Ep11: Making It In Hollywood as a “Creative” (What They Don’t Teach You In Film School) | with Norman Hollyn

Author’s Note: ‘Tragedy’ doesn’t even begin to describe what it means for our industry to lose Norman Hollyn at the ridiculously young age of 66. He was quite possibly the kindest soul in Hollywood.

I’m asked so often by so many, “What’s the secret to really making it in Hollywood?” And the answer is SO simple: Provide value to others.

Norman proved through his actions, his never-ending kindness, and his generosity that the road to success is paved by simply providing value to others. It’s really that simple. He was a mentor and a friend who will be sorely missed.

The following is an in-depth interview I did with Norman when this program first began that is an absolute manifesto on what it really takes to build a fulfilling career in Hollywood. It has been listened to thousands of times on six continents, and of all my episodes it has received more positive feedback than any other…by far.

Rest In Peace Norman. Know that you left this world making a true impact on the lives of countless people, and your work will continue to make an impact for generations to come.

I will never be able to “lean forward” again without thinking of you. 🙂

Be well my friend.

Zack Arnold

“How can I break into Hollywood or advance in my creative career if there is no set path to follow?” is by far the most common question I receive via e-mail, when I speak at events, or when I teach at USC or online. Whenever someone sends me an email or Facebook message and asks, “Can I buy you coffee and pick your brain?” this is inevitably the big question they seek the answer to.

Unlike doctors or lawyers, the path to being a successful film editor, writer, visual effects artist, animator, actor, or any other creative career is not a linear path, but here’s the secret nobody tells you: There are very specific steps you can follow to be successful, but you have to be willing to put in the time and take action consistently. The key is not discovering the path and following it, the key is learning the proper steps to forge your own unique path.

In this episode I dive deep into what it really takes to break into or advance in the Hollywood post-production industry with none other than USC professor and former head of the editing track, Norman Hollyn. This is a two hour marathon episode so get comfortable. This was one of the most downloaded and shared 2-part episodes of my former podcast, but I thought it beneficial to combined it into a single episode and feature it as part of the Optimize Yourself program so new people just discovering this show wouldn’t have to dig for it because people have told me firsthand this interview was the difference between them landing a job or not landing it. The advice Norman gives is seriously that universal and that powerful, and it can be applied far beyond jobs in post-production.

BONUS: If this episode inspires you to start taking some real action to get where you want to in Hollywood and land your dream job, I have great news because you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I just released my brand new “Ultimate Guide to ‘Making It’ In Hollywood as a Creative” which is a manifesto on the practical steps you can take to begin forging your own path to success. And if you’re not in Hollywood, trust me when I say that if these steps work here, they’ll work anywhere and apply to any creative field. This guide includes some of the exercises discussed in this episode as well as deeper dives into clarifying your goals, perfecting your craft, and expanding your social network so the right people know you’re awesome at what you do and beg you to work for them.

Want to Hear More Episodes Like This One?

» Click here to subscribe and never miss another episode

Here’s What You’ll Learn:

  • Develop your skill set and then build your network of people
  • Consider looking for work and networking your full time job
  • Use online resources, industry magazines, etc
  • How to use Facebook and Twitter to help you make connections
  • Put yourself out there and make yourself valuable to people
  • Make sure you continue to hone your craft and advance your skill set
  • Find out what you don’t know and get good feedback!
  • Should you take free work?
  • People skills and social skills are more important than you think
  • Part of advancing in your career is being able to make choices
  • Re-evaluating your goals is growth
  • Being fiscally responsible will give you more choices and give you the freedom to take work that’s valuable to your career and not necessarily your bank account
  • To be happy it’s important to acknowledge that third circle: Personal needs
  • Write down your intentions and focus — no matter how many drafts it takes!

Useful Resources Mentioned:

Below the Line crew listings

A Classic Case of Post-Production Burnout

Our Generous Sponsors:

This episode is made possible by Ergodriven, the makers of the Topo Mat, my #1 recommendation for anyone interested in moving more at their height-adjustable workstation. Listen, standing desks are only great if you’re standing well, otherwise you’re constantly fighting fatigue and chronic pain. Not like any other anti-fatigue mat, the Topo is scientifically proven to help you move more throughout the day which helps reduce discomfort and also increase your focus and productivity. And they’re really fun and a great conversation starter.

Guest Bio:


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.

He has taught worldwide, including several workshops for the Royal Film Commission in Jordan, and schools in Shanghai and
Beijing, China. He has taught at the Sundance Film Festival, and consults and speaks at major corporations such as Dreamworks Pictures, Pixar Animation, Forbes and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He has worked as an expert witness in legal cases involving the aesthetics or history of editing, and is partner in an Internet development firm.

He can be reached at norman@normanhollyn.com.

Show Credits:

This episode was edited by Curtis Fritsch, and the show notes were prepared and published by Jakin Rintelman. Special thanks to Krystle Penhall and Sarah Furie for helping to spread the love!

The original music in the opening and closing of the show is courtesy of Joe Trapanese (who is quite possibly one of the most talented composers on the face of the planet).

Note: I believe in 100% transparency, so please note that I receive a small commission if you purchase products from some of the links on this page (at no additional cost to you). Your support is what helps keep this program alive. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”