USC Film Editing Blog


Las Vegas Is The Weirdest Place On the Planet

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 7:19 pm

Well, I actually haven’t been to every place on the planet, but Las Vegas certainly qualifies as the weirdest places I’ve ever been to.

I’m here for a few days, speaking on two panels at the Broadcast Educators Association, a conference which overlaps with the last day of NAB, the huge (I mean H-U-G-E) convention for radio, television and film nerds.

I spent some time at both the Avid and Apple booths, chatting about the latest developments. I actually no longer think that Soundtrack is the most evil software package on the planet. It’s turned into a very nice, low budget, sound editing tool. It’s no longer just about creating music or sound loops for video (a practice which made me worry for the future of intelligent film music). Avid is behind on the move to HDV, but were showing some really cool ways of moving from low to high end seamlessly. They are also the neatest people at the show who also sell geeky software toys. Ask me about the “splodge vectors” someday.

So, then I needed to get to the Hard Rock Hotel to meet some of the people on my panel. I left the convention center with about an hour to spare getting over there. I waited for fifteen minutes on the taxi line and it had barely moved at all. I then trotted over to the monorail only to be told to take the busses because there was a “suspicious package at the station” and they shut everything down. Needless to say, the busses were also not running, so I got back on the monorail which was running by then. Only to wait forever at another station. The coolest thing about waiting in the station was that, after about ten minutes of waiting, a recorded bing-bing-bing musical sound was followed by a cool female voice telling us that there were delays and she hoped that we weren’t being inconvenienced.

No, I felt like telling the recorded voice. I actually wanted to sit at monorail station as part of my Las Vegas sightseeing plans.

And then the bing-bing-bing came up again (immediately after the voice stopped talking). And then the voice repeated the same announcement. And then, bing-bing-bing, and the voice again. And again. And again.

I fled the monorail in pain and grabbed a cab to the hotel where I arrived fifteen minutes late, after a 75 minute ride.

the panel was very interesting… Joe Byron from the LA Film School, Fritz Gerald from NYU and Tim Merigan from Frontline (the PBS news show) and I talked about the New Directions in Teaching with the New Technology. Merigan said a few very interesting things, including the statement that most editors who he interviews aren’t trained in the fundamentals – how to black a tape, for instance, but that he would rather take someone who knew how to tell a story and then he could teach them the rest. A degree is very useful for him.

He also does an internship program for those willing to relocate to Boston for a semester. It sound great.

And now, I’m back in my hotel, blogging. In a few minutes I’m going to step out onto Las Vegas Blvd and join the throng of overweight Americans, the impossibly skinny and blond women just in “for a short break and a little fun” (as one claimed on the monorail today), and the under minimum wage guys (and one woman) handing out the postcards for strip clubs and “escort services.”

Hmmm, maybe I’ll eat in the hotel. That’s possible since it looks like the hotel (the Monte Carlo), like all of the major hotels here, was designed to prevent people from ever leaving. There’s everything in this hotel except an airplane landing strip. Restaurants, overprice shops, a food court, a spa, and – oh yeah – enough gambling to fill three or four Las Vegases.

Oh well, wish me luck.



This is for notes for the pitches for the trailers

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 12:51 pm

Add your ideas for what we want to do our trailers.

Your notes for the locked cut

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 12:48 pm

Here is the place for your comments on the latest cut, in preparation for our locking this weekend.


David Marmor talks about editing SPIN

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 6:56 am

David Marmor, whose thesis film SPIN ran at First Look last night, has a web site for his film in which he talks about the process of editing the visual effects of the film.  You can access that page here.

In this excerpt he talks about attempting to make a shot of a sleepy driver hitting the divider be more real:

In production the shot where Ray swerves away from the freeway divider came out so well that it looks like the car could actually be hitting the divider. We added a scraping sound effect to help sell that, but I wanted to heighten the effect a little and I thought that if the car had scraped the concrete, it might make some sparks. I spent about a week tinkering with it and came up with a shower of sparks that I think adds to the impact of that moment.


Notes for v399 up now

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 12:07 pm

The notes for the latest cut are up at the usual place.  Remember next week will be our last full screening.


Google Gulp

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 8:16 am

I don’t know if this will be up past April Fool’s Day, but Google has a great spoof of themselves up at this URL.  It’s for a new soft-drink product with data gathering and gene altering capabilities.

