Road to Riches

updated 06/13/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/13/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

FOUR YEARS AGO, FRED LEVINE, A GENTLEMAN farmer in Middlesex, Vt., noticed that his two young sons were entranced by a brief segment on Sesame Street showing a bulldozer clearing a vacant lot in New York City. This gave Levine, who had been dabbling in a new career as a videomaker, the inspiration he needed. He moved his family for a year to a rented house near a road-construction site outside Newport, R.I., and, using a single video camera, taped the entire project.

Video companies told him to forget trying to market Road Construction Ahead by himself. But since releasing it in 1992—by mail order from his barn, with the help of ads he placed in The New York Times—Levine has sold 250,000 copies of the 30-minute documentary, which details the art of road building. Last year he taped a second title, Fire & Rescue, chronicling the lives of firefighters; sales have already hit 120,000. Coming soon: Cleared for Takeoff, the story of a family's cross-country trip by plane.

Levine, 38, and his wife, Jan, 40, have had to let the land go fallow on the 90-acre farm they bought in 1976 after graduating from Vermont's Goddard College. At Focus Video Productions, located in Montpelier, 10 miles from their home, 18 operators handle more than 1,000 calls a day for videos priced at $19.95. To date, Levine's company has generated more than $5.2 million in revenue—most of that profit, since Levine does his own marketing and mail-order distribution.

"They're not violent, they're not animated, they're real live stuff," Levine says of his videos, which feature Jan and sons Ian, 8, and Miles, 6, in bit roles. (Daughter Mariah, 2, will soon make her debut.) These days, Levine says, he has too much equipment and too little time in the woods. But he does plan to get back to farming—by making a video about it.

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