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The Work That Made Me: Peter O'Brien

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Emerald Pictures director on a love of skate videos, the simplistic power of Cadbury and his most recent project with Rothco

The Work That Made Me: Peter O'Brien

Peter O Brien excels at building a rich atmosphere in all his work. By capturing candid moments with real people and weaving them into a larger narrative, he elevates simple first-person accounts into something much more powerful. His subtle and sensitive touch is blended with his stylish eye and training in sound design.

He finds a unique rhythm in telling a story, and combines beautifully composed shots with a provoking soundscape - bringing a new level of feeling and depth to even the simplest of stories. Peter, a native Irishman, lives in Dublin.


The ad/music video from my childhood that stays with me…

I have no idea why but the ad that really sticks with me from my childhood is this Galtee ad. I’ve been quoting “but it’s breakfast time back home” my whole life it seems.


The ad/music video/game/web platform that made me want to get into the industry…

Not an ad, but Girl Skateboards, ‘Yeah Right!’ had a huge influence on my career. My group of friends and I had consumed every skate video that had come our way at that point but this one felt different the minute we put that bright green VHS into the cassette recorder. The music, the editing and the skits in between parts, it was such a memorable first watch. For me, it put skateboarding into that cinematic space and was so different to anything I’d seen before. It was also my first introduction to the work of Spike Jonze, which opened up a whole other world for me. 


The creative work that I keep revisiting…

I love music and sports documentaries. I’ll watch anything on those subjects. There’s lots of ones that I keep revisiting but one I’ve watched countless times is Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. I just love the energy of the film, the access is great and the tunes are HUGE. 


My first professional project...

My first project as a director was a short documentary piece I made with Motherland for Red Bull called ‘The Sound of Belfast’. The project was based around a Red Bull Weekender event they were hosting in the city and basically they wanted us to make a film that captured the sound of the city at that time. We got amazing access to all the artists playing that weekend, the likes of Bicep, Greg Wilson & Nils Frahm, some of my favourite artists to this day. We also went out in the city and captured little moments on the streets and interviews with locals to help shape the piece into something that was authentic to the city. It was amazing to have so much creative freedom on a project and was a project that helped me see that this was a career I wanted to pursue. 


The piece of work that still makes me jealous…

I’m a big believer in the saying ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. I don’t think it's healthy to compare yourself or measure yourself against others. I do however have work that I really admire and aspire to make work that gives me the same feeling the first time I watched. 

Some standout work that I love and continually reference would be Billy Boyd Cape’s Cadbury’s x Age Action spot. The characters are amazing and I love the simplicity of the piece. 

Thirty Two’s Department of Education pieces are a masterclass in editing and authentic performances. My particular favourite is their first one. 

Finally Maceo Frosts Making Waves piece for Yamaha is something I constantly come back to, I love how the music and edit seamlessly flows from scene to scene. 


The creative project that changed my career…

My film “It’s just a Phase,”  for the Irish charity SOAR was the job that really changed my career. From the moment I read the first line of script from the copywriter Kate Waters I knew this project was going to be something special. The cast were the driving force behind the piece, casting real teenagers from the area was an amazing process and we found so many gems. The piece went on to win a lot of awards and is something I still look back on with a lot of pride to this day.


The work that I’m proudest of…

The work I’m most proud of is my short documentary, Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches, that's currently on the festival circuit. Produced by Motherland and funded by Screen Ireland the film follows a 15 year old female darts player Katie Sheldon, a young woman making waves in the male dominated sport, on the road to the Junior World Championships. 

The film has been screened at the Dublin International Film Festival, The Fastnet Film Festival, picking up a ‘Special Mention for Best Documentary Short’ at the Cork International Film Festival.  Next up for the film is its first physical screening (due to pandemic restrictions in Ireland) in the ‘Irish Documentary Short Film Competition’ at Docs Ireland in Belfast on August 28th.


I was involved in this and it makes me cringe…

Like any director, I’ve been involved with a few jobs over the years that I’m not fully happy with but for me those are the jobs you take the most from. The lessons from those jobs stand to you more in your career than the successful projects. Those learnings are invaluable and will help you keep a cool head on set or in the edit suite somewhere down the line. 


The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most…

I was recently involved in two exciting projects that pushed me creatively. The first was a TV spot and online piece with agency Public House and FBD Insurance for the Olympics. With no vocal support for athletes at the games, FBD wanted to give Team Ireland ‘Sound Support’, creating custom music tracks, individually crafted by Irish musician Jape. The video follows our athletes in the build up to Tokyo, capturing their intense training regimes and the heartwarming moments when they hear their personalised tracks, with messages from their loved ones, for the first time. As a huge sports fan, it was an amazing experience meeting these athletes and their families and seeing and hearing just how hard they work and just how much it means to them to get to the Olympics. 

My most recent project was a TV ad with agency Rothco and Irish DIY and home improvement retailer Woodie’s for their charity initiative, Woodie’s Heroes. The film follows two sisters, capturing everyday childhood moments, through the lens of their wise and caring owl nightlight. Working with a young cast has become a recurrent theme in a lot of my projects to date and it was so great to work with two amazing young actors for this piece. Their energy, authentic performances, and on-screen chemistry really added some magic to the film.


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Emerald Pictures, Wed, 11 Aug 2021 08:37:39 GMT