New Bedford native Brian Helgeland put a lot of himself and the world in which he grew up into his newest film Finestkind, now streaming on Paramount+.

The movie made headlines here on the SouthCoast when it filmed in New Bedford and Fairhaven two years ago. Local film fans followed the exploits of stars Ben Foster, Tommy Lee Jones and Jenna Ortega as they ate at the Black Whale, filmed in Rasputin's, made friends with the locals, and turned a former city councilor into a movie star.

Now that the movie is finally streaming, locals have poured over it for all of its SouthCoast mentions and connections.

One thing that has become clear from those posting about Finestkind on social media – especially in local SouthCoast Facebook groups – is that people identify with and even love the characters in the film.

Helgeland, who both wrote and directed Finestkind, recently appeared on WBSM to discuss the film and share some behind-the-scenes stories. Does the Academy Award winner think there might be more stories to tell in the world of Finestkind? Could we see a sequel?

“Yeah, I think – I don’t want to start any rumor because there is none to start, but they’ve talked very basically at Paramount+ about potentially doing a series based on the movie,” he said. “That’s just talk, but if that came to be, that would be the first thing that came to mind.”

Helgeland said a series could open the door to much more storytelling about New Bedford, both in and out of the fishing industry.

“In a series you’d have much more breadth in what story you’re telling, so you’re telling a lot of stories ashore, dealing with the shore part of fishing, things like that,” he said. “Like I said, it’s a little bit of a hope at this point, there’s no reality to it, but that kind of thing would be great to explore all of that, the whole city, and what’s around fishing and even further afield from it.”

The Origins of Finestkind

The film is set against the commercial fishing industry, which runs in Helgeland’s blood; both his father and grandfather were fishermen, and he grew up in a fishing household.

“When I started writing, it was one of the first scripts I wrote. It was probably the third or fourth script I wrote out of many,” he said. “So over 30 years ago, I wrote it and I could just never get it made for one reason or another.”

Helgeland went to what was then the Mt. Pleasant School (now the Carlos Pacheco School), then Normandin Junior High, then New Bedford High, then Southeastern Massachusetts University (now UMass Dartmouth). Just like the character Charlie in the film, he started fishing after graduating from college.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, so I fished for about a year and a half, maybe a little longer,” he said. “So it’s full of stuff that I picked up doing that.”

He said the decision to get into screenwriting came around 1984, when he went to Waldenbooks to pick up something to read before heading out on the annual Thanksgiving fishing trip.

“I was in the bookstore and looked down at the bottom shelf just by chance as I was going by the reference section and I saw a book that said The Guide to Film School, and I stopped short and kind of just stared at it,” Helgeland said. “It was kind of an epiphany, because I always loved movies but never knew it was an option.”

He said that before he headed out on the next fishing trip, he applied to five film schools and was accepted to one of them, and that he even continued fishing his first summer back from Los Angeles.

Helgeland got jobs writing films such as 976-Evil and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master in 1988. A decade later, he won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for L.A. Confidential. He went on to write films such as Conspiracy Theory, Mystic River and Man on Fire, and writing and directing others such as 42, A Knight's Tale and Legend.

Helgeland recently penned a piece for Time Magazine in which he stated he didn’t need a technical advisor for the fishing scenes in Finestkind because he had lived them; he was the technical advisor.

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Was the Finestkind an Actual Fishing Vessel?

In the film, Finestkind is the name of a boat, which is portrayed by the real-life fishing vessel Sandra Jane out of Fairhaven. Helgeland even listed it in the acting credits, because, as he said, “a thing can become a character in a way, and we wanted to honor that.”

“The captain of it, Ivan Mjolhus, is a friend of mine. We fished together on a boat called the Settler, he’s now the captain of (the Sandra Jane) so I called him up to ask if we could use his boat,” Helgeland said. “My older sister Kathy was his babysitter; I’ve never worked with somebody on a film that was babysat by my sister. It was all sorts of things like that, all kinds of connections like that.”

Nicole Rivelli/Paramount+

Helgeland said all of the crew members on the boat were written based on people he fished with himself, or knew one way or another.

That’s why characters have names that will sound familiar to those who are part of the New Bedford and Fairhaven fishing community, such as “Eldridge” and “Skeemo.”

“All those guys are people that I met, not necessarily that exact person but elements of all of them that always really struck me as a very strong character,” Helgeland said. “I didn’t want to invent too much because what I could invent probably wasn’t as interesting as what was out there and who was out there.”

“The New Bedford waterfront is such a fascinating place full of all kinds of interesting people,” he said.

How Did Brian Helgeland Balance New Bedford Nods With a Broad Appeal?

“A movie can take you to a place that you can’t go, and it should. That can be outer space, or it can be running around with Napoleon in the 19th century, but it can also take you to a place like the deck of a fishing boat,” Helgeland said.

“No one in the audience is ever going to be on a commercial fishing boat out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, but a movie can take you there and show you a place that you don’t normally end up. I think that’s kind of the charm of movies, in a way," he said.

Why Did Tommy Lee Jones Play a Fisherman From Texas?

