SACO — A Maine-based web series by a Lewiston filmmaker will premiere at the Saco Drive-In Theater this weekend, highlighting some area locales as it tells the story of three soldiers returning from war.

J.R. Fortin, a 27-year-old filmmaker, actor and screenwriter, booked the drive-in to premiere the first five episodes of the web series “Hearts of New England” on Sunday. He even rented a custom red carpet for the night.

“It was a shot in the dark to see if the theater would say yes,” Fortin said in a phone interview.

The trailer for “Hearts of New England” took home the Gold Medal for Best Trailer at the Cleveland International Film Festival in August. The film tells the dramatic story of three soldiers coming home from war. Fortin said the narratives push back against the stereotype of happy reunions, and digs into more realistic issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder and violence.

The soldiers, played by Anthony Gaudette, Logan Raposo and Fortin, who hail from around New England, are enticed into the criminal world by a mafioso father played by Kris Salvi.

Gaudette, a 28-year-old actor, said that while the characters have all suffered the trauma of war, the conflict stems from their varying reactions to re-entering society.


“One character came out of war with a chip on his shoulder, and became involved with dangerous things. My character can’t understand his best friend’s reaction to the war,” Gaudette said.

“I based it off the conflict that three soldiers, all with PTSD, would face. And one of their fathers runs the mob, so the morals don’t get along,” Fortin said.

In addition to intense subject matter, “Hearts of New England,” filmed primarily in Maine and New Hampshire, uses locality to draw an audience.

“When I made the title, I wanted people to pinpoint places and say, ‘I’ve been there,’” he said.

Filming has brought the cast and crew of “Hearts of New England” all around the state. Fortin said he shot scenes in at least 10 Maine towns, from Hollis to Mechanic Falls.

Some of his production attracted attention; a scene filmed in Luiggi’s Pizzeria in Lewiston drew a bit of buzz from onlookers.


“People were asking about what we were doing. We caught some interest. We were decked out in uniforms, and people asked us if we were actually in the Navy,” Fortin said.

Fortin has built connections in the New England independent film industry, and said there are many draws to filming in Maine, including reduced costs.

“In a lot of states you need filming permits, and in Maine and New Hampshire you don’t,” he said.

All of his film company’s equipment is in Maine, and Fortin said he’s made a conscious decision to stay in Maine during his short but prolific film career.

Always an artist, Fortin gained a following a few years ago with his comic series “The Mighty Snorer.” His dash into the film industry has led him in front of the camera, behind the scenes and behind the writer’s desk.

Fortin made his acting debut two years ago in an independent film called “Paper City Burnout.” The film was released by Diabolical Films, a New Hampshire independent film production company. It was Fortin’s first audition.


“I thought I blew it,” Fortin said. “Halfway home I got a Facebook message saying I got the part.”

He was cast to play an extra in “Paper City,” until an actor walked off the set. “I filmed his parts, and it was awesome,” Fortin said.

Fortin has landed many of his roles in the same fashion — right place, right time.

“After a while you’re prepared. You just hop in,” he said.

Since then, he’s been a lead actor, extra and production assistant in 14 independent films. 

“Hearts of New England” has the potential to be a big break for the actor. Fortin said he’s set to film five 10-episode seasons of the show.


Fortin writes and stars in each episode. He said his approach as a multifaceted performer is simple.

“How can I make it better? How can I make people want to watch?”

Great Falls TV is set to air the first season after Sunday’s premiere.

Gaudette said he’s excited for the first showing.

“I haven’t been to the drive-in since I was 10,” he said.

The event is open to the public. A meet-and-greet with the film’s cast will take place from 6 and 7 p.m, with the premiere beginning at 7 and ending at 9:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online. Bring a blanket; Sunday night is looking to drop to a crisp 52 degrees.

Poster for J.R Fortin’s new web series, Hearts of New England. 

J.R Fortin, the creator, writer, and star of the new web series Hearts of New England. 

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