They obviously spent some bucks on this – time wise.  It must be great to work for a company that is willing to do something like this to itself.


Protected: Notes up for Cut v299

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 6:54 am

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Interviewing the Interviewer

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 12:45 pm

There’s an interesting piece on Lisa Haneberg’s blog, MANAGEMENT CRAFT, about how to make sure that you can more accurately assure that you can work with a manager (or, in our case, producer or editor) who is good at managing.


Technorati Works!!

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 5:26 pm

Technorati is a Blog Google, that is it searches tons of blogs.  I’ve found a great number of blogs using this site.  Type in USC, film and step back.  Type in your name.  Type in whatever (actually, you shouldn’t type in "whatever" – you’ll get a ridiculous number of hits).

Technorati Profile


Protected: Class Notes for v199

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 8:17 pm

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Cultural Revolution Discussion

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 4:48 pm

Greg, over at his blog Public Musings, mentions a discussion in his directing class here in which he takes exception to comparing the policies of the Chinese governement during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 60s to our present U.S. government policies.  It’s an interesting comment though I wish he had taken it a bit further.

As a side note, in another part of his blog he talks of a film he shot quite a while ago (sounds like a 507) and he has this to say about it:

The shoot quickly devolved into a home video after shooting the opening scene. Shooting without a clear script was the fundamental problem, which was greatly intensified by a strong desire working style differences amongst old friends and alcohol. Whatever. I knew shooting without a clear sense of the story NEVER works, so I don’t know why I thought this might be different. This idea we had that "something interesting will happen," is one of the most stupidly arrogant things rookie, psuedo filmmakers do.

I’ve got nothing to add to that except to say that it all goes back to story, doesn’t it.  It always does and it’s why I keep on droning on and on about knowing your story.

2004 Movies

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 9:42 am

Every year I keep on putting off getting my Academy ballot in, perhaps because each year I don’t think that anything I want to vote on will end up on the list of final nominations. However, this year there were so many good films released and eligible for the awards that, inevitably, I HAD to get a few of them past them. Here, in alphabetical order (if you don’t count the occasional French article) are the movies that I considered good enough that I’d have no problem seeing again. The films whose name is followed by an asterisk are those that I ended up putting on my ballot.  The fact that one of them actually won is a source of complete shock to me.  I’m going to check my pulse now. 

1. BAD EDUCATION – While not quite up to the level of some of Almodovar’s previous efforts, this is still a very strong story about identity (both personal and sexual). It’s lead character, played intensely by THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES’ Gael Garcia Bernard, is a fractured, sad, at times pathetic creature who we slowly learn to love and empathize with.

2. LES CHORISTES – Some have called this film soft-minded, a French version of STAND BY ME combined with MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS. But I found the film, about students at a French countryside boys school for truants, who are transformed when a new teacher comes and introduces them to the healing powers of chorale music, quite genuine and entrancing in its own right. Along with an extraordinary use of music, this is a deceptively simply told story. The key to it are a series of performances which feel completely genuine while appealing to the heartstrings.

3. CLOSER – This is a tough film to like, but it knocked me over. Fiercely intelligent, in an old-fashioned sort of way, the film shows it roots as a stageplay by Patrick Marber. It seems intensely focused on its characters and its dialogue, all theatrical. But director Mike Nichols dealt with similar styles in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE to stunning effect, and if you enjoyed that film, you’re going to like this one. Natalie Portman is utterly believable as is Clive Owens, as two characters of the four modern Londoners who do an elaborate ballet dance around each other as they trade partners and lies. A rather condemning view of modern love, the film still manages to make its characters work as people who must do what they do, because they can’t see any other way to be in love.

4. COLLATERAL – Tom Cruise’s genius in this film was to get the hell out of the way and let Jamie Foxx do his job as a Los Angeles taxi driver who comfortable world is upended when he accepts Cruise’s hitman into his car. The film, told in one long Los Angeles night, manages to take a character who could have been completely clichéd (Foxx carries a picture of a beautiful desert island on his visor to give him a sense of peace) and make his story utterly believable.

5. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND* – Without a doubt, one of my favorite films of the year (and one of the five films I nominated for Best Picture), this is Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s hearwrenching look into the awful truths about love. Jim Carrey plays a man who has been dumped by his girlfriend, a delightful Kate Winslet. The Kaufman-esque part of the film (and the reason why people not familiar with Gondry’s previous music video work mistakenly call this a Kaufman film) is the Winslet has, after many months with Carrey, has engaged a doctor (played by Tom Wilkinson) to erase all part of her memory that involve Carrey. When he discovers this he asks Wilkinson to do the equivalent for him – erasing Winslet from his brain. However, part way through the process, he realizes that as painful as being the middle of a difficult relationship can be, there are some things that are worth fighting for. The bulk of the movie is all about Carrey trying to evade the attempts by the doctor to erase one memory of Winslet after another. [SPOILER ALERT] By the end of the film, when Winslet tells Carrey that if they get together there are going to be times when they’re going to hate each other and Carrey says that he’s willing to try it anyway, I was in tears.[END SPOILER ALERT] I’ve now seen this film four times and its construction and its emotions never fail to suck me in.

6. FINDING NEVERLAND* – Here’s another film I nominated for best picture. It’s also a story of love gone off the rails as Johnny Depp (as J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan) tries to revive his moribund life – a tired playwrite and husband – as he tries to bring a young child’s life back into happiness after the death of that boy’s father. The boy, of course, becomes the inspiration for Peter Pan and Barrie ends up remembering the joy and magic through the relationship. This is a film that sounds clichéd as all hell when I describe and it is a testament to Depp’s extraordinary talents that it isn’t.

7. GARDEN STATE – A true delight and another movie about reconnecting with life’s joys. Returning home for his mother’s funeral, Hollywood actor Zach Braff meets up with the people, the town and the lifestyle that he left behind when he moved to Los Angeles. He also is forced to deal with the abuses and beliefs that his misguided psychiatrist of a father forced on him during his adolescence. Braff doesn’t meet a young Peter Pan, but he does meet his own version of this Peter Pan, in the shape of Natalie Portman, in a role diametrically opposite (but just as strong, if not more so) from her role in CLOSER. Portman, who has as many psychological problems as Braff, happens to have different ones. And the two of them together manage to show each other a place where they might, just might, begin to conquer all of the things that held them back in their lives.

8. HOTEL RWANDA – Now try this one on for size – a depressing, upsetting, rip-roaring political drama, based on a true story and set amidst the very real and horrifying slaughter of uncountable numbers of Tutsis in the ethnic violence in Rwanda. Told through the point of view of the manager of a wealthy hotel who ends up becoming the savior of hundreds of refugees when he allows them to hold up in his abandoned hotel, this biopic (as opposed to RAY and KINSEY) is intently focused on both one short period and one series of incidents. As a result, it has a sharpness that the other films (along with many biographies) lack.

9. HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS – Wow, and now for something completely different. I haven’t seen HERO yet, so I can’t speak to how similar it is to this film, done by the same director, but by itself, this is a stunning visual joy ride. It’s more interesting than most action films, because it is all about character, though it is its beautiful set pieces which have gotten all of the (justifiable) attention. Set in feudal China (Hong Kong??), this is the story of warring factions – with the government on one side, and an ancient group of warrior women on the other. Set across space and time, this story has epic scale but is always grounded in the small – how two men look the one woman who they both love. How she looks at them, even when she is blind. The action sequence, including a fight in a forest with flying daggers, and a sword fight that ranges from a meadow in spring seamlessly into a snow-filled landscape, are staggeringly beautiful to watch while not getting in the way of the characters and the story.

10. I’M NOT SCARED – This movie has been sadly overlooked, as it was a small film that came out in the early part of the year. Yet it is just as powerful as many of the other films in this category. Set in 1960s Northern Italy, it tells the story of a young boy who is living with his parents in a small town when he discovers a small boy locked away in a dirt hole. The boy, who is the son of a wealthy Italian, has been kidnapped as part of the political violence of the times (as well as a blatant money-grab). What unfolds as the boy learns the story of the kidnapped boy shakes his faith in everything that his parents have told him about right and wrong (hmmm, that sound suspiciously like a quote whore statement, but it does have the advantage of having a ring of truth to it).

11. KILL BILL – VOL 2 – As different a movie from Volume 1 as the second half of Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET was from the first. This follows Uma Thurman as she returns to the United States to avenge the murder of her husband-to-be and her own near death. Quite simply, Thurman is superb in the film and she better be – she’s in nearly every frame of it. And, as we follow her movements as she learns where Bill is and why he wanted to have her killed, she (and we) also learns quite a bit more about herself. It also has the rare distinction of having a small performance from Larry Bishop (the director of MAD DOG TIME, which I edited years ago) as the owner of a bar who likes to torture Michael Madsen.

