Based on a true story, Brave The Dark powerfully portrays the transformation of a 1980s small-town teacher as he is drawn into the mysterious past of a student suddenly arrested outside his classroom. Long sustained by a quiet belief that no student is a lost cause, Stan Deen (Jared Harris, Chernobyl, Mad Men)) discovers the profound and direct impact he can have on another life. But as Stan attempts to figure out how troubled, secretive Nate (Nicholas Hamilton, Captain Fantastic, It) wound up living alone in his car, without any family, their relationship will test his deepest convictions and become a life-changing journey through doubt and betrayal towards trust and redemption.
BAFTA winner and Golden Globe and Emmy nominee Harris gives an emotionally rich performance as Stan, the charismatic drama teacher whose dedication to his students transformed the rural New Holland, Pennsylvania community. Yet, Stan has never devoted himself to anything with the determination he brings to the seemingly impossible challenge of reaching Nate and restoring his belief in goodness. Lost, angry, and haunted by fragments of frightening memories that he can’t fully understand, Nate has been dismissed by nearly everyone in the system. It is only Stan’s unexpected kindness, and refusal to give up on him, that finally crack open Nate’s shattering, locked history—as both men find the courage to prove that no one is imprisoned by fate. Damian Harris directs from a screenplay based on the true life of Nathaniel Deen.
Aristos Films and MAKE/FILMS presents ‘Brave the Dark’ in association with Triode Media. The film stars Jared Harris, Nicholas Hamilton, Jamie Harris, Sasha Bhasin, Will Edward Price, Kimberly Fairbanks. The film is Directed by Damian Harris. Produced by Grant Bradley, Derek Dienner, Dale G. Bradley. Written by Dale G. Bradley, Lynn Robertson-Hay, Nathaniel Deen, John P. Spencer, Damian Harris. Director of Photography is Julio Macat, ASC. Editor is Toby Yates. Original score is by Jacob Yoffee and Roahn Hylton. Production Design is by Michael C. Stone. Costume Design is by Marianne Parker.
From Left, Nicholas Hamilton, Nate Deen, Photo by Joseph Gidjunis
A CONVERSATION WITH
SCREENWRITER NATE DEEN
THE SCREENPLAY IS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL AND EXTREMELY PERSONAL, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE IT DOWN?
I have had a passion for making movies for as long as I can remember. I believe in writing what you know, and what do we know better than our own story? Coming from a very dark past, I experienced a lot of loss and pain in life. I spent many years running from it. I had a teacher who was willing to help rescue me from this darkness. He showed me that facing my obstacles and owning all of our story can have a positive impact on the lives of everyone around us. He encouraged me to share my experience so that others might find hope.
YOUR REAL-LIFE DRAMA TEACHER STAN DEEN PASSED AWAY IN 2016.
WHAT WAS HE LIKE?
I first met Stan as a student in high school, and our early relationship was quite literally Barbara Streisand versus Metallica. We came from two different walks of life. He tried to reach me, but I kept making bad choices. His presence and persistence made the difference for me; he never gave up, never judged, always encouraged, and always inspired me to be my best. He believed in me when I didn’t have faith in myself.
As an English teacher and theatre director, Stan was a Lancaster County institution, loved by generations of students and adults throughout the area and beyond. He was full of energy, enthusiasm, and optimism, all highlighted by his distinct wit and charm. He was known for bringing out the best in others, particularly in the classroom, where he was animated and engaging, able to make a personal connection with students from all walks of life. For his retirement, Garden Spot High School honored Stan’s legacy as a teacher and theater director by naming the school auditorium in his honor. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Stan Deen. Ultimately, he became a father figure to me. In 2018, I changed my name officially to Nathaniel David Deen in his honor.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE SHOOTING IN AND AROUND LANCASTER, PENNSYLVANIA WHERE MANY OF YOUR LIFE EVENTS TOOK PLACE?
Being able to tell Stan’s and mine in the places where it actually happened was an incredible experience. The people of Lancaster County welcomed our film crew with open arms and wholeheartedly supported the film. It was clear that Stan was still beloved in the town, and many people shared life-changing memories of him. His legacy will be passed on for generations to come, and I am excited for everyone to experience Brave the Dark.
