Photography, broadcasting professor doubles as film, television cinematographer

By Vicky Nguyen

Photography and broadcasting professor Dylan O’Brien is balancing being a professor while still working as a cinematographer in film and television.

Since he shares a name with the “Teen Wolf” actor, O’Brien, he said that he receives text messages every so often from excited young girls who found his phone number online. While he’s no teen heart throb, he has worked on over 500 productions during his career.

When he was still in college, O’Brien got his first television job shooting news for Cablevision, a local station in Belmar, NJ.

Most of his work is in reality television and documentaries.

His work has aired on Discovery, History, A&E, National Geographic, PBS, Lifetime and SpikeTV channels.

Last spring, Media Arts Department Chair Aaron Lyle brought O’Brien on as a photography and media arts professor after observing O’Brien on the program advisory committee.

Lyle said he has considered O’Brien’s potential as a teacher for a while.

He knew O’Brien possessed the knowledge as he had seen O’Brien’s guest lectures.

During a discussion about a new film production program at East Los Angeles College, Lyle solidified his decision. When O’Brien was asked what skills should be taught in the program, Lyle said he was surprised by his answer.

“I thought it was going to be a set of technical things that people needed to know. He went straight to things about attitude and things about how you would act,” Lyle said.

duo lives—Photography and broadcasting professor Dylan O’Brien sets up a shot while filming one of his shows as a cinematographer. Photo courtesy of Dylan O’Brien

Lyle, who has been friends with O’Brien for many years, went to him often when he had questions about film technology.

O’Brien always explained information that was knowledgeable as well as practical.

“It’s weird to find someone who knows that much about their craft and is doing that well and is not an elitist,” Lyle said.

Richard Rivera is currently taking Broadcasting 15 with O’Brien.

Rivera said it’s difficult to make a connection with O’Brien, because he still actively works in the industry. However, Rivera still believes he’s an incredibly helpful teacher.

“He actually cares about what he’s doing and what he teaches,” Rivera said, “He’s a patient and understanding person who is willing to help you, no matter how small or big the problem may be.”

O’Brien’s love of film began when he was 9 years old after, seeing films like “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters.”

He was especially captivated by the beautiful cinematography at the end of “Close Encounters.”

“It’s very cliché,” O’Brien said. “But I was like, ‘Wow, I want to do that. I want to make movies.’”

As a child, he would set up scenes using his Star Wars figures, pretending to direct and shoot with his parent’s broken still photography equipment.

O’Brien’s first experience with shooting video was when he was around 16 years old.

He shot and edited a presentation for his high school.

Mrs. Del Negro, who was a media arts teacher and the video club adviser told O’Brien then that this was what he was meant to do.

O’Brien remembers Mrs. Del Negro as well as other teachers and mentors who encouraged him and gave him opportunities. He said that they’re a reminder to him that he should give back to others.

“Everything that I’ve learned, I would love to share with people,” O’Brien said.

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