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James Edward O'Brien (born December 6, 1969) is an American independent film director, screenwriter and producer.[1]

James O'Brien
James O'Brien on the set of Western Religion
James Edward O'Brien

(1969-12-06) December 6, 1969 (age 49)
Teaneck, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Alma materProvidence College
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter, film producer
Years active1993-present


Early life and educationEdit

Raised in Harrington Park, 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.[2]

After backpacking around Europe, and inspired by the DIY cinema of Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee and Richard Linklater, O’Brien moved to Los Angeles, to make independent films.[3]

Early careerEdit

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.

Venice BoundEdit

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.[4] 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.

Variety called O’Brien a “talent in the raw” and said the film "keeps you glued to the screen.”[5]

Robert Osborne of The Hollywood Reporter did a story on the making of the film for his Rambling Reporter, comparing the film to Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi.[6]

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.

Comic News MagazineEdit

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 & 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."[7] 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.[8]

Chris Garcia, the museum culture specialist behind the visual arts podcast, Three Minute Modernist and the film journal Klaus at Gunpoint, included the film in his 52 Episodes to Science Fiction Literacy, 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?" [9]

Western ReligionEdit

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 The Elephant Princess, among many others in a large international cast.[10]

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.[11] To remedy the situation, O’Brien and his producing partner Louie Sabatasso of 3rd Partner Productions enlisted Peter Sherayko, known for the historical detail in Tombstone. Together, they built a 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, deadly dandy Salt Peter.

Western historian Henry Parke visited the set and did an article on the making of Western Religion.[12] The indie film was brought in on schedule and budget despite the coordination of a large cast in the remote territory of Agua Dulce.[13] O’Brien brought in London-based composer Ram Khatabakhsh (Capsule) to do the original score.[14]

Western Religion had its world premiere at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.[15] Automatic Entertainment signed with the film for worldwide sales.[16] 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.[17] Western Religion was one of 15 films in competition at the 2015 San Diego Film Festival.[18]

Western Religion began its US theatrical release at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood on October 9–15, 2015. It was then released in theaters in Iowa, Austin, New York City and Pennsylvania.[19]

Western Religion was compared in reviews to both John Ford and Sergio Leone in its use of a mythical narrative, while staying true to western archetypes. Denise Marie Siino of Life in LA Magazine wrote: "Not since John Ford’s 3 Godfathers has a western film taken a Biblical myth and, along with a host of plot twists and a cadre of colorful characters, successfully reincarnated it for the box office."[20]

The film played at the historic New Strand Theatre in West Liberty, Iowa, a 1908 opera house converted into a state of the art movie theatre by owner Todd Veach. There were horses, cowboys and Indians on hand for the Nov 20 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.[21]

The film also played at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, Landmark's Sunshine Cinema in [New York City]] and Narberth Reel Cinemas 2 in Pennsylvania.

Screen Media Films released the film on Video on Demand on January 1, 2016 and slated the DVD release for March 1, 2016.[22] Western historian Henry C. Parke, film reviewer for True West Magazine, wrote: "As a screenwriter, O’Brien deftly intertwines the lives and personalities of his blurring array of characters, avoiding clichés, taking them in unexpected but convincing directions." [23]

In the review of the DVD, 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." [24]

Western Religion made the list of the "Most Popular Western Feature Films Released in 2015."[25]

Selected filmographyEdit

  • Bastard (short film, 1993)
  • Venice Bound (1995)
  • Hyperfutura (2013)
  • Wish You Were Here (2013)
  • Western Religion (2015)


  1. ^ McNary, Dave. Variety
  2. ^ The Cowl
  3. ^ "Venice Bound". Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  4. ^ Brennan, Sandra. New York Times (1996)
  5. ^ Klady, Leonard. Variety Magazine (1995)
  6. ^ Osborne, Robert. The Hollywood Reporter (1994)
  7. ^ Freeman-Anderson, Jonathon. LAFM Magazine (2013)
  8. ^ Chatelin, Bruno. Cannes Dailies (2013)
  9. ^ Garcia, Chris. Three Minute Podcast.
  10. ^ Lealos, Shawn S. Renegade Cinema (2015)
  11. ^ Johnson, Ted. Variety Magazine (2013)
  12. ^ "Henry's Western Round-up".
  13. ^ Rodriguez, Liz. New York Life Magazine (2015)
  14. ^ Kilday, Gregg. The Hollywood Reporter (2014)
  15. ^ The ArgonautAushenker, Michael.
  16. ^ Tseng, Nadia. Screen Daily.
  17. ^ McNary, Dave. Variety Magazine.
  18. ^ "San Diego Community News Group - San Diego Film Festival announces festival lineup".
  19. ^ Kay, Jeremy. Screen International.
  20. ^ Siino, Denise Marie. Life in LA Magazine.
  21. ^ Lane, Jacob. West Liberty Index.
  22. ^ "Henry's Western Round-up".
  23. ^ Parke, Henry C. Henry's Western Round-up. Henry Western Roundup
  24. ^ Nyland, Ray. Atomic Movies
  25. ^ "IMDb: Most Popular Western Feature Films Released In 2015". IMDb.

External linksEdit