David O’Donnell

After graduating from West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), David worked for several years in Australian theatre, film and TV. Credits include Blue Water High (ABC), Underbelly (Channel 9), Cops LAC (Channel 9). He received a nomination for a West Australian Equity Guild Award among other award nominations.

He wrote, produced, and directed the short Picture Wheel which screened at Palm Springs, Rhode Island, Cinequest, Santa Monica – where it won Best Short Film, and numerous other fests. His dark comedy Love & Dating: in LA! (writer, producer) screened at festivals around the world including Cleveland International, Hollyshorts, Santa Monica where it won the Audience Choice award, and was bought by The El Rey Network. His debut feature Under My Skin (writer, director, producer) was nominated for an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Award (AACTA) for Best Indie, and he received an Australian Director’s Guild nomination. Under My Skin screened at various fests including NewFest, Santa Barbara, and Raindance.

Projects in development include feature film Sons of Salt, which received Screen Australia development funding and was shortlisted for the Australians In Film Gateway Screenwriting Prize. He has lectured on writing and performance at various institutions including M.I.T. and Edith Cowan University.

Dust Films

Q & A

If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in? Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?

I think it kind of is a reality already. My version is a heightened one perhaps, but representative of the mental clutter most of us accumulate. Perhaps Cloud Atlas… Some would argue that it’s not true Sci-Fi but I love exploring the idea of reincarnation and the arc an individual may take over lifetimes in learning or not learning a lesson. And it would be hard to go past Star Wars. Why not live in a world of lightsabers and Chewbacca hair dos?

Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?

My sci fi spirit animal is Chewbacca. I have hairy legs, and often express myself by grunts.

Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?

There are already too many generic filmmakers out there. We don’t need more mindless robots making films.

In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?

Starbuck from Battlestar Gallactica and Eleven from Stranger Things. Cause they’re both badass.

You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?

I recently had an idea about a lonely guy living in a dingy little studio. He comes home one day to find a family of little spiders in his apartment. He goes about chasing and squashing them all with a broom. He kills them all except one, who continues to evade him. Eventually he feels guilty that he’s made this final spider an orphan and running for his life, and all alone too. He apologizes to the final spider. Then they co-exist and become new best friends. Haha.

Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?

I like sci-fi, so I guess to some extent I am. I do look up at the stars and wonder what’s out there. I open my imagination to life beyond our reality. Whether that be the future or life in a different place.

Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person? What kind of balance do strike between the two? Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?

Hmm it’s hard not to be a digital person today, but I try to be analog where possible. Certainly for Picture Wheel it was important for me that the mind was represented in an analog fashion. I think memories can be cumbersome. It felt truer for this story to depict memory through actual props, and make it unwieldy and not highly organized, as opposed to showing memories digitally. The character’s minds squeak and clunk as they think.

When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?

I just think about what I want the design to achieve, what it should say or contribute to the world. I worked with a wonderful designer, Carly Larson from Blk & Ginger. In the case of the headpiece representing the mind, I wanted to make sure the headband was thick and reminiscent of a metal band that may be applied to someone’s head in an electric chair or a psychiatric ward. i.e. these characters are really bound by their mind. I wanted to make sure the photos and headpieces were weathered and looked old and tattered, like dusty old memories that still haunt you.

Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?

Star Wars, Burroughs, Practical, Dystopia, Pre Apocalypse