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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives on the West End with his lovely wife Emily, where they watch all the movies ever made. When not digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: March 19, 2018

It took a village to make new Maine-based web series ‘Hearts of New England’

Written by: Dennis Perkins

Caitlynn Mccauley, left, J.R. Fortin and Maria A. Scenna in the web series “Hearts of New England,” which Fortin describes as a cross between “The Sopranos,” “Damages,” and a soap opera. Photo by Nicole Thruston Photography

Writing about the nurturing, collaborative nature of the Maine film community is one of the recurring themes of this column – mainly, because I keep running across examples of aspiring filmmakers whose career plans are helped immeasurably by other Maine movie folk in the same boat.

Just ask Lewiston native J.R. Fortin, whose intended brief foray into the world of New England indie filmmaking has expanded into a side career as a model, actor, screenwriter and director. Fortin’s web series, “Hearts of New England,” has just finished filming its first season and looks to hit both the internet and the film-festival circuit this summer.

Fortin, already taking time away from his 9-to-5 job to publish his gleefully gross and irreverent superhero book series, “The Mighty Snorter” (mightysnorter.com), wound up on a New Hampshire film set of the upcoming feature “Avalanche,” from New Hampshire’s Diabolical Films and, well, got swept up.

Photo by Stacey Badillo
Chris Dubey, left, Tyler Hajas, co-director Stephen Conicelli (with headphones), cinematographer Alan Dillingham, Farruh Dungan and Mark Bedell during filming for “Hearts of New England.”

“I went to New Hampshire to help out on this film,” explained Fortin, “and was so sure I’d done so badly on the audition that I should avoid acting altogether. Instead, I ended up working with Diabolical the whole summer. It was so fun, I just wanted to keep being there. Then I started doing bigger and bigger parts, thanks to other people not showing up.” In addition to “Avalanche,” Fortin said, the acting work just kept coming. “Once my IMDb page gets updated, you’ll see about 10 more acting credits,” he said, laughing.

Following a summer spent in the low-budget indie trenches, Fortin came back home to Lewiston and decided to get into the game himself with “Hearts of New England.” In the series, Fortin, in addition to writing and directing duties, stars as returning veteran Sebastian, whose re-entry into Maine society is complicated by fears about his relationship with his possibly unfaithful wife, the lingering trauma of PTSD and the small fact that his mobster father wants to bring him into the family business.

Described by Fortin as a combination soap opera, drama and mob thriller, the series emerged from a mix of personal and commercial factors. Admitting that the collision of different genres was an intentional decision to attract as many viewers as possible to his series (which he describes as a cross between “The Sopranos,” “Damages” and a soap opera), Fortin says that he was ultimately inspired by the experiences of military friends who, he observed, “take a long time to adjust” after coming back from war.

For a first-time director, Fortin found ample support from his fellow local filmmakers and actors, and plenty of local businesses eager to provide locations – for a little free publicity. “We filmed at places like Luigi’s Pizzeria in Lewiston, Daddy-Os Diner in Oxford – they all let us film, and we made sure to get their logo in there,” said Fortin. In addition, Fortin was excited to realize at one point that the heads of three separate local production companies (Alan Dillingham of Killatainment Films, Chris Dubey of Diabolical Films and Fortin’s own Maine Event Entertainment) were working together on set. He also credits veteran Maine stunt coordinator Mark Bedell for his expertise in making “Hearts of New England’s” action sequences look good.

As for Fortin, the future is film. He has an ambitious five-year plan for “Hearts of New England.” As he explains, “I’ve been talking to the actors about what happens to them down the road. Some really cool stuff is going to transpire.”

In addition, the busy filmmaker is also working on helping the Maine movie scene take off, with Diabolical Films planning to make a short out of Fortin’s book series after “Hearts of New England” is unveiled in August. “It’s great,” said Fortin, “You work with people a few times and you get to respect them and their work, and we just start calling each other in. The vibe in the Maine community is really inviting.”

J.R. Fortin’s web series “Hearts of New England” will be available this summer on Maine Event Films’ (currently empty) YouTube channel and at film festivals around New England.

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