June 9, 2012

Multimedia Journalist Justin O’Brien interviews Cameron Diaz, Chase Crawford, Anna Kendrick, Matthew Morrision and Rodrigo Santoro about their roles in the parenthood comedy ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’.

Cameron Diaz discusses motherhood, Chase Crawford his taste for Diet Coke and Rodrigo Santoro on being Jennifer Lopez’s husband.

Runs:3’14           Video courtesy of ‘Sunrise’ Australia.


November 8, 2011

Multimedia journalist Justin O’Brien reports from outside the Los Angeles Criminal Court House on the Doctor Conrad Murray guilty verdict. Dr Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of pop star Michael Jackson in 2009.

Reported, filmed, written and edited by Justin O’Brien.

‘LATIGO @ 158 bpm’

August 21, 2011

Turning 40 is a mile stone birthday we’re told to celebrate and celebrate big.

For my 40th, I decided to spend a week with my best mates in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, my old ‘home’. A week of eating, drinking – did I mention drinking? And riding.

My birthday present to myself was an accent of Latigo Canyon. A 9.2-mile mountain climb I’d ridden many times over the years with my buddies Johnny Smelzer, Michael Kelley and David Lee.

We are all united through a passion or self-torture for road cycling. Hours spent on two wheels, sitting on a pole,peddling, duelling with cars, legs shaved and 40 mile per hour descents protected by an armour of Lycra!

'The Boys' - Johnny Smelzer, David Lee, Justin O'Brien, Michael Kelley

There is something ‘mentally satisfying’ even ‘mystical’ about climbing Latigo Canyon. So on the day of my birthday Johnny and I rolled out with a group of cyclists and set off up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) towards Malibu and 40 minutes to the Latigo turn off.

“9.2 miles of just sheer hell”, is how Michael Kelley describes Latigo.

Michael is the ‘fastest’ out of the four of us – followed closely by David Lee. “It is a great climb, it’s like a Tour de France climb .. Minus the French crowds lining the road, spitting on you!”, says Michael cracking a smile.

I’ll never compete in the Tour de France, but climbing Latigo makes you dream you could. It’s steep, alternating from 4.7% and 12% to the summit.

David Lee, who I first met in a spinning studio is a successful working actor and the funniest of our bunch. “It’s a bit of a ball breaker if I must be honest .. It brings out the honest man in you”, David says describing Latigo.

A view of Latigo Canyon, Malibu. California USA

“The first summit is a bit of an illusion because you get up there .. you think you’re there, then you pop around the corner and then there is suddenly another five miles to go and it’s kind of a little disheartening because it kicks up a little bit”, says David.

Most cyclists take between 35 minutes to an hour to climb to Latigo’s second summit. Johnny and I are part of that latter group!

My speedo is a heart rate monitor, the title of this story. 158 bpm – 158 beats per minute. There is no cheating on the road. I know I can push/peddle 158 bpm for an hour, increase it to 170 and I’ll throw up!

After 30 minutes zig zaging our way up Latigo’s bends, Johnny and I climb through the California coastal ‘June Gloom’ and into sunshine. We pass the time chatting, putting-shit-on each other.

A climbing graph of Latigo Canyon, Malibu. California USA

“What ring are ya in Johnny?”, I ask him. “The easiest one I got”, he replies.

“How about you?”

I quickly reply, “I got one gear left.”

“Ah…. You do not!”, Johnny fires back! I laugh and we peddle on.

15 minutes later we’re at Latigo’s second summit sharing a chocolate bar and jam sandwich before the 12 minute descent back to the PCH, then dinner and margarita’s.

It was the great birthday and I wouldn’t have spent it doing anything else!



July 8, 2009

Speak to any Los Angeles taxi driver, Starbucks barista, hotel valet or Police Officer and they’ll tell you – Michael Jackson’s death is good for business.

America in recession  … What recession?

I counted at least 140 TV crews camped on risers outside the Los Angeles Staples Centre – that doesn’t include the scores of reporters, producers and technicians, all there to cover for the world MJ’s death.



The economics of death. One of the best stories around was that of an Australian couple from Wollongong. Sarah Varley and Jason Leussink were staying in a Sydney hotel last weekend celebrating Sarah’s 36th birthday, watching television in bed they entered the Jackson Memorial lottery online from an I-Phone. 30 hours later and last minute Qantas tickets, they were on their way to Los Angeles doing their bit to stimulate the U.S. Economy.

Since his death – Jackson’s albums have topped the music charts, generating millions for his estate and various record companies. Outside the Staples Centre Police Officers on overtime pay seemed to number as many fans – three thousand in all. The message of the day was  … “If you didn’t have a blue or gold wrist band – you weren’t getting close.” Four million dollars U.S. and counting was the last estimate to police and run the event.

Looking back, the Jackson Memorial Service was nice – not too flashy, dignified – the performers wanted to be there, not there to use it as a vehicle to be scene.



