As firefighters finally began to contain Northern California’s deadly wildfires, country star Dierks Bentley spoke recently to both first responders and entertainment-world insiders about the original song he co-wrote, “Hold The Light,” for the biographical firefighting dramatic film Only the Brave, opening wide today (Oct. 20).
“I think growing up in the Southwest, you are very aware of fire seasons and it just becomes a part of living there, for sure,” Bentley said, at Columbia Pictures’ advanced screening for Nashville audiences last week. “I can’t imagine how little anyone that didn’t live around there knows about the [constant] fires and how little they know about what these [firefighters] do.”
The event was hosted by Arizona native Bentley, whose “Hold the Light” appears in the film and features Bon Iver‘s S. Carey. The video was released just days before the screening. Among those who attended the intimate gathering at Nashville’s historical Belcourt Theatre were actors Josh Brolin and James Badge Dale, who star in the film as key members of the Hotshots unit.
“When [the firefighters] are on the fire line,” Bentley said, referencing the physical gap that is made by cutting and digging a barrier between burning vegetation and combustible materials, “Battling these wildfires for 21 days straight, how they live and sleep — just the bonds they have within the community, the sacrifices their families have to make, there are just so many things outside of the headlines that everyone reads that no one really knows about. I learned a lot from being involved in the movie. I think it’ll get everyone [outside of Arizona] at least 70 percent up to speed on these guys, and I think it’s a nice takeaway from the movie that there is an educational factor to it.”
The film is based upon the harrowing true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew of firefighters who lost nineteen members while battling an Arizona wildfire in June 2013.
The song — cowritten by Bentley, Carey, Jon Randall, and film composer Joe Trapanese — marks Bentley’s first time writing and recording specifically for a motion picture soundtrack, although not the first time that his music has touched upon the lives of those related to the Granite Mountain Hotshots. In 2013, he organized and hosted the Country Cares Concert in Arizona, raising more than half a million dollars for the families left behind by the tragic deaths of the firefighting unit.
In composing “Hold the Light,” Bentley and Carey worked closely with Brave composer Trapanese, making sure that the film’s theme fit seamlessly within the song’s lyrical message.
“I tried to write a few other [potential songs for the film], but I just couldn’t leave that song, because it was just too perfect for the movie,” Bentley admitted. “That time of darkness and [the themes of] holding onto to the light and hope and having it play during that part of the movie was just a ‘one plus one equals three’ type of scenario, where it is all combines in a powerful spot.”
Brolin said that making the film allowed him to feel a sense of the camaraderie that he found while working as a volunteer firefighter in his early 20s, while working on the set of the western television series The Young Riders, an authentic friendship that he has missed to this day.
“You see a bond that is real, and with actors sometimes [filming causes] a heightened reality, an unreal reality,” the actor said. “The thing is, you have to let your emotions go to a point of exposed nerves, and everyone is doing a very unnatural thing. It just creates a family environment, but then you move on to the next thing and don’t see these people again for 10, 15 years. In this movie, the [actors] didn’t all just go to separate trailers in between shots, we were really together all of the time. There’s a text chain — a very inappropriate text chain — that we use to communicate every day.
“That was the big takeaway, I think, in trying to recreate a firefighting community,” he continued. “I think we created our own bond that will not only be very difficult to let go of, I don’t think we’ll try to let go of it for a very long time. The actors who lent themselves to stripping away vanity and entitlement, and actually opened themselves up to becoming as close to [the firefighters] as they can… They’lll never be firefighters, but we’re good at representing them.”