Pat O'Neill was born in 1929 in Los Angeles, California. After graduating in Applied Arts from UCLA, in 1963 he made his first film By the Sea with Robert Abel. His glass fibre assemblies were exhibited in several art galleries. Between 1967 and 1975, he led a photography course at UCLA and continued to work on his own artistic projects. He was appointed to teach film and video at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts).
In 1970 he won first prize at the Ann Arbor Festival for
In 1974, he was involved, alongside Grahame Weinbren, Morgan Fisher, Chick Strand and Roberta Friedman, in founding the Los Angeles based Independant Film Oasis that organised screenings of films made by its members. In 1988, Water and Power won an award at the Sundance Festival and in 1993 he was awarded the Maya Deren Prize for his entire body of work.