For all of Jackson’s unusual past behaviour and weirdness – the Memorial Service left you in the end with the impression of a man fiercely loved by his family, whose image had finally been restored post-child molestation allegations and hush money.

Like John F. Kennedy Jr in 1963 saluting the coffin of his assassinated President Father  … an image itched into history will be Michael Jackson 11 year old daughter Paris, telling the world  … “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father anyone could imagine and I just wanted to say I love him.” It made young Paris human – a normal little girl caught in an abnormal upbringing. One can only imagine the record executives hanging around the edges, hoping she can sing.

But in the end – my final impression of Michael Jackson’s Memorial Service was

'The Thin Blue Line'

'The Thin Blue Line'

watching a Mexican/American immigrant, a woman in her mid-30’s wandering around the media compound collection empty plastic water bottles. She would later cash them in for five cents each. As the taxi driver said – ‘Jackson death is good for business’.


May 24, 2009


The best way to describe Memorial Day to an Australian – is to say it’s the American version of ANZAC Day without the pub crawl! A time to remember those who have fallen in battle, survived to come home and anyone who has served.

An American Flag

An American Flag

An American tradition on Memorial Day, is to place an American flag at the grave site of past soldiers, sailors and airmen. No small task considering the numbers. At the Military cemetery in Los Angeles an army of volunteers is enlisted to answer the call – usually Scouts, Cubs and Girl Guides.  

From a foreigners point of view – it’s a very powerful and moving sight .. thousands of kids, American flags in hand – following tradition and struggling to push a 50 centimeter long flag into the soil. 

One of the 58 thousand flags placed around the LA National Cemetery

One of the 58 thousand flags placed around the LA National Cemetery

I asked a mother dressed as a Scout Leader why are American’s so patriotic? She replied .. ‘American’s come from everywhere, we believe in what this country stands for  – today is about respect, honor and freedom. Australian’s have fought for freedom .. you are just like us’. I agreed. Although, patriotism seems easier for American’s .. the colour combination of ‘red, white and blue’ lends itself to self promotion – unlike Australia’s ‘green and gold’ and that ‘Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi’ chant which makes me wish I was Canadian!

Back to Memorial Day .. the Mum summed the morning up best in five words that followed our conversation – (referring to her son, hand on his shoulder) ‘.. his father is in Iraq’. You may not agree with the decision .. but you support the troops. 

America is at War – Waring at a level not seen since Vietnam.

Walking around the LA Cemetery and looking at the headstones, one name soon blends into another. Many of the men buried there lived long lives – into their 70’s and 80’s .. they fought for their Country .. and they came home. But, what jumps out

21 years old

21 years old

is the unmistakable difference between a new headstone and an old one. The faded weathered lettering .. compared to the black stenciled look. 

Private First Class Jin Su Ong stood out. Ong an American, born in 1987 was just 21 when he died in Iraq this year. It made me think .. in 1987 I was in College living life and at 21, I was traveling the world. What would you have missed out on if your life had ended at 21? No disrespect to the other veterans .. but Ong lived in my time. 

For all the symbolism of today, most of the Scouts who playfully raced to plant the flags at each headstone are too young to understand the meaning of Memorial Day – that’s a good thing. PFC Jin Su Ong was forced to grow up too early.



'The Scouts'

'The Scouts'


'Flags On Guard'

'Flags On Guard'


May 14, 2009

(An eyewitness account of the Santa Barbara Wildfire as strong winds threatened to blow the blaze into the City.)

Santa Barbara is best known as a weekend escape from the smog and traffic of Los Angeles. Two hours up Highway One .. SB – ‘White, Quite and Wealthy’ .. I’d never ventured far from the tourist strip until a Wildfire threatened to engulf the City this week.

Employed by CBS News to film, edit and transmit footage for Correspondents Manuel Gallegus and Hari Sreenivasan – it was a ticket to the frontline of the Wildfire.  

'Give me your left shoulder forward!'

'Give me your left shoulder forward!'

Unlike Bushfires (Australian’s call Wildfires, Bushfires) I’d covered in Australia – most notable by their constant hot strong winds, the Santa Barbara fire was different. It rested during the day and came alive with the afternoon breeze, Santa Barbara locals call ‘Sundowners’. In Hawaii it would the name of a cocktail.    

The odd thing about covering fires in the USA is the unlimited access given to the ‘media’. While police road blocks prevented residents from checking on their homes – a flash of a your media credentials in Santa Barbara and you were free to travel anywhere in the fire zone.

In Australia – a Police road block is a road block and no amount of ‘fast’ talking will get you through. Thank God for the First Amendment – Freedom Of The Press.

But it’s a Freedom you don’t abuse. Covering a Malibu Wildfire years ago – a Police Officer waved me through a road block saying: ‘You now have the right to go and get yourself killed!’ And he was right.

It’s not until you drive the winding backstreets, roads, terraces and drives in the foothills of Santa Barbara that you comprehend the City’s wealth. Old money, new money .. does it really matter, it’s still money. 

