Julian O'Brien, who has produced Country Calendar since 2005 and began working on it in the 1980s, thinks the show helps connect urban and rural New Zealanders. “Although most Kiwis have a strong identification with the land, townies don't necessarily have an intimate, immediate connection,” he says. “Country Calendar helps create a bridge.”
O'Brien grew up in Dunedin, and occasionally spent time on relative's farms around Southland. “I always thought my rural relatives had a great life — I envied them.”
O'Brien got his first newspaper job in New Plymouth after studying journalism at Wellington Polytechnic (now Massey University). Over the next few years he mixed his university studies (majoring in political science) with time overseas, including a six month overland trip through Asia. In 1977 he began a run of reporting jobs that would take him from Wellington's Dominion newspaper to Radio New Zealand (where he first reported on agriculture) to a two-year gig as agriculture and trade reporter for Television One's news department.
O'Brien cut his teeth on directing in the mid 1980s, with Country Calendar. A decade later he directed the first of a number of one-off documentaries and corporate videos. His television work ranges from The Promise — about racehorse Sir Tristram and his breeder Patrick Hogan — to 2004's Bring it On, which followed the fortunes of PM Helen Clark. Other documentary projects include Changing Habits, about people who chose to leave the religious life, and Ninox production It's Dogs Work (about working dogs).
But Country Calendar has provided a throughline since the early days of his television career. O'Brien began on New Zealand's longest running show in 1985 when legendary producer Frank Torley was at the helm; O'Brien joined a long line of reporter/directors who unobtrusively let their subjects do the talking. After nine years on Country Calendar as a TVNZ staffmember he continued to direct occasional episodes as a freelancer, before taking up the producing reins in late 2005.
O'Brien pays tribute to Country Calendar's team of roughly eight reporter-directors, and the hardworking crews. “They're all professionals with high standards and they give it their absolute best shot. They come up with those extra ideas and go the extra yard."
He still makes sure to report and direct a couple of episodes each year. "It's the ultimate job for meeting great people and getting to some wonderful parts of the country", he says. Although cautious reactions are typically the norm when television people make cold call contact, “if you ring up and say 'I'm from Country Calendar' they immediately say 'Oh how can I help you out?'
O'Brien has also directed for arts show Backch@t, and made corporate videos on road construction projects and the wonders of wool. He did time on current affairs slot Assignment, and can claim to have worked on two very different Sundays — an arts show made by Gibson Group, and the TVNZ current affairs slot.
Connections made during a year in Germany mean that O'Brien and his partner, former National Radio Checkpoint presenter Adele Broadbent, also assist German documentary crews when they visit New Zealand.
Rosa Shiels, 'Part of the TV landscape' (Interview) – The Press, 16 March 2010, page 3
'Julian O'Brien- producer and director' TVNZ website. Accessed 8 April 2016
'Hyundai Country Calendar' TVNZ website. Accessed 8 April 2016