When Nate Deen (then Busko) was 17, he was secretly living out of his car. He was drinking, and using drugs, and getting into some serious trouble.
“I didn’t have a lot of hope in my life,” Deen says.
Then he met Stan Deen — a Garden Spot High School English teacher and theater instructor who helped Nate find purpose and direction in his life.
“He became like a father to me,” says Nate Deen, who still lives in Lancaster.
The story of Nate and Stan’s relationship is a dramatic tale of unconditional love and redemption that seems to come straight out of the movies — and soon, it will be one.
Derek Dienner, founder of Make/Films — a Lancaster-based film and video production company — says this homegrown story will be the biggest film to be shot entirely in Lancaster County since 1985’s “Witness.” Dienner says the film, currently in the preproduction process, will have a cast and crew of more than 100 people and is on track to begin five weeks’ worth of shooting.
Dienner previously said filming would begin at some point in 2022; the filming will now take place this fall, he says.
The film is called “Brave the Dark” and it’s based on the inspiring story of Nate and his relationship with the late Stan Deen, a Garden Spot English teacher-turned-father-figure. The movie will be directed by Damian Harris (“Gardens of the Night”) and stars Jared Harris (“Mad Men,” “Chernobyl”) and Nicholas Hamilton (“Captain Fantastic,” “It).
The movie will be co-produced by Make/Films and Inspiring Films — an independent film company based in London and New Zealand.
Dienner says he feels a personal connection to this story.
“I went to Garden Spot High School. I knew Stan Deen personally. I know Nate really well,” Dienner says. “It’s a really wholesome story that will hopefully inspire people. I feel really honored to tell their story.”
Currently, Dienner and the Make/Films team are scouting locations and getting all the infrastructure that goes into making a film in place.
“We really want to represent Garden Spot High School and the beauty of Lancaster, and the great people,” Dienner says.
Like Streisand and Metallica
When Nate was 17, he found himself in a courtroom standing in front of a judge.
If he didn’t straighten out, the judge said, Nate would be spending the next 10 years in jail. Thirty years later, Nate was back in front of a judge: this time, to change his last name from Busko to Deen, to honor Stan, who died in 2016 after suffering a stroke.
Nate was orphaned at 5, moved through the foster system and grew into a troubled teen.
“I didn’t have much luck with foster homes, and felt like I could just do better on my own,” Nate says.
He saved money from his job at Wendy’s and bought a 1970 Camaro for $2,000.
“I bought my car, and literally the next day, I ran away,” Nate says.
Nate started living in his Camaro. The football and track star convinced his coaches to let him use the school’s shower after his morning run, and even the washing machine. He was dating girls without telling them his living situation, and lying to friends who offered him rides home.
“It was hard living that lie,” Nate says.
He was fooling everyone — except Stan, who noticed Nate was struggling.
“I hadn’t eaten in a couple of days and I was in his class — after being in other classes where teachers didn’t notice I was looking pretty hungry. He noticed,” Nate says. “He offered me a candy bar. That was the beginning of our friendship.”
Nate says Stan was always rooting for the underdog.
“There were times where I cut other classes, but I never cut his,” Nate says. “He was always encouraging — always saying ‘You can do better.’ ”
In the summer before his senior year, Nate began using drugs and drinking heavily. He even robbed a few places. In October 1986, he was arrested for the robberies and led out of school in handcuffs. Nate says Stan inquired about his situation and other teachers urged him to let the system handle it and Nate wasn’t someone who should be around the high school.
A week later, Stan visited Nate in jail — and helped him get out.
“He said, ‘You can’t live in your car. Why don’t you stay at my house until we figure things out?’ It just opened up a whole new relationship for us,” Nate says.
Nate moved in with Stan. With the guidance of Stan — after a few false starts — Nate began making some positive changes.
“It wasn’t like all sudden I became a great kid, but by the time I graduated, I had a lot of As and Bs,” Nate says. “I showed the judge I was going to make a change, and I didn’t get more jail time. And it just got better from there.”
After one of those false starts, when Nate came home early in the morning after a night of partying, Stan put his foot down and made him get involved in theater. Stan was directing the Garden Spot Performing Arts production of “Fiddler on the Roof” and assigned Nate to be his student director. At first, Nate didn’t get it.
“He was Barbara Streisand and I was Metallica,” Nate laughs. “I was listening to head-banging music. But when you really listen to the music of (‘Fiddler’) — it’s beautiful music about family and love. It was an incredible time to learn theater.”
That began a lifelong involvement with theater for Nate. Stan got him a job at Sight & Sound — where he still works as a video production manager today.
‘Brave the Dark’
Nate’s life’s work became the stage, but now his life will be on the screen. “Brave the Dark” — the story of Nate and Stan’s relationship will begin filming in Lancaster sometime next year. The film will star Jared Harris as Stan and Nicholas Hamilton as Nate.
Nate had heard Jared Harris is excited about the role, loves the character and believes in the story.
Dienner says Harris and Nate have been in recent contact, and that Harris has begun researching the role by reaching out to people in the Lancaster area who knew Stan.
“I hope Jared can get the heart of Stan and who he was and that he cared and loved unconditionally,” Nate says. “It’s about showing the world that there are men of integrity out there.”
Dienner of Make/Films, who knew Stan Deen through his work with the Cavod Performing Arts School in New Holland, agrees with that sentiment.
“Stan made you feel like the most important person in the room. He was just an amazing person,” Dienner says. “It was really important to me to show his fatherly love to his students and how he was trying to help Nate brave the dark and navigate his life through the tragedy of being raised the way he was raised.”
Nate and Stan had discussed telling their story before Stan passed away — and, with writer John Spencer, worked on a script. Nate told Spencer his story and after hearing it, Spencer went home and immediately began work on the script.
“Stan actually wrote two of the scenes that I’m hoping stay in the film,” Nate says.
Spencer and Nate continued work on the script and eventually sent it out to Hollywood. They didn’t get a response. Then, one day, a movie producer from Inspiring Films was at Sight & Sound, and randomly inquired if anyone happened to know anyone with a good story. Nate’s name came up.
“We met at the Cracker Barrel, they took it back and read it and said, ‘Nate, we love your story, we want to buy the rights and make this happen,’ so we signed an agreement,” Spencer says.
Grant Bradley, one of the producers for Inspiring Films, was working out in London and actually moved to Lancaster for a while. After the COVID-19 pandemic began, Bradley, out of convenience, decided to partner with Make/Films. Now, the two companies will produce the film.
The script has gone through a few changes, and other script writers have gotten involved to flesh out the story. They have the challenge of condensing a narrative that spans 30-years into two hours, but Spencer will receive the screenwriting credit.
“I don’t want to do this project for credits, or money or fame or any of that stuff,” Nate says. “I’m doing this because I want to tell Stan’s story and the Lancaster County story. I can never repay Stan, but this is my honor to show what type of man he was.”