Dustin Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman in Lenny

Editing is re-editing.

Nothing is done until it’s done. If you’re satisfied with something, look at it again.

The more experience you have cutting, the fewer rules there are.

Edits that I would have rejected out of hand at the beginning of my career now make sense to me. Of course, I don’t make them in exactly the same way that I would have back then, but I know how and why to make them work now. That leads to…

Don’t dismiss something intellectually without giving it a chance to work.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll try any half-baked idea; you have to know which things make sense and which don’t. But I’ve seen some really great things happen when I decided not to fight an idea.

Never stop learning.

Keep yourself open on every day of every job. There’s always new technology, of course, but more importantly, there’s new footage and new working partners. There’s usually something to learn from every single person on a production, even craft services.

Pay attention to actors.

Pay attention to their eyes. In a well-written scene, with a good director, you’ll be able to get a great sense of where the script beats are (which is where characters are changing) by looking at what the actors do, especially with their eyes. That’s where they express their thoughts. If you can find these beats, then the editing gets easier—you change something around those moments: pacing, size of shots, presence of music, sound, etc.

Never trust a person who tells you that they can watch a cut without smoothed out sound and music.

They rarely can, and you’ll suffer if you don’t do the prep work.

Never turn down an interview.

Since this is a business of contacts, always meet anyone who’s interested in you. There are jobs that you might not want to take, and you should be honest about that. But I’ve often taken jobs because of the people on them, not because of the script. You never know who you’re going to click with and finding those fellow filmmaking spirits is worth taking any interview and meeting anybody.

Do your homework.

If you’re reading a script for an interview, read it two or three times. Watch the director and the writer’s other films. Check out who they’ve worked with on IMDb. If you’re about to edit a scene, watch the footage a second or third time. Take notes and refer to them. Call labs and effects house and talk to them about what they need from you.

Finally, edit from your heart as well as your head.

Perhaps it’s my comfort with actors, but if I can access the inner life of each character I’m editing, then I can bring more of a sense of truth and reality into how that character is portrayed on screen. I can only do that if I don’t protect my own heart from its feelings. It’s a kind of “sense memory for editors,” and it works for me. It’s the way of bringing my own passion and artistry to a story that was written and directed by other people. The film still can become, in some small part, mine. And it needs to become mine in order for me to give it life. And that is what is necessary in order to make a great film.

Filmography for Norman Hollyn
On Edge (2001)
Just Looking (1999)
Mad Dog Time (1996)
Girl in the Cadillac (1995)
My Teacher’s Wife (1995)
It’s Pat (1994)
Jersey Girl (1992)
Meet the Applegates (1991)
Mr. Destiny (1990)
The Local Stigmatic (1989)
Heathers (1989)
Daddy’s Boys (1988)
Dead of Winter (1987)
Target (1985)
The Cotton Club (1984)
Easy Money (1983)
Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
Sophie’s Choice (1982)
Four Friends (1981)
Rollover (1981)
Fame (1980)
Hair (1979)
You Light Up My Life (1977)
Network (1976)
Lenny (1974)