Helgeland said he didn’t know Tommy Lee Jones when he sent Jones the script and was anxiously waiting to hear back from the Oscar-winning actor.

“I’m waiting to hear from him, and he called me up finally, and I’m about to find out if he’s going to do the movie or not. In order to get the money together, I need him to do the movie,” Helgeland said. “And the first thing he says is, ‘Hey Brian, I’m from Texas, and what on earth am I doing in New Bedford, Massachusetts with a Boston accent?’”

“I said, ‘Well it’s not really a Boston accent in New Bedford. If you lived in New Bedford and someone came from Boston, you’d know in a second they were from Boston,’” Helgeland said. “And he said, ‘I’m not doing a New Bedford accent, either, so what’s a guy from Texas doing up there?’”

Helgeland then went on to explain to Jones about how New Bedford is such a big fishing port that there are always guys from down south coming up to fish here, and that he himself had fished with a number of them over the years.

“I then shared the story with him of how (the character of Ray Eldridge) came to New Bedford, and there was a long pause and he said, ‘OK, I’ll buy that,’” Helgeland said.

Helgeland said he was scouting one day on Pier 3 and when he got out of the van, the very first car next to it was a beat-up black Dodge Challenger with Texas plates.

“As long as I had not been in New Bedford, I knew that was a fisherman’s car,” he said. “I took out my phone and started shooting a video starting on the license plate and spinning around showing all the masts and boats in port and sent it (Jones). He sent back, ‘Alright, I believe you, I believe you.’”

Nicole Rivelli/Paramount+

Helgeland said he thinks having the Ray Eldridge character be from Texas actually enriched the story of Finestkind.

“It made him even more of a loner than he normally would have been, because he’s not from around here, and he’s far from home,” Helgeland said.

What Was It Like Filming Finestkind in New Bedford?

Helgeland said filming in New Bedford was “a dream, really,” calling it a much more “relaxed” place to make a movie.

“It’s probably the easiest place I’ve ever shot,” he said. “If I did something else, I’d be straight back there.”

Although it took decades to bring Finestkind to life, there was almost a version of it that would have come out sooner – but far less authentic.

“There was a version of the film I could have made about five years ago that I had to shoot in Nova Scotia,” he said. “We were scouting up there, with these little tiny 40-foot and 50-foot boats, and I said, ‘I can’t shoot here, this is not the story – and the producers didn’t understand.”

“I said look, the best way I can describe it is, if I shoot in Nova Scotia, it’s a Gordon Lightfoot song, and this is a Bruce Springsteen song. It has to be shot down in New Bedford,” he said.

Why Was Jenna Ortega Wearing a UMass Dartmouth Shirt at the End of Finestkind?

In the film, Jenna Ortega’s character Mabel tells Charlie she is thinking about going to community college in the fall. However, during the film’s final scene, she is wearing a UMass Dartmouth shirt.

Was this a movie goof, a tip of the cap to Helgeland’s alma mater, or does it suggest that Mabel actually decides she wants something more?

“It was that,” he said. “Nothing against community college at all because it’s a great path, (and) it was always (community college) in the script, then I thought at the end, we shot that scene at the very end at the bridge, I thought she thought she’d try applying to UMass too and she got in, so she’s got her UMass Dartmouth shirt on.”

Nicole Rivelli/Paramount+

What’s Next for Brian Helgeland?

“It’s funny, you finish a movie, and not to sound silly, but you’re unemployed, so I’m unemployed for about the 30th time in my life,” he said. “I always liked that you don’t know what the next thing is, but it’s out there, and I just have to get my hands on it.”

He did give a bit of a hint as to what could be next – “I might do a documentary on a band,” he said – but couldn’t really say any more.

Brian Helgeland’s Message to New Bedford

WBSM solicited messages from listeners to share with Helgeland, and the most frequent comment was people just thanking him for portraying New Bedford so beautifully on the screen and telling a story that was authentic to the people of the city.

“I would say thank you back, because I’m a New Bedford kid at heart,” he said. “New Bedford gave me everything, really. I’m just trying to thank it in a way with the movie, so a big ‘thank you’ to the ‘thank you.’”

Helgeland then paraphrased what has become one of the most enduring lines from Finestkind.

“You can take the boy out of New Bedford, but you can’t take New Bedford out of the boy,” he said.

Listen to the complete interview with Brian Helgeland here:

These SouthCoast Staples Are the Real Stars of 'Finestkind'

Finestkind, the New Bedford-set film now streaming on Paramount+, features many places SouthCoast residents know and love. Here are some of the locations and references that made it into the movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Jenna Ortega.

Gallery Credit: Gazelle

A Fine Fairhaven Day to Begin 'Finestkind' Filming

Filming kicked off in Fairhaven April 20 for the Brian Helgeland-directed Paramount+ movie "Finestkind," starring Tommy Lee Jones, among others.

Gallery Credit: Michael Rock

Jenna Ortega on Set Filming 'Finestkind' in New Bedford

Jenna Ortega is among the stars in Finestkind, a Paramount+ movie from Academy Award-winning New Bedford native Brian Helgeland. Here she is in New Bedford in between takes.

Gallery Credit: Jessica Dacruz /Facebook

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