Kristen Hager and Tom Berenger at Dick’s Restaurant in Mexico, in a scene from “Blood and Money.” Photo by Alan Petherick

When director John Barr was looking for an isolated, forbidding and photogenic place to make a movie, he looked to his past.

Growing up in Cumberland, Barr had hiked and fished a lot in the Maine woods and knew of their harsh beauty. He also knew that an icy Maine winter in those woods would be a great backdrop for suspense. So when it came time for him to direct his first feature film – after working more than 15 years in Hollywood on various TV and film projects – he decided to make it in Maine.

His crime thriller “Blood and Money,” starring Tom Berenger, was shot mostly in wooded areas of western Maine, including around Bethel, Rumford and Newry, in March of 2019. Much of the movie follows Berenger’s character – and others – as they trod through two feet of snow, cross frozen streams and take refuge in a cave framed by mammoth icicles. The film begins airing Friday on cable systems and streaming services, including Spectrum, Comcast, AppleTV and Amazon.

“I knew I wanted to film it here, I knew how it would look, how harsh the landscape here can be,” said Barr, 48. “The landscape of Maine plays a huge part in this film.”

Bates Wilder in “Blood and Money.” The scene was shot at a private camp within the Mahoosuc Public Lands preserve west of Rumford. Photo by Alan Petherick

The story focuses on Berenger’s character, Jim Reed, an aging Vietnam vet and something of a loner with a troubled past. He hunts regularly in far northern Maine near the Canadian border. On one of his trips, he has a dramatic encounter and ends up with a bag of money. Much of the film focuses on Berenger alone, his footsteps crunching through snow and his heavy breath puffing through the frozen air. The scenery adds to the drama and suspense of the film.

Berenger, 70, is best-known for his leading roles in several hit movies in the 1980s, including “The Big Chill,” “Major League” and “Platoon.” In “Platoon,” Berenger played a seargent during the Vietnam War and earned a best supporting actor nomination. In 2012, he won a best supporting Emmy for his role on the TV mini series “Hatfields & McCoys.” Other Hollywood-based actors who came to Maine to shoot “Blood and Money” included Kristen Hager, a star of the TV miniseries “The Kennedys after Camelot”; Paul Ben-Victor, a veteran TV and film actor who was in the recent Martin Scorsese film “The Irishman”; and Mark Sivertsen, whose credits include the TV series “The Walking Dead” and “Castle.” The cast included actors from Boston and around New England as well.

MAINE PLACES AND PEOPLE

But the Maine locales have a starring role too. The dramatic cave-like opening to the Bumpus feldspar mine in Albany Township, south of Bethel, makes an appearance as a hideout. A private camp within the Mahoosuc Public Lands preserve, west of Newry, was used as a border patrol station. The cast and crew did a lot of their set-building and set up work at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Newry.

The Bumpus Mine in Albany Township, which was used as a location in “Blood and Money.” Photo by Alan Petherick

Barr said it might have been cheaper to make the movie somewhere that looks like Maine but provides greater tax incentives for films, like Canada. But he and his partners in the film really wanted the authenticity of filming in Maine. When writing the movie, he set the story in northern Maine, near the Allagash River, and the project’s original title was “Allagash.” But filming in the Allagash region would have been too difficult and costly, since the area is more than 300 miles from Portland. Some of the film’s action takes place in a border town near where Berenger’s character is hunting, and the mill towns of Rumford and Mexico were used as backdrops for those scenes.

“We wanted to be close to towns, we wanted the look of a factory town,” said Barr. “But then we had places nearby that looked like they were in the middle of nowhere.”

One scene was filmed in a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot in Rumford and several scenes were filmed in and outside of Dick’s Restaurant in Mexico. Another scene, a meeting for recovering alcoholics, was filmed at an American Legion hall in Rumford and featured several local people as extras.

One of those was Lisa Deherrera of Mexico, who works as a bartender at the Bethel Inn. The cast and crew stayed at the inn, so Deherrera got to know them pretty well and was invited to be in the film. She was on set all day for the one scene.

“I’m very anxious to see it, though if I’m in it, I don’t know if seeing myself will make me cringe or not,” said Deherrera, 48. “It was a great experience. All the people couldn’t have been nicer.”

Cast and crew of “Blood and Money” filming in downtown Mexico, near Rumford. Photo by Alan Petherick

TO HOLLYWOOD AND BACK

Growing up in Cumberland, where he attended Greely High School, Barr said he always wanted to work in film but wasn’t sure how to do it or what jobs were out there for him. He went to Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and then came back to the Portland area to work at a production company that did local commercials and films. He worked on some of the Hollywood films that came through town, including “Message in a Bottle” (1998) starring Paul Newman, Robin Wright and Kevin Costner, which was shot around Phippsburg and in Portland.

About 15 years ago, he left Maine for Hollywood and began working in the lighting departments of various films and as a cinematographer. Some of the films he’s worked on include “Capote” (2005), “Frost/Nixon” (2008) and “Once Upon a Time in Queens” (2013).

Although the story for “Blood and Money” is fictional, Barr said the isolated setting is based on the trips he took with family in the Maine woods to hunt, fish and explore. He also wanted the movie to look and feel as authentically Maine as possible, to Mainers. He even cast Maine native Gary Tanguay – who grew up in Frye, north of Mexico – as a TV newscaster who is seen giving reports of some criminal activity that plays a role in the movie. Tanguay is well-known around New England as a Boston-based TV sports reporter and commentator.

"Blood and Money" director John Barr

“Blood and Money” director John Barr, with camera, on location in Western Maine last year. Key grip Tony Cady is at left. Photo by Alan Petherick

Barr and his partners said local residents, organizations and businesses went out of their way to help them find locations and extras, and to make filming as easy as possible. Local police kept traffic away from filming areas and local people quietly watched scenes being filmed. They were also hired to do a variety of production jobs, including transport equipment and plow roads leading to film sites – help that made a difference for the film’s budget of under $500,000, which is very low by Hollywood standards, said Barr.

“People were really kind and willing to do anything. I really don’t know how we could have done it without them,” he said.


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