Aspen’s Dean Stapleton produces and acts in post-apocalyptic thriller ‘The Outer Wild’ |

Aspen’s Dean Stapleton produces and acts in post-apocalyptic thriller ‘The Outer Wild’

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Aspenite Dean Stapleton, in character makeup on the set of "The Outer Wild." The film will be released on video-on-demand Friday.
Courtesy photo


‘The Outer Wild’ will be available on-demand beginning Friday, Sept. 28 on iTunes, Amazon, Comcast and DirecTV. More info at

Aspen’s Dean Stapleton is back on-screen and behind the camera in the new post-apocalpytic science fiction thriller “The Outer Wild.”

The film, Stapleton’s first in more than a decade, will be released through video-on-demand platforms today. Stapleton said he’s working on putting together a screening in Aspen to raise funds for a local cause.

“It’s fun to be back again,” he said in a recent interview. “It was an easy glove to put back on and it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

The film stars Lauren McKnight as a girl on the run from bounty hunters in a desolate landscape where mankind is mostly extinct, called to save what’s left of humanity. Stapleton produced the film and also has a role in it as a subhuman monster-like character transformed by an apocalyptic event.

A born-and-bred Aspenite from a prominent family who has been here since the 19th century, Stapleton was a self-proclaimed “jock” during his time at Aspen High School. He didn’t catch the acting and filmmaking bug until his early 20s, when he got a gig as a production assistant on a Cheerios commercial shoot in Aspen in 1984.

“I saw what was happening in front of and behind the camera and I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’” he recalled.

He soon picked up and moved to New York to enroll in an acting school and work as a production assistant to learn the ropes of the business.

Stapleton quickly landed acting gigs in small theaters and on television in shows like the Vietnam drama “Tour of Duty,” bouncing between New York and Los Angeles.

Most recently he’s been working as a children’s acting coach.

The new film reunites Stapleton with director Philip Chidel and their creative team from the indie “Subject Two” (2006) and Off-Broadway theatrical productions like “Strange Snow.” He and Chidel met in an acting class 25 years ago, and have had a fruitful creative partnership since then, including three feature-length films.

Their film “Subject Two,” a contemporary spin on the Frankenstein story, was shot at the Barnard Hut in the local forest, made on a shoestring $23,000 and shot in 17 days. It landed a spot at the Sundance Film Festival and was bought for distribution out of the festival.

But the landscape of independent film has changed dramatically since then. For the thriller “The Outer Wild,” Stapleton and his team had a bigger budget thanks to a handful of investors, but aimed for a video-on-demand release and opted for a do-it-yourself showcase strategy rather than attempting to hit the festival circuit. Early this year, they rented the Soho House theater in Hollywood to screen the film for industry insiders. Out of that presentation, they got distribution through Red Hound Film, the video-on-demand arm of Blue Fox Entertainment.

Stapleton and his team — a cast and crew of 33 — shot “The Outer Wilds” in the summer of 2016 in little more than two weeks on the Gorsuch Ranch in southern Colorado.

The sprawling working ranch was an ideal setting for the post-apocalyptic thriller. Getting access to it required simply calling in a favor for Stapleton, whose family has been in Aspen for five generations and goes back with Aspen’s Gorsuch clan nearly as long. (Dean currently works for the Gorsuch skiwear brand in Aspen.)

Working as a producer and an actor on a low-budget indie film has its obvious challenges. But an unexpected one left Stapleton terrifying some unsuspecting people in Gunnison in the middle of the night during the film shoot. Near the tail end of filming, when Stapleton was in nearly full-body gory monster makeup, his effects team ran out of makeup applications. Stapleton decided to sleep in his costume for the night. But then he realized it was his job to pick up food for the cast and crew after filming wrapped at 3 a.m. So, made up as a bloody and monstrous thing, he walked into a Gunnison gas station to get pizzas.

“I had to explain to the counter person who I was and why I looked like this,” he recalled with a laugh. “There were customers coming in and they didn’t know what to think.”