JOHN MAHER, FILMMAKER
A Half-Century of Work and Fun
After over 50 years of filmmaking, John Maher (OU ’71) has a lot of stories to tell. Many of them illustrate Murphy’s Law. “One thing I’ve learned in this business is that if something can go wrong, it probably will,” he says with a smile. Having worked on literally hundreds of independent and original productions, Maher says there was rarely one without some unexpected problem to be solved under pressure. Nevertheless, he faced these challenges with confidence, turning snafus into fun because he was well-prepared.
Maher was a student of the late Professor Ned Hockman and a member of Hockman’s renowned “film colony” of the early 1970’s. It was there, under the wing of “the father of Oklahoma film”, that Maher learned the secrets of filmmaking magic, as well as the harsh realities of the profession. By all accounts, Hockman, a David Ross Boyd Distinguished Professor Emeritus, taught his students truth, along with technique. And as difficult as filmmaking was, he inspired joy in the process. Mr. Maher carried those values into his life and work, and he continued to consult with Hockman on his own productions over the years. The importance of Hockman’s influence can be seen in Maher’s tribute film, Ned Hockman Immortalized.
Maher’s knowledge, expertise, and experience in filmmaking grew to create a distinguished professional career that reflects well on his alma mater. This, along with his long-time association with Hockman, has led to Maher’s selection as the first Mentor in the 2024 inaugural year of the Hockman Family Filmmakers Fund for the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.
“I consider this honor to be the capstone of my career,” Mr. Maher said. “I’m excited to work with Gaylord’s Professor Scott Hodgson to bring love of filmmaking to the next generation.”
Applying the well-rounded and unique approach to filmmaking he first learned from his mentor, Maher became a master visual storyteller. Early on, he gained a notable reputation for his camerawork, lighting, and composition, shooting film and video around the world as a freelancer. He shot for all the major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) and cable networks (CNN, HBO, ESPN). He worked on documentaries, music videos, fashion, sports, soap operas, and scores of corporate and independent projects, including an extensive series on World War II. He has shot out of boats, balloons, shopping carts, race cars, helicopters, and even a Japanese Zero aircraft. He photographed all kinds of newsmakers and celebrities, from Dan Rather to Barbara Walters, from David Bowie to Barney the Dinosaur. He travelled from the streets of New York City, to the vineyards of Italy, and to the plains of Oklahoma intercepting tornados for the National Severe Storms Laboratory, where he was part of a team that developed Doppler Radar in the mid-70’s.
Over the decades since his first job at 17 years of age televising a speech by Martin Luther King, Maher witnessed the sweep of history, covering events first-hand (including 9/11 at Ground Zero for CBS News), as well as the march of media technology, becoming expert in evolving film types and video formats, from the early Image Orthicon tube to the latest HD Sensors. As he mastered the tools of the trade, his artistic expressions grew.
Professor Hockman’s inspiration led Mr. Maher to the next and most fulfilling phase of his career—making his own films and putting his unique stamp on them. For the past twenty years, Maher’s original documentaries on subjects ranging from history, iron making, extreme drum corps, to the invention of plastic have succeeded in reaching global audiences. Maher’s films stand out with a masterful blend of information, entertainment, innovative production techniques, and what Maher likes to call “little surprises” that he sprinkles in to captivate the audience. His recent feature documentary, All Things Bakelite: The Age of Plastic had a two-year run on PBS and won praise for his use of comedic musical skits to deliver serious information. Maher fully credits his mentor, Professor Hockman, with the understanding of how to tell a good story in a compelling way, and how to break the rules once they are mastered.
Maher’s knowledge of the history of cinema and his respect for the process of filmmaking began with Hockman, who strove to perpetuate the “seventh art” through teaching and applied practice. In that tradition, Maher has taught “hands-on” courses at Western Connecticut State University and at Quinnipiac University. He has also given seminars at New York University, ESPN, and West Chester State University. A passionate, precise, and humorous filmmaker, he is an authentic auteur, yet he recognizes the value of collaboration in an art form where success depends on the contribution of many specialized disciplines.
He relies on close associations with like-minded filmmakers with whom a handshake is often enough
to begin another cinematic adventure together. He has often called upon former OU classmates to join
in his work. This collaborative spirit is not unlike the one Professor Hockman created in his “film colony”
of long ago. It is something Maher hopes his new mentees will embrace.
Professor Hockman once encouraged a young, uncertain film student saying, “John, you are going to be great. And you are going to travel the world.” He was right. And John Maher, now an accomplished film artist, will use his mentorship to inspire the next generation with that same confidence, know-how, humor, and love for the profession of filmmaking.
The writer of this release, Bud Mikhitarian, is a media and public relations consultant for JEM Films.