THE FILM IS SET IN 1973 AND 1986, WHAT WAS IT LIKE SEEING THE SETS AND SCENES COME TO LIFE FROM THOSE PERIODS?
Michael C. Stone (Production Designer) and the entire Art Department worked diligently to create sets with period accuracy for our production. Their attention to detail was remarkable, as they incorporated unique elements to make the sets feel even more real. We were lucky to have the opportunity to shoot in the same high school where Stan taught, and I was a student. Being on the set brought back many memories from my time there. Stan’s house, in particular, was so moving for me as the interior was almost identical to the house he lived in during that period. Every scene shot in that house was incredibly powerful. This level of detail throughout the film is indicative of Stone’s dedication to creating a truly authentic and immersive experience for the viewers.
WAS THERE ANYTHING PERSONAL OF YOURS THAT WAS USED IN THE FILM THAT ADDED AUTHENTICITY?
Jared Harris’s performance as Stan is remarkable. He did an amazing job of bringing Stan to life and was really committed to the character. One way he did this was by wearing a pair of Stan’s old glasses and several of his ties. My favorite personal item used in the film was my ’70s Camaro which I had recently purchased. Director Damian Harris wanted a different color for the car so it was repainted and it appears in several scenes in the film.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE AUDIENCES TAKE AWAY FROM THE FILM?
I want people to be inspired to be a “Stan Deen” for someone in need. To take a risk, and make a personal investment in someone, committing for the long haul. Stan had a unique ability to make each person he encountered feel special and truly valued. He would draw out the potential in others even when they didn’t see it in themselves. He was generous to a fault with his time, talent, money and anything else he could offer. He was a man like no other, and my hope for Brave the Dark is to inspire others to be more like him.
(From Left) Jamie Harris, Damian Harris, Jared Harris, Photo by Joseph Gidjunis
A CONVERSATION WITH
DIRECTOR DAMIAN HARRIS
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE FILM?
I got sent the script by Grant Bradley, a producer on the film. I knew nothing about the story and was deeply moved by the time I finished reading it. I never cry when I read a script, but I did as I turned the final page of this one. The story is essentially about the goodness in people. There are two characters, Stan and Nate, both stuck in situations they need to move on from, and each is the catalyst for change in the other. I loved that it was about ordinary lives that are not ordinary at all, they are extraordinary.
HOW DID YOU CAST THE FILM?
Both my brothers (Jared Harris and Jamie Harris) are actors, and I often give them scripts I’m working on to get their reaction to the characters. Jared immediately saw Stan as a great role and as we discussed the character and the story, I realized he should play him. He didn’t say yes straight away. I did a draft based on our discussions and with that, he agreed to come aboard.
With Nicholas Hamilton, he was one of a few names given to us by our Sales Agent. I watched his work, and was especially impressed with what he did in Stephen King’s It. When we met it was obvious how passionate he was about the role, how he related to Nate, so he came aboard too.
Then the pandemic happened….
The fact that both Jared and Nicholas waited and stayed attached for two years tells you how important this story was to them.
When we were ready to film, they both came a month ahead of our start date to rehearse and take in the locale and the people. That is quite extraordinary these days.
Nicholas is Australian and born in this millennium, so I gave him homework which was to watch films that informed the time and place of this film and his character: The Breakfast Club, Reckless, The Flamingo Kid, Bad Boys, All the Right Moves, Valley Girl and Fast Times at Ridgemont High…the work of Matt Dillon, Sean Penn, Judd Nelson, Nicolas Cage… not too bad for homework.
HOW DID YOU AND THE DP JULIO MACAT CONCEIVE THE LOOK OF THE FILM?
I collected a lot of images during the long wait up to production. I shared these with our DP Julio Macat. From there we arrived at a color and tone. I wanted the audience to feel that they were watching an American film from the 1980’s. At its heart Brave the Dark is an old-fashioned drama that might have been discovered in a time capsule, so we watched applicable films of that time: Tom Cruise in All the Right Moves, Sean Penn in Bad Boys and At Close Range, Reckless, and Witness because it was the last film shot in New Holland and Lancaster. We decided on an aspect ratio of 2:35 and we had a look for the parts of the film that took place in 1986 that was warm and another for the sequences in 1973 that was monochromatic.
