “as everyone knows.”
“It was a challenge and a joke in my past … at that time I was just in LA for the first time.” he tells SooToday.
“It has less than zero impact on anything to do with the company, the studio or me.”
Levine registers a new corporate entity for the Sault production hub known as Stardust Pictures Studios.
“A new facility that everyone can use, where everyone can go and benefit from the tax credits,” he says.
A major selling point is the studio’s proximity to the United States border, allowing maximum convenience for American movie stars.
“I think this is the closest studio to America. I don’t think Windsor has one. Even if they do, not closer.”
“My marketing campaign is simply to tell American stars that they can fly within America…. Cross the border, or get a horse. Make it fun,” he laughs.
“Fly them on a private jet across America, that would be cheaper. Marketing a bit that way, so the studio is more accessible than any other for Americans.”
‘Spent about a million dollars’
If the price paid for the old television station is a mystery, so is the cost of the renovations shown in its architectural renderings, and the number of jobs it plans to create in return for fiscal support from the government.
“Who knows what an editing suite will cost? $300,000 for just an editing suite? I don’t know,” he tells SooToday.
“For now, I’ll hit a facade and let it glow. Put lights in place and let it glow.”
“But eventually… it will be a serious building.”
“By the time it’s done, you’re talking about a seven-figure spend to get that rendering going. It takes at least a million dollars to get this rendering going.”
“Give or take the math. If you want to print a number, you can just say you spent about a million dollars. I’m not going to say what that includes or excludes, I’ll just say that’s what the number is.”
“To create what I’m going to do would normally cost a lot more money in Toronto.”
Helping the city grow
But Levine wants to make us proud.
“I just want to make this thing a beautiful downtown building. Almost a flagship.”
“I want to be part of the community and help the community grow, help the city grow.”
Hints of Levine’s old-school, studio system, Chaplinesque aspirations can be found in the description of a proposed film he co-wrote titled steal hollywood:
“In an effort to get confirmation, the third-richest man in the world decides to produce the most expensive epic film in history on a budget of $1 billion and starring the largest A-list ever compiled.”