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48 Hour Film Project
48 EcoFilm Challenge
Sharmill Films

David O’Brien – writer and film-maker

I’m a writer and film-maker but it often sounds like someone else.
I suspect my description is too much fun to be the truth.
I’ve never entirely sold out on principles and values but have worked for money alone and would do so again under certain conditions. Best I give you a quick sketch of a bloke called David O’Brien who frequently inhabits the skin I’m in, when it’s not being used by someone else for various nefarious purposes. I started my career as a journalist because I told my mum I wanted to earn a living as a writer. She replied “Oh! You mean a journalist!” My first gig was at fourteen on a regional newspaper. At eighteen I went from regional to state coverage as a cadet for Perth’s Daily News covering everything from police courts to the race track.
After five years of that I took off to the North West of Western Australia where I was a rigger’s assistant. When dust and danger invaded my dreams, I got a job as a television reporter. I was never the foot-in-the-door, what-do-you-think-of-Australia-as-a-whole reporter. But I could persuade reluctant subjects to talk on camera.
I offered empathy and people are generally comfortable in my presence.
I’ve covered my share of earthquakes, murders, bushfires and politics but my heart is in the smaller and more individual character-driven story where I can be more of a film-maker than reporter. I like experimenting with camera, directing it, playing tricks, talking to other outsiders, cutting film. My colleagues were certain that one day I’d leave them for the cinema. I was known in my television newsroom as ‘the wanker.’ The desire to make long and short films is much more acceptable today than it was then. I learned much later that most cameramen preferred working with me because I demanded more of them than pointing the camera. I’ve made and helped to make many shorts films and documentaries and there’s been awards and ratings winning programmes and a feature film I wrote and should’ve directed.
That’s all on my cv and belongs to that other bloke who looks like me.
There’s one incident that really tells you who I am at heart, or at least who I strive to be: I was out of work and renting an office, hoping I’d get a short industrial film to produce, any short film on any subject. The fatted golden calf dropped from the sky. It was a contract to make an in-house industrial for a very big cool-drink company with a name like a drug. I was about to sign and make good money when an old friend and former colleague called to say Network Ten were looking for an environment special. Time Magazine had voted Earth the man of the year. George Willison, lifelong friend and now godfather to my son, needed someone to write and direct the project and I’d sprung to mind.
I couldn’t do both jobs. One was a certainty with good money and the other was worthy but nebulous. It required me to drop everything and work up a pitch. I made a decision and emptied the cool-drink down the nearest sink.
Two sleepless days later we pitched a show called DOWN TO EARTH to Network Ten and were given our budget and production headquarters. The programme was a massive success, tripling the ratings and re-run on the Saturday night. Its arrival was timely and a factor in awakening public consciousness to abuse and destruction of the natural world. That programme remains to this day the best thing I’ve done.
It sits inside me as a true achievement, a moment of value that will never fully pass. While it paid me well, I didn’t do it for the money.
I’ve forgotten most of the things I did for money alone.
I believe in fate and serendipity, magic and mystery. These are things that occur within us and in nature. They often evade a logical explanation.
But we abandon the search by dismissing them as irrational.
I believe too in science and logic but not in God, Heaven, Hell or the devil.
I was raised Catholic and suffered the damage done to any child with religion’s essential tools of fear, shame and guilt. I’m now a recovering Catholic and a devout atheist in a world where dogma fuels terrorism and destroys community.
I have a purpose but am constantly discovering and defining it.
I have highly developed communication skills that come with ease after decades of mistakes, failures, upsets and arguments. I’ve had my share of success and the odd breakthrough but am greedy for more. I’d be happy to die clutching an Oscar and see nothing wrong about holding on to your dreams.
I’m something special with plenty to offer. But the offer needs to be worth doing because time is not to be squandered on lesser projects. I will never surrender my sense of youthful enthusiasm and can, on occasion, talk far too much. But I’ve been paid to talk and teach at university, in workshops and at the Film Club I started for Sydney Community College. I’d like to shuffle off this mortal coil knowing it was worth being here. . for you and me. My greatest achievement is as a loyal and loving partner to the wonderful Anni and as dad to our teenage son Harry who will certainly conquer the known universe one day.
There is one thing I will never do. I will never deliberately and consciously lie or put a concealing spin on truth. But I will provide you with clear and authentic film-making, writing and teaching on subjects that need to be told. I want to make films that help you to know while making you laugh, cry, fear but, above all, care.
Or contact me at
My YOUTUBE channel is in its early stages of development as
moviesobrien (