12. MARIA FULL OF GRACE* – Another one of five Oscar nominees, this film is an intensely personal and upsetting view of the life of a young Mexican woman who, fired from the only job in her job – de-thorning and packing roses for American flower shops – takes up the lucrative but dangerous role of a mule for drug smugglers. But what this film is really about is the struggle of a innately proud woman, against everything and everyone who is telling her to forget her pride and her sense of self, and just get by.  It’s a haunting story and one I won’t soon put to the back of my mind.

13. MILLION DOLLAR BABY* – Another haunting story, though told in a very traditional garb.  Clint Eastwood plays The Man With No Name (actually, he has a name, but his character isn’t that far removed from all of the other characters he’s been playing, way back to the spaghetti Westerns he did in the late 60s/early 70s).  He’s always a bit angry, always alot detached.  Into his life comes Hilary Swank, spawn of trailer park trash, with more determination than talent as a boxer.  As other people have pointed out, this is basically a father/daughter story, with two people who aren’t related by blood.  Each needs something and gets it, though not without costs.  It’s a passionate, really great Hollywood film.  I don’t know that it will bear up to repeated viewings, but Eastwood’s spare directorial style is perfectly complemented by the cinematography and editing.

14. THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES*  – We’re down near the bottom end of the alphabet, and some of the best of the best are sitting down here.  This film, directed by one of my favorite directors – Walter Salles (BEHIND THE SUN, CENTRAL STATION) – is another one of his pentrating character studies which, at the same time, manages to be all about social situations as well.  This film, about a long cross-country (actually, cross-continent) trip by a young and impressionable, pre-political Che Guevara, and his older friend, is about many things. It is about a young man’s falling in love with his country and then falling into hate with those who would exploit his countrymen. It definitely isn’t a political movie, but it makes some phenomenally poignant political points.

15. THE SEA INSIDE* Now here is a movie which is overtly political, though in very personal terms. Javier Bardem plays Spaniard Ramon Sampedro, an adventurous man who, years before, lost the use of all of his limbs in a diving accident.  Now he is a strong presence but desperately begging for death from a country that doesn’t believe in assisted suicide.  Unabashedly one-sided in this political debate, the film nonethess manages to achieve a humanity which drives it forward thanks to Bardem’s inspired performance.

16. SIDEWAYS* There was, apparently, a Sideways backlash leading up to the awards this year, which is unfortunate, because an argument could be made that this is the more adventurous film of the three major contenders.  While THE AVIATOR was an excellently directed tale with a terrible script, and MILLION DOLLAR BABY was a well-directed tale with a well-written script, this film is a well-directed tale from a well-written script of two men-children confronting their failures.  Very much unlike AMERICAN BEAUTY, it does share the sense of "How did my life get to this point?" mid-life crisis context.  But it is light, famciful and downright charming.  It is also one of the films that succeeds on every level – from its direction to its production design to its casting to its (yes) editing.

17. TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE - For sheer laugh-out-loud pleasure this film is at the top of this year’s bundle.  I can’t think of another film in which I cackled while watching the DVD on my laptop under headphones in my living room (causing my daughter to come in and look at me with a worried look).  Not unlike the running gags in AUSTIN POWERS (the succession of "Dick" jokes still makes me cackle out loud when I think about them), this film is based on a silly premise – puppets masquerading as marauding Americans try to save the world from politically correct Hollywood actors who are being manipulated by Korean leader Kim Il Jung for horribly nefarious ends.  It’s neither political commentary, nor great acting.  It’s just fantastic fun.

18. A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT - Jean-Pierre Jeunet, in his previous films (among them - DELICATESSEN, still my favorite post-apocalyptic film of all time, CITY OF LOST CHILDREN and AMELIE) seems to have his head permanently connected to another dimension.  Now he hooks it up to another time as well.  In this film, AMELIE’s Audrey Tatou plays a young, waifish, slightly crippled French girl who’s boyfriend goes off to fight in the horrows of World War I and is reported killed.  She, however, doesn’t believe that he is dead and the movie spends its entire length following her attempts to unravel the political mystery as to what actually happened in the trench Bingo Crepescule where her boyfriend was among a small group of men sentenced to death for trying to maim themselves to get out of serving in the war.  Party anti-war film, part anti-government cry, and part a passionate love story of a driven woman, this movie features fantastic performances all around, including Tatou, and long-time Jeunet collaborator Dominique Pinon (who played seemingly hundreds ofdwarves in LOST CHILDREN and the lead in DELICATESSEN).