Behind the scenes while filming ‘Brave the Dark,’ Photo by Joseph Gidjunis
Jacob Yoffee, Roahn Hylton, composers on Brave the Dark, Photo by Joseph Gidjunis
A CONVERSATION WITH
COMPOSER JACOB YOFFEE
HOW DID COME TO BE INVOLVED IN THE PROJECT?
We met a music editor while working on Netflix’s ‘Civil’ documentary and he recommended us to the production. A Zoom meeting was set with director Damian Harris and we all hit it off. Once we saw the film we were hooked!!
HAVE ANY OF YOUR PREVIOUS PROJECTS PREPARED YOU FOR COMPOSING BRAVE THE DARK?
Every project prepares you for the next one, but Brave the Dark was a unique experience simply because it’s a true story and the wide range of emotion is necessary. The musical palette had to be one fresh enough to support teenage characters but also some of the most horrific experiences you could imagine. We also recorded the orchestra with Nate Deen there in person, and we wanted to make sure it matched the emotion of his life experience as best we could.
Specifically, we scored a scene for ‘The Wonder Years’ in which the characters first hear about the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. The moment is powerful not only in a filmic setting but there are so many layers that break the fourth wall. A light touch versus a heavy-handed touch was really the key to making it work and that taught us how important it is to really let the picture inform what’s needed.
WHAT WERE YOUR INFLUENCES FOR THE MUSIC/SCORE FOR ‘BRAVE THE DARK.’
We didn’t want it to be a retro ‘80s score, but also wanted to utilize that nostalgic element to help place the story in its time and also underscore Nate’s emotional world during those high school years. We also wanted an organic string orchestra to help underscore the depths of darkness that Nate goes through both as a child and the tumultuous teenage years.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE STORY?
The film unfolds in an almost mysterious way, giving you tiny bits of information as it goes. By the end the audience goes to emotional places that you really couldn’t expect going in. The depths of emotion, the humanity, the relationship between Nate & Stan, the growth of Nate are all incredible character arcs that create a beautiful canvas for music.
THE FILM HAS HOPEFUL AND RATHER DARK ELEMENTS, WAS IT DIFFICULT TO BALANCE THOSE DISPARATE ELEMENTS IN YOUR WORK?
There are two sides to Nate – we called them the ‘Two Fathers’ when working with Damian. That could mean simply leaning more hopeful or darker musically, but we also thought in terms of how bold or ‘big’ a moment should be. There were moments that the characters were really expansive in their actions, affecting all those around them while at other times, things were internal – where we had to underscore what you couldn’t see.
Derek Dienner on set with his family, Ashley Dienner, and their two kids
A CONVERSATION WITH
PRODUCER DEREK DIENNER
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE FILM?
The production company I founded, MAKE/FILMS, is based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where the film’s story unfolds and where I have deep connections. Producer Grant Bradley, based in New Zealand, sought a local touch to bring the project together, and my close friendship with Nate and Stan, coupled with my personal history of attending the high school where it all happened, made it a natural fit for me to join the team. I saw it as my leg in the relay race of independent filmmaking, and I was determined to make it happen.
DID YOU FIND ANY RESISTANCE TO TELLING THE DARKER ELEMENTS OF NATE’S STORY IN THE FILM?
Right from the outset, Nate and our team were committed to portraying the unvarnished truth of his real life journey. We felt that sugarcoating his story would diminish its potential impact on people’s lives. We’ve been open about this approach, and it has helped us create a more authentic and impactful narrative.
THE PRODUCTION FILMED IN A LOT OF ACTUAL LOCATIONS IN NEW HOLLAND, LANCASTER, PENNSYLVANIA WHERE NATE’S STORY TOOK PLACE, WAS THERE A PARTICULAR LOCATION THAT WAS IMPORTANT TO CAPTURE?
Filming at the actual places where Nate’s story unfolded was a must for us. We shot the school scenes right at Garden Spot High School, where everything happened. And for the theater scenes, we were lucky to use the “Stan Deen Auditorium.” It meant a lot to Nate and me because these were the places where Stan and Nate’s journey played out– they walked these halls! The energy in those locations was real, and it added an authentic touch to our film. We’re so thankful to Garden Spot High School for allowing us film there—it made a world of difference.