(A tour through the burnt out remains of two Santa Barbara homes.)

No matter how many Bushfires, Wildfires or House fires I’ve seen – it still amazes me what survives and what melts. I’ve seen letter boxes untouched while to house is reduced to a concrete slab.

'The Burnt-Out Remains Of Two Houses'

'The Burnt-Out Remains Of Two Houses'






But, one thing that’s forever constant is the brave determination of fire fighters to save property – houses, cars, boats, sheds .. whatever. Filming from a house threatened by the Wildfire on Day Two – a Fire Captain told me: ‘We’re going to stand here and fight it .. we’re not going to let it get this house.’ They were unforgettable words in the face of frightening uncertainty. We left as the sky turned black or  as we say ‘from day to night’. The house survived albeit a little smoky, but unscratched.      

Here unlies a Wildfire secret not spoken about. The decision on what house will be protected and what house will not. Officially, houses cleared of vegetation are easier to defend than ones surrounded by trees and grass – and professional fire fighters make that judgement. 

Personal involvement, friendship, influence and association also play a part. At one house surrounded by trees and grass in the SB foothills, the owner admitted the firemen were there because they were his friends. Fair or unfair .. if you’re going to risk your life fighting a fire, you’d prefer to do it for a friend. 

When I told this story to a mate whose house is in a known LA City fires zone, he said .. ‘Thanks, I’d better go and make friends with some fire fighters.’ 


April 4, 2009

I’ve just joined the Qantas Club.

Not that airport haven from the tourist masses – but the Qantas Club joined by thousands of travellers delayed, inconvenienced, angered, frustrated by last Monday’s (30th March, 2009) three hour strike by Qantas baggage handlers.

'Up Up And Away ..'

'Up Up And Away ..'

Sure .. you’re always sympathetic to workers trying to get a better deal or support their efforts to highlight a safety concern – that’s until it effects you!

En-route to Los Angeles via Auckland from Sydney, QF 43 was delayed more than four hours taking off. No Worries .. I thought till I arrived in New Zealand and was told, I’d missed the LA connection and my alternatives were to fly back to Australia (Melbourne) and get a direct flight to LA early the next morning (21 hours travelling) or wait in Auckland a day and get an Air New Zealand flight. I chose the 24-hour wait.

'Pick a bag .. any bag!'

'Pick a bag .. any bag!'

Cueing to catch a bus to the Qantas paid hotel for the night, a guy and a girl on their honeymoon stated the obvious – ‘Why did they let us get on the flight out of Sydney if they knew we’d miss the connection?’ .. I’d asked a male staff member in the real ‘Qantas International Lounge’ – ‘I’ve got a connection in Auckland’ – he replied ‘they’ll sort it out when you get there’. As I said to the newly weds – ‘.. it was as if they wanted to get rid of us, so we become some else’s problem.’

A decent person, knowing you’d be inconvenienced further would have given the option of staying put and travelling the next day. But is not about being decent, it’s business.  

I’ve never considered the cost and flow on effect of an airline strike until yesterday. Chatting to the Auckland bus driver he said he’d driven – ‘more than 200 delayed passengers to hotels tonight’ around Auckland. There must have been at least a thousand others in a similar predicament and Qantas was picking up the tab.  

Checking in to the hotel (a three star joint), the newly wed was told he’d have to pay for a wireless connection in his room .. (it’s now that he lost the plot!). The sympathetic overwhelmed staff explained Qantas was paying the accommodation, dinner and breakfast in the hotel restaurant and a three-minute phone call! I didn’t argue about the 10 dollars NZ charge for the internet connection, realizing the girl behind the check-in counter had probably never travelled outside Auckland, didn’t understand the meaning ‘world global financial crisis’, ‘strikes’, ‘bikies’ or ‘airline cost cuts’.

Why were the baggage handlers striking anyway? The Union claims it was over security concerns ‘air-side’ following the bashing death of a Hells Angeles motorcycle club member in the domestic terminal. A week on from the alleged murder, it was impossible to push a trolley through the terminal without running into the heals of a gun on the hip ‘protective services officer’. It seemed like public relations over kill – where were they last week?

Looking beyond the waving banners and chants of the striking baggage handlers – I’d suggest the strike was also a warning to new Qantas CEO Alan Joyce .. ‘Expect public-financial pain if you play around with workers conditions’.



Former Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon oversaw a period of attempted financial change at the airline, basing crews overseas, outsourcing engineering and the failed attempt to sell a majority stake in Qantas. With an eye to the future and looking at the bottom line .. it’s not difficult to see why the Jetstar ‘wiz-kid’ Alan Joyce is now running Qantas.

As an airline traveller one has to put that tray table up and realise ‘it’s no longer a case of sit back and relax .. it’s business not service’ .. and if you have to be somewhere on time, leave a day ahead of schedule.

P.S. – Mr Joyce, I didn’t use the three-minute phone call. Can I get a credit on that to use the next time I’m delayed?