Interview with Bess O’Brien

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This week we chatted (via email) with award-winning filmmaker Bess O’Brien. Bess discussed her latest project, the film industry’s response to nationwide closings, and her recommendation to get busy writing that memoir you’ve been thinking about!

Bess O’Brien is an award-winning filmmaker and producer based in the Northeast Kingdom. Through her work she has addressed foster care in Vermont; domestic violence; eating disorders; and the prescription drug crisis, in her nationally acclaimed film, Hungry Heart. O’Brien’s recent film, Coming Home, focuses on five people returning from prison to their Vermont communities. O’Brien also co-produced the feature films Where the Rivers Flow North and A Stranger in the Kingdom. She founded Kingdom County Productions with her partner, Jay Craven. 

Bess O’Brien is currently producing The Listen Up Project, an original musical based on the lives of Vermont teens. To learn more visit:

HCA: Your new theater production, The Listen Up Project, spotlighting the lives of Vermont teens, was set to open in 2020. Can you give us an update on the project and how you’ve had to adjust? 

O’Brien: Our original musical Listen Up – based on the lives of Vermont teens – is still scheduled to tour the state in Sept-Oct of 2020. We recently had to postpone our state- wide auditions with teens, but are looking forward to holding them this spring. We have 16 young people from across Vermont chosen to write all the music for the show—they will be working on-line with our Music Mentors over the next two months. Meanwhile, we are having lots of ZOOM meeting and collaborating on the script through email and internet. Strange times, but we are keeping optimistic!

HCA: What impact on filmmakers are you starting to see from the Covid-19 pandemic, and how do you think that will shape the industry moving forward?

O’Brien: As far as how filmmakers and films are doing at this time—it is very hard because many, if not all movie theaters are closed in our state and across the country. Independent arts cinemas are especially hurting.  Also, in New York and LA all production is halted—no one can make a movie without being in a group and getting close together. On the other hand people are gobbling up television so if you shot a show and it’s up on Netflix or HULU lots of people are watching it!

HCA: Social distancing is creating more time at home for people. Do you have any suggestions on how to bring creativity into the home for those wanting to explore art-making for the first time?

O’Brien: Write the book, memoir, play or screenplay that you have always been talking about!

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