James O'Brien (filmmaker)
James O'Brien on the set of Western Religion
James Edward O'Brien|
December 6, 1969
Bergen County, New Jersey, United States
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter, film producer|
Early life and educationEdit
Raised in Bergen County, New Jersey, O’Brien attended Bergen Catholic High School, and was a captain of the cross country and track teams. He is a graduate of Providence College, and competed in his early collegiate years for Ray Treacy’s Providence Friars.
Midway through college, O'Brien shifted gears from athletics to English and Drama, directing a number of university-screened short films and documentaries and acting in the Blackfriars Theatre productions.
The first film he made after moving to LA was Bastard, a B&W short about a schizophrenic hit man. It was selected by the American Cinematheque to open for Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre at a 1993 Directors Guild of America retrospective.
O'Brien's debut feature Venice Bound follows the lives of three off-beat twenty-somethings who meet by chance on Venice Beach and agree to pull a robbery. The film debuted at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles before making its international premiere at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.
Venice Bound was championed at the Cannes festival by Mark Cousins, film critic and curator of the Edinburgh Film Festival. Cousins selected it for the Rosebud category of his ’95 festival and opened the door to an extensive European festival run.
Venice Bound was released theatrically in 1996–97, playing an extended run at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, as well as the Laemmle Sunset 5 (now Sundance Sunset Cinemas). It also played on the east coast at the Cable Car Cinema in Providence, Rhode Island.
In the intervening years, O’Brien worked virtually every job on set in various film and music video productions.
In the early 2000s, O’Brien took the post of managing editor of Comic News, a Vermont-based political satire magazine. He doubled as a concert promoter, staging a 12 bands in 12 hours mini-Woodstock music festival to launch the publication.
O'Brien returned to Venice in 2004, to ply his trade in the location business, doing work for a wide range of television shows, commercials, and studio features. He re-emerged in indie film several years later, with two features made and released in tandem.
Wish You Were Here and HyperfuturaEdit
Wish You Were Here was shot on a 19-day tear across the country from the Santa Monica Pier to Coney Island, with the cast and crew all apparently living in a single RV. Starring Louie Sabatasso, Gary Douglas Kohn and Arroyn Ambrose, the road adventure film touches on the effects of addiction and the bond of family and friends.
Jonathan Freeman-Anderson of LA Film and Music Magazine called the film “an entertaining and soul searching ride of comical and sobering proportions." Nelson Madison Films released the movie in 2013 .
On the other end of the spectrum, O’Brien delved into extreme experimental cult film with the mashup Hyperfutura. Created with Eric Kopatz, producer and star of Bastard, the sci-fi Hyperfutura is an oddity in his canon, involving genetic engineering, mind control and time travel. It has polarized audiences since its 2013 worldwide digital release by PanGlobal Entertainment.
Chris Garcia, the museum culture and art work specialist behind the visual arts podcast, Three Minute Modernist, reviewed the film cogently, linking it to the works of artist Bruce Conner and the Stanley Kubrick epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, in the episode entitled: "Hyperfutura: Avant-Garde or Really Messed Up?" 
O’Brien's most recent work is the indie wild west movie Western Religion. It features performances by Claude Duhamel (Supernatural), Peter Shinkoda of Spielberg's Falling Skies and Marvel's Daredevil and Australia's Miles Szanto of The Elephant Princess among many others in a large international cast.
The 'making of' story of the production was first picked up by Variety in 2013 as the filmmakers looked to overcome the government shutdown of all national parks just weeks before their scheduled shoot at Paramount Ranch.
To remedy the situation, O’Brien and his producing partner Louie Sabatasso of 3rd Partner Productions enlisted the aid of Peter Sherayko, known for providing the historical detail in the film Tombstone. Together they built their own wild west tent city from scratch in the mountains of Agua Dulce, California. Sherayko, who played Texas Jack Vermillion in Tombstone, is also featured in the film as Southern Bill. Sabatasso plays a lead as the eccentric and deadly dandy Salt Peter.
The independent film was brought in on schedule and budget despite the coordination of a massive international cast in the remote territory of Agua Dulce.
O’Brien brought in London-based composer Ram Khatabakhsh (Capsule) to do the original score.
Western Religion had its world premiere at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Automatic Entertainment signed with the film for worldwide sales. Western Religion was bought by Screen Media Films for North America following its world premiere. It was released theatrically in fall 2015 and in home entertainment release in early 2016.
The film embarked on a 'Wagon Trail' national tour, with its first stop after Los Angeles taking place at the historic New Strand Theatre in West Liberty, Iowa, an old opera house from 1908, later converted into a state of the art movie theatre by owner Todd Veach. Western Religion had its Midwest premiere at the New Strand on November 20, 2015, during the first snowfall of the season. There were horses, cowboys and Indians on hand for the premiere, with TV coverage by NBC Universal, ENT1 Las Vegas and PATV18 out of Iowa City. The film ran theatrically at the New Strand until November 25.
The next stop on the Wagon Trail national tour was the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, at Slaughter Lane on December 3, 2015. followed by a premiere at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema in the East Village of New York City on January 11, 2016. The location was originally a 19th-century Dutch church, later converted to a Yiddish vaudeville theatre in 1908. It was born again as a movie house on December 21, 2001. Western Religion completed its national tour at Narberth Reel Cinemas 2 in Pennsylvania at a sold-out show that broke the house record, while playing alongside Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
In the review of the DVD release, Ray Nyland of Atomic Movies, wrote that "Western Religion is not your average western. Sometimes, unexpectedly, films can surprise you. Western Religion perhaps should not work as well as it does. That it succeeds is due to the lightness of touch of writer / director James O’Brien. The music and widescreen images of the landscape and tented mining town have an epic tone and feel, but this is not a gritty or bloody film. The characters and acting on a whole are interesting, the dialogue poetic rather than realistic, with Claude Duhamel very watchable. And just when you think the film is over, it adds a climax that is both unexpected and satisfying." 
Western Religion made the list of the "Most Popular Western Feature Films Released in 2015."
- Bastard (short film, 1993)
- Venice Bound (1995)
- Hyperfutura (2013)
- Wish You Were Here (2013)
- Western Religion (2015)
- "Venice Bound". Retrieved February 19, 2016.
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- Garcia, Chris. Three Minute Podcast. Podcastgarden.com
- Lealos, Shawn S. Renegade Cinema (2015)
- Johnson, Ted. Variety Magazine (2013)
- "Henry's Western Round-up".
- Rodriguez, Liz. New York Life Magazine (2015)
- Kilday, Gregg. The Hollywood Reporter (2014)
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- Lane, Jacob. West Liberty Index.
- Baumgarten, Marjorie. Austin Chronicle. Austin Chronicle
- "Henry's Western Round-up".
- Nyland, Ray. Atomic Movies
- "IMDb: Most Popular Western Feature Films Released In 2015". IMDb.