19. THE WOODSMAN - Apparently a success at 2004’s Sundance, NYU Film School graduate Nicole Kassel’s film about a child molester who is out of prison and grappling with his own inner demons, is a surprisingly bright film.  Another filmmaker would have gone purely for Kevin Bacon’s inner torture.  Instead, she goes for his desire for normalcy, even as he struggles with the twin bugaboos of his continuing attraction for young girls and his desire for a more normal relationship with Kyra Sedgwick.  Superbly well acted (including a great, though under utilitzed performance by Mos Def as a detective who seemingly is trying to undertsand Bacon, while continually hounding him for his past acts).

Jon Stewart Takes On Crossfire

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 8:10 am

I know this has been around the block a number of times, but John Stewart, host of a news show parody on Comedy Central series called, oddly enough, The Daily Show with John Stewart, was on CNN’s Crossfire last fall and took the hosts to task for avoiding news and presenting their news as theatre.  It’s an interesting clip and, if you can play Windows Movie files (which you can on all platforms if you have the player) you might want to take a look at this (thanks to for this link)

I’ve Been Hacked!

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 7:49 am

It didn’t take long.  Yesterday I signed onto this blog and found that every entry that allowed comments but was not password protected had a new comment in it – advertising a product that… no never mind, I’m not going to mention who they were, this would only encourage them.

As a result I’ve now gone back to approving comments, which will slow down their posting.  Sorry about that, but these drug hawkers are obnoxious.


ACE Editing Competition

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 8:14 am

The American Cinema Editors organization sponsors an annual competition which awards its winners with a month long intership in several different editing rooms – a great way to meet people and learn how it’s really done.

The 2005 Competition is long done.  But it’s not too early for me to put up this blog entry so you can start to think about starting to think about it for this fall.

The link to the competition page is hidden inside these sentences.  Just click either one and you’ll go there.


Thanks from our Royce

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 12:32 pm

This email went out to the class from the actor who played Royce. Just in case you didn’t get it, and even if you did, it’s nice to see it.

Hey guys, it’s Victor. Better yet, some of you know me more as Royce. Or if any of you frequent Sunset and La Brea on Saturday nights, some call me Lightning Pants. Anyway. I just wanted to let all of you know that it was an honor working with each and every one of you. I can’t emphasize that last past enough. "Every one of you." I wish all of my shooting experienes could be like this one. It was an absolute pleasure. Best of luck to all of you in your future endeavors. Thank you so much. -Victor

Patrick Marber Talks About Mike Nichols

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 10:45 am

In the course of a larger piece by Patrick Marber (author of CLOSER) he says this about Mike Nichols: "Nichols is very specific and very ambiguous at the same time. He doesn’t tell the audience what to think or what to feel. He wanted it to be life-like and like a dream, simultaneously. I would offer that as a virtue rather than a flaw. I actually think it’s magical." One of the things that we want to do as we recut RHINOCEROS EYES is to keep this in mind. How do we build the general from the details, without being too obvious. (The entire Marber piece is on the Hollywood Elsewhere site: Click here to see it.)

Shaving Your Yak

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 10:24 am

Seth Godin’s blog (appropriate enough titled "Seth Godin’s Blog" has an interesting entry called "Don’t Shave That Yak!" which is all about how easy it is to get distracted from a main goal by attempting to deal with all of the little problems on the way to that goal. I’m not sure that it directly relates to editing, since often it is important to fix something in Scenes 10-12 in order to fix a problem in Scene 13. But it does seem symptomatic of a certain mind – often my own.


Protected: Notes Are Up for v199

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 5:36 pm

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Incredibly Dumb Query Letters

Filed under: — Norman Hollyn @ 4:57 pm

This anonymous site, "Query Letters I Love" is chock a block full of screenplay synopses that the blogger gets as part of his job.  It’s actually quite a relief to see that there are many many ideas that are far dumber than anything you could ever think of, much less write a submission letter for.