In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.
These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here.
Today's spotlight is on SooToday.ca's Alex Flood, whose story 'Expect to see the Sault in more movies, says film producer' was published on Nov. 12.
Here is the original story if you need to catch up:
Residents in Sault Ste. Marie should get used to seeing more film crews around town.
At least that’s what film producer and Toronto-based land developer Justin Levine is saying after his team at Stardust Pictures Studios Inc. recently finished shooting a dating comedy called Wingman last month.
Filmed in 27 locations around the Sault, Wingman is directed by and stars esteemed Canadian actor Harland Williams. Other notable cast members include Russell Peters, Jamie Kennedy, Evan Marsh, and Kayla Wallace.
Since purchasing the former CTV building on East Street in August 2022, Stardust has been converting the old property into a studio space for the film industry. The new studio includes actors’ rooms, makeup and hair rooms, wardrobe, a lounge, year-round props, production offices, catering, craft services, and in-house sales.
Transitioning the building into an operational film studio this year, Stardust’s co-owner wanted to break in the new space using the $2.5 million budgeted Wingman as a sort of “trial run” last month.
“This is the first movie for this studio, and I wanted to come out with a bigger project as opposed to something smaller,” Levine told SooToday. “But I didn’t want to do a $10-million movie there without testing the system first. You get the kinks out in the first run.”
Deeming the filming experience as “99 per cent successful,” Levine notes the building is officially available for any production company who wishes to film in the Sault now that he knows the studio can handle the demands of a sizable project.
“The space isn’t just for my movies – it’s basically for everyone’s movies,” he said. “I want to utilize the space as much as I can. Now there will be full-time staff there. People can do anything from YouTube or TikTok videos, to short films, TV series pilots, or a real movie – whatever they want.”
Among the filming locations that are slated to appear in Wingman are the Grand Theatre, Peace restaurant, Village Media, Laird Raceway, White Pines, Northern Superior Brewing, Station Mall, the museum, and the Mill Steakhouse.
Aiming to start with three major productions next year, potentially beginning as early as February 2024, Levine says he already knows of several big producers who are interested in using the East Street studio to create their own projects in the Sault – a city which he describes as the ideal filming location.
“I was amazed,” he said. “Some of the streets here looked like a Warner Brothers backlot – it looked that good. Some of the Sault’s bars honestly look like L.A. bars, and the diners look like New York diners. Even the offices looked like we were somewhere really big.”
“The Canal District reminds me of the Distillery District in Toronto,” he added. “It had a very similar vibe, and that to me was a must to film in. We had amazing scenes there. When Harland saw it, he knew he wanted to do a movie here. Based on how we filmed it, you wouldn’t know where we are – unless you’re from the Sault.”
“And because the Sault has so little traffic, it was great to film in many locations because it was easy to get there – we never had to worry about rush hour.”
Now with one local production under his belt, Levine wants to get residents more involved in the shooting of future movies, which he explains could create a positive economic impact for both the city and the projects themselves.
“We actually didn’t have enough background people for Wingman,” he admitted. “We’re talking to the city about wanting to train the students to work in the film business behind the scenes. We had to bring people from Toronto which was very expensive.”
“Hotels, travel – those dollars could have been spent locally and right in the film itself,” he added. “We had over $150,000 in housing and hotel costs alone in just one month. Part of our agenda is to get the locals excited that there’s going to be a film business in town in a much bigger way.”
“There are real job opportunities here, and we want to hire as much local as we can. The Sault could come very close to catching up to filming in other northern cities next year.”
Levine also hinted that his company is currently in the discussion phase for filming a “large series” in the Sault at some point.
“I don’t want to say it yet because it’s a known name, but it would be a very big thing,” he said. “If that pulls off, that would be huge for the city. The series means back-to-back-to-back episodes and a lot of months of filming.”
Wingman is currently on track for release in the fall of next year. While he’s unsure where it will be available for viewing, Levine says he’d like to try and get the movie into theatres before it hits streaming services.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a good dating comedy in over 10 years,” he said. “It’s a very wild, ridiculous, off-the-wall dating comedy. And it’s very out there. We broke a lot of boundaries and had a lot of fun.”