05: Eileen O’Brien – Pioneer for Women in Film


Eileen O’Brien’s vast career in the film industry is a testament to luck, hard work, and the value of kindness. Eileen’s credentials span from holding cue cards for Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live to working for David Letterman, also known as the best boss she ever had, to taking on the role of production secretary for Dick Cavett. After transitioning to film festivals, including Cannes and Sundance, she settled in Denver where she continues to foster support and connections for the local film industry.



Interview Show Notes

[00:30] While teaching in the 1970s, Eileen was introduced to a control room.

[02:30] The impact of a child learning from a 30-second commercial convinced her that she wanted to teach through television.

[04:00] Knowing nothing, but talking her way into a camerawoman position.

  • Working as a production assistant, producer, and director.
  • Non-union in New York and out of work.

[06:20] A chance meeting at a party led to an offer to do teleprompting.

[08:00] A referral leads to a job doing cue cards for SNL.

  • Holding cue cards for Eddie Murphy and turmoil at SNL.
  • Cue cards versus teleprompter.
  • Working with Al Siegel as a cue card mentor.

[19:50] Robin Williams and George Carlin.

[22:40] Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Spinal Tap and Don Rickles.

[31:00] Discretion, the #MeToo movement, and industry bullying.

[33:55] David Letterman and Dick Cavett

[38:40] Do the best job at whatever you’re given the chance to do. Building trust is key.

  • Your performance reflects on you and those who have recommended you.

[41:00] Leaving New York for Atlanta and following her husband’s job to the south of France.

  • A chance reconnection leads to the Cannes Film Festival.
  • Working Cannes from 1995 to 1999.
  • As Artistic Director at the Savannah Film Festival, Eileen prepped students for Cannes by teaching them that every person you meet could be the most important person in your career.

[52:40] Respect people with less power than you and the story of Bob the Wine Guy.

[1:01:30] Falling in love with film festivals.

  • Pretending to be a festival programmer to gain expertise.
  • How producing a pamphlet at Cannes opened the door to Sundance.
  • Working in the Filmmaker Services department at Sundance.
  • The joy of telling a filmmaker that their film got into Sundance.

[1:09:20] In the late 90s, she moved to Denver and produced the Denver Film Festival.

  • After living around the world, choosing Denver as a landing place in 2006.
  • Working for, and retiring from, the Denver Film Society.
  • Having a scholarship named after her.

[1:18:15] Film Fatale and teaching film festival etiquette.

[1:20:45] Progression of the independent film movement.

  • Helping young filmmakers and honoring their courage.

[1:24:00] Upcoming work screening and consulting for the Santa Fe Film Festival.

[1:28:15] Analyzing the Denver film industry.

  • Denver’s current film scene looks like Atlanta’s in the early 90s.
  • How Utah’s Film Commission came to be.
  • The film industry will always follow the money.
  • Show business is more about business than it is about the show.
  • The devastation of the Denver Film Commission and rebuilding support for the Denver Film Society.
  • Integrating film society with the production community.
  • The politics involved and filmmaking as a clean industry.
  • You cannot rely on incentives to make a film community, but incentives would magnify the activity.
  • An artist practices their art and won’t let anything stop them.

[1:40:15] Connections between associations keeps the industry strong.

  • It’s a community product, so the community is essential.

[1:43:15] Eileen’s big takeaways.

  • Lessons learned from Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons.
  • Give yourself credit for everything you’ve done.
  • Only you know the history of who you are.


Be sure to check out podcasts with other great guests in the film and media industry on our DMP Podcast Page!

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