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Monday, February 1, 2016

Former Highlands Student Susannah O'Brien's Movie Encounter Released Nationwide

Susannah O'Brien, born and raised in Fort Thomas, recently celebrated the theatrical release of her first movie, Encounter.

Susannah O'Brien, born and raised in Fort Thomas, recently experienced her debut, nationwide theatrical release of a move she wrote, directed and produced—Encounter.

Encounter, Susannah O'Brien's first film, is in theaters now.

The movie, she says, was shown to her in a vision about a real couple who married in the 1960s, moved to a farmhouse and "had something so horrific happen to them they died and no one knew their story." So, O'Brien, owner of Sahara Vision Productions, wrote it. She says someone offered to buy her script but instead, she chose to move to L.A., intent on making the movie herself. The film took 13 days to film. "I did everything for that movie," O'Brien says. "I cast it, did the wardrobe, hired everyone." 

You can currently watch the movie at Regal Wilder Stadium 14. (There's a 2:05pm and 7:20pm showing today.) In the meantime, read on to learn about O'Brien's atypical Hollywood success story, including how a childhood sickness gave way to future visions—now her films—and the Fort Thomas Independent School (FTIS) teachers who influenced her.

From a young age, O'Brien, born and raised in Fort Thomas, was ill. "I was exposed to a toxic mold," she says. "Even though I was a cheerleader and had friends, it wasn't easy being sick all the time. I missed more school than anyone." O'Brien was so sick that she left Highlands High School early, at age 17, and attended Stetson University, hopeful the air in Florida would help her illness.

"Even though I got into Stetson on early admissions I was hospitalized second semester and lost my government credit," O'Brien says. Despite this setback O'Brien earned her GED and now has a Ph.D.

"This story is for the underdog," O'Brien says. Because of the toxic mold and mono, which she got her freshman year at Highlands, O'Brien says she had to take steroids for many years to help her breathe. This, she said, later caused Cushing Syndrome and an adrenal tumor. "I was at the Mayo Clinic so sick, awaiting surgery to lose one of my adrenal glands, and God came to me and said, 'Listen to me. I will restore you to your optimum health.' I thought I had lost it but what did I have to lose? So I listened and he sent a priest to lay his hands on my tumor and a bright light appeared to the right of me. I got a tour of heaven and it was like a near-death experience. It changed my life and made me very clairvoyant."

O'Brien says her tumor disappeared. "My doctors didn't believe me. Two CT scans later they released me and I was sent home. And when I was home I couldn't stop getting visions for screenplays. So I just kept writing. I wrote 35 and counting, and I was shown a new life as a filmmaker. It was like a rebirth." 

Despite being so sick while at Highlands, O'Brien says many teachers there encouraged and supported her, and influenced her filmmaking success. "I always loved creative writing and my teacher, Mrs. Gracey at Johnson Elementary, really influenced my writing skills," O'Brien says.

Dale Mueller, she says, was both inspirational and her saving grace. "He wasn't just a multiple state championship award-winning coach or genius engineer mathematician, he told me at my sickest to power through my strengths—that there was time for math and now wasn't one of them. I thought that was so funny since his life was math. But I was so sick I could care less for math." So she concentrated on her strength—writing. "He was the kindest, most inspirational teacher and soul." 

O'Brien also says that Mrs. Walters "was so good to me," and Mrs. Johnson would let her put air purifiers in her room. O'Brien's mother, Barbara O'Brien, is a retired Highlands English teacher. "I can't explain what she has done for my life and career," O'Brien says. "This story isn't a sad story about sickness. I want people to learn from it. Bad things happen. It's life. It's how you handle it and keep going and listen to God that matters. I was told when I came out to Hollywood that I had a 2-million-to-one chance of getting a theatrical release for my first movie, and I got it."

O'Brien says that her father, a Highlands Middle School English teacher and later Supervisor of Instruction at FTIS for 15 years, also was a huge influence. "Everyone knew him and loved him," O'Brien says. "He drove me across the desert when I moved out here and I dedicated my movie to him. In the credits there's a tribute to him. He was on set and got to see me film. He was so proud. When I was in post editing and doing sound at the studios he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and passed away two months later. I was in shock. But he had kept telling me to finish the movie. A piece of my soul left when he died. He was my caregiver when I was so sick. But again, this story isn't about sickness. [Rather] we all have something that shapes our lives that we have to live with. Movies fulfill me and help the loneliness of not having him around. I just keep working. I never know when a vision will hit." 

O'Brien prefers to call herself a visionary versus a director, and she writes all her screenplays on her iPhone notepad. "My film sets are run very differently," she says. "It's very hard on set controlling a crew being a female director and dealing with the many temperaments on set. But I have an end game. I have a deal now that every movie I do will go to theaters and that is so rare. Crew members have to conform away from their film-school ways to my visionary ways."

Susannah O'Brien is filming Hallucinogen, now. 

Although Encounter is a horror film, she says her many screenplays vary in genre. "My horror isn't even horror," she says. "There is a message in each movie that is subtle but important. ... People ask me, 'If you are so spiritual, why horror?' And my answer is [this]: I am shown a vision. There is a story that needs to be told and then I write it, and make it [so that their] souls are released to a better place, as weird as that sounds." 

O'Brien says her next movie, Hallucinogen, is based on a ghost that came out of a mirror that haunted her nephew. "When I wrote the screenplay he never saw that ghost again so in a way, I'm a ghostbuster," O'Brien says, laughing. In Hallucinogen, a pill allows you to see what haunts you. It's filming now.

Susannah O'Brien's third movie, The Doll, will star Valeria Lukynova, known as The Human Barbie.

O'Brien's third movie, The Doll, will star Valeria Lukynova, also known as The Human Barbie. "In real life she looks and acts like a doll and people fine dolls scary," O'Brien says. "There hasn't been a movie like this since Child's Play, and it will come to theaters in the summer or Halloween."

Susannah O'Brien is the owner of Sister, a one-woman play starring Erica Gimpel.

O'Brien's company, Sahara Visions Productions, also owns two plays, including a one-woman show called Sister, starring Erica Gimpel.

O'Brien hopes Encounter is supported in her hometown. "It was great seeing my movie [released] all over the nation, much less my hometown," she says. "I would love for people to support me and go see my movies." 

But the true message O'Brien wishes to send is this: "Find God in your life and listen to him and what he wants for you," she says.

For O'Brien, she believes God's plan was to send visions to make movies. "My story is very unique. All I do is listen to my visions that God shows me. I can write a screenplay in less than two weeks and make a movie in the same time—and get a theatrical release. ... Stay strong, fight through life, and listen to God. He has a plan."

For updates on Encounter screenings, go here. And for updates to view future O'Brien films, go here.

1 comment:

  1. Fellow HHS ClassmateFebruary 6, 2016 at 12:22 PM

    Ms. O'Brien speaks a lot of God in her interview, but what she doesn't seem to understand is that her films' content and imagery -- specicially Encounter and Hallucinogen -- are most certainly NOT of God. Neither is her claim of being clairvoyant. It would appear these things are from the enemy and his playground. She needs to get aquainted with the Bible and learn the difference between the two.

    But congratulations to her on her perseverance. That takes courage and great strength to endure what she has.