YOU RAISED FINANCING FOR THE FILM WITH LOCAL INVESTORS. WHAT RESONATED WITH THEM WHEN YOU WERE PITCHING THE PROJECT?
Stan Deen was a revered figure in Lancaster, and his enduring legacy touched the hearts of many in the community. When we pitched the project, investors saw an opportunity to be part of a story that would honor Stan and Nate, while also making a positive impact. They believed in the film’s potential to inspire and bring hope to audiences worldwide, and that shared vision fueled their support.
Jared Harris, Photo by Joseph Gidjunis
Jared Harris, Stan Deen
BAFTA winner and Golden Globe and Emmy nominee Jared Harris is best known for his roles as Layne Price in AMC’s award-winning television series Mad Men, King George VI in the award-winning Netflix series The Crown, and Valery Legasov in HBO’s award-winning miniseries Chernobyl. Harris’ ability to fully inhabit the characters he portrays is the key to his longevity in Hollywood. Harris is starring next as Hari Seldon in the Apple TV+ series Foundation.
Nicholas Hamilton, Photo by Joseph Gidjunis
Nicholas Hamilton, Nathan Williams
An incredible 22-year-old Australian actor, Nicholas will next be seen as series regular ‘Stu Mills’ in THE PRADEEPS OF PITTSBURGH on Amazon Freevee. He previously played ‘Henry Bowers’ in IT and IT: CHAPTER 2, New Line Cinema’s Andy Muschietti-directed adaptations of the Stephen King bestseller. He also played the co-lead in the Scott Speer-directed romantic drama ENDLESS, starring opposite Alexandra Shipp, as well as the Australian feature DANGER CLOSE opposite Travel Fimmel. Nic was in Nik Arcel’s THE DARK TOWER opposite Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. He starred opposite Viggo Mortensen in MATT ROSS’ film CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, which premiered in Cannes and earned him a SAG nomination. He played Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes’s son in Kim Farrant’s Australian feature STRANGERLAND. He has since entered the music industry, releasing his debut single “Different Year” in early 2021.
Other credits to date include lead roles in Snap Original Action Royale and the upcoming BRAVE THE DARK, alongside Jared Harris, Lionsgate’s adventure horror thriller CREEPERS, and guest leads in Hulu’s LOVE, VICTOR and MAKO MERMAIDS.
He is represented by Gersh, 3 Arts, Catherine Poulton in Australia and Myman Greenspan Fox.
Director, Damian Harris
British director Damian Harris makes films that explore the depth of human relationships. Harris debuted as a director with the short films Killing Time with Eric Stoltz and Greasy Lake. He then moved to full-length films debuting with The Rachel Papers, the adaptation of the Martin Amis’ novel by the same name. Harris made the 2008 drama Gardens of the Night with John Malkovich. His most recent film is The Wilde Wedding with John Malkovich, Patrick Stewart, and Glenn Close.
ABOUT ARISTOS FILMS
Aristos Films is dedicated to producing feature films, TV programs, and other forms of inspirational programming. With over 50 feature film and TV credits, Inspiring Films’ projects are crafted for theatrical release, network broadcast, or distribution through various media outlets and platforms. Inspiring Films is owned and operated by international producers, whose combined experience totals over 100 years of writing, filmmaking, film financing, and product distribution.
Founded by Derek Dienner, MAKE/FILMS is a team of filmmakers producing meaningful content to inspire and motivate. Their mission is to engage, enlighten, and connect with audiences on a deep emotional level. From powerful films to thought-provoking documentaries to compelling commercials, MAKE/ works with both businesses and individuals to tell impactful stories that resonate and drive results. Together, they shape narratives that spark real-world change. MAKE/FILMS is based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
A production by Aristos Films and MAKE/FILMS
In Association with Triode Media
Will Edward Price
Dale G. Bradley
Dale G. Bradley
John P. Spencer
Adrian W. Young
BRAVE THE DARK
COUNTRY OF PRODUCTION