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From the Editing Trenches

Norman Hollyn has been described as a “media expert,” a reference to his experience in a wide variety of media types – in both the old and new media worlds. He is the co-producer and co-host of the videocast 2 Reel Guys. He is a long-time film, television and music editor (HEATHERS, THE COTTON CLUB, SOPHIE’S CHOICE, Oliver Stone’s WILD PALMS), and is a Full Professor and Head of the Editing Track at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He is an author of nearly 100 articles and his internationally translated book, THE FILM EDITING ROOM HANDBOOK, has just been published in a fourth edition. His previous book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, also from Peachpit Press/Pearson, has been attracting great reviews worldwide. You can visit his website here.


At the risk of sounding like an Olde Farte, I want to recount a story about my first few weeks on a feature film – as an apprentice editor on the movie LENNY. It’s a story that I tell in the introduction to my book, “The Film Editing Room Handbook” but my guess is that many of you won’t have read that book and that, for those who have, you may have skipped the introduction and gone right to the more exciting chapters on how to organize VFX layers, or how to handover tracks to the sound department.

In any case, in my second week on the film, I got my first paycheck.  I was thrilled – a paycheck which said “LENNY – A Marvin Worth Production” on it (this was before the era of film payroll companies in New York City, where I lived at the time). I was working on a film with Dustin Hoffman, directed by the man who had just done an Emmy-winning TV show, a Tony-winning Broadway musical and an Oscar-winning film the year before!  I fully expected to walk into the bank, be ushered to the front of the line, and handed my meager amount of cash, so I could walk back out into the sunshine with a special glow all around me.

Of course, that’s not how it turned out at all. I did walk into the bank, where I was ushered to the back of the line and denied my cash because I didn’t have an account there (it was the production’s bank).

Ego Up.  Ego Down.

Of course, the lesson that I learned then applies more than ever today – editing is a job, just like millions of other jobs in the city.  It’s a cool job, yes, but it’s still a job, subject to all of the normal laws of the workplace.  Filmmaking is great, but nothing so special that I should have expected a red carpet at the bank. It was a great lesson to learn, and I remembered it forever.

If anything, it’s the same thing today.  There’s just more of that normalcy.

I firmly believe that this is one of the best times ever to be in media creation. There are more and more jobs, in a more varied landscape. I tell my students at USC’s film school that if they believe that the main or only place for their stories is on a big screen or for a major network, then they are unemployed today. Hollywood, New York, London, Rome and Paris are not the only film capitals of the world and that has normalized the various industries.  Pretty much every city can be a media capital if there are enough of the proper people who want to band together to create media. More and more of us are working on web series, or doing event videos, or creating games – and realizing that it’s a valid place for our talents, our ideas and our time. Many of my former students are working on network or cable shows, or editing or assistant editing features. But that is just one of many things that they are doing, often at the same time as their main gig.

And all of us get paychecks periodically (well, not all of the time, but that’s a story for another column).  I hear and read stories from people on event videos or local commercials who complain that clients of theirs are demanding or don’t know anything.  Oddly, I hear the same complaints from editors of top feature films. A 2010 memo from David Mamet to the writers of his show “The Unit” made fun of the notes from executives, calling them “penguins.”

The truth is that nearly every person who I’ve met in my time in features, television, music video editing, commercials, and corporate videos wants the best project possible. I’ve met directors who seemed to be clueless about what they were doing, and I’ve met commercial clients who seemed the same way.  Then again, I’ve worked with producers and directors of low-budget films who amazed me with the depth of their knowledge and talent, and commercial clients who understood why I couldn’t put two shots together in the way that they had wanted.

It all depends on who you choose to work with, and how you treat them when you do work with them. We will often need to work with both types of collaborators as we move forward in our careers. That is what it means to be a working editor.  That is one of the things that I mean when I say that editing is a job.

In this occasional series of blog posts for RevUpTransmedia I’ll generally NOT be talking about the technical side of the media creation world – the top of my head explodes when I hear too much about codecs (thanks to Michael Horton who also voices that sentiment). There are people, Diana Weynand included, who do a much better job than I ever could about helping you to use the tools.

Instead, what my 2 Reel Guys tutorials with Larry Jordan have always been about, what my teaching at USC is steeped in, what I talk about at my own blog -- “Hollyn-wood,” and what my new training course at Lynda.com is centered around, is all about telling better stories – in other words, the art of mediamaking. I’ll also be talking about the politics of getting your ideas across, about how to know what those ideas can and should be, and where the future is taking all of us.

I hope this will be a valuable experience for all of us. Let me know how I’m doing, and what you could use from me. Write me your comments below.  I look forward to all of it.  I love the ride.