Norman Hollyn, USC professor, film editor who worked on ‘Sophie’s Choice,’ dies at 66

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Norman Hollyn, a respected film and music editor who worked on such movies as “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Cotton Club” and “Heathers,” has died in Japan, where he was lecturing cinema students. He was 66.

Hollyn died Sunday after suffering cardiac arrest while in Yokohama, where he was meeting with students from Tokyo University of the Arts.

“His loss is devastating,” Elizabeth M. Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, wrote on Facebook.


Beyond his work in Hollywood both in film and television, Hollyn was a professor at USC’s film school, where he had led the editing department for more than 10 years before recently stepping down. He also helped the university strengthen relationships with a diverse stable of companies, including Apple and Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Hollyn was a prolific writer as well and a public speaker who traveled the world to work with cinema students and aspiring filmmakers.

Born May 11, 1952, in New York, Hollyn graduated from Stony Brook University and got an early break in the film world working as an apprentice sound editor on “Lenny,” the 1974 Lenny Bruce biopic. It was heady company for a young editor. The film’s director was Bob Fosse and the lead actor was Dustin Hoffman. He also worked as an uncredited apprentice editor on Sidney Lumet’s “Network,” the 1976 media satire that went on to win four Academy Awards.

Life as a film editor, though, made for uneven employment. Jobs lasted months, occasionally a year.

“When I took a job, I knew it wouldn’t last,” he wrote on his web page. “I knew that my life was going to be made up of simultaneously working and looking for work.”

Sometimes he was a film editor, sometimes he was asked to edit the music. On “Sophie’s Choice” and “Cotton Club” he was the music editor. On “Heathers” he was the film editor — as he was on Oliver Stone’s television miniseries “Wild Palms.”


Hollyn had a hand in dozens of films and television shows. His most recent editing project was on “Shot,” a 2017 film about the consequences of an accidental shooting.


At the time of his death, Hollyn was on sabbatical from USC so that he could travel to Japan, South Africa, Estonia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, both to teach and to conduct interviews for a planned revision of “The Lean Forward Moment,” his book on storytelling. He was also writing a new edition of “The Editing Room Handbook,” his must-read textbook for aspiring film editors.

For five years, he hosted editing workshops at the Sundance Film Festival. He also worked as a consultant for DreamWorks and Pixar.

His wife, Janet Conn, said in an email that while her husband was a classic workaholic, he also had a bountiful life away from work.

“He and I spent endless hours going to museums and galleries -- we loved art -- the cultural changes occurring in L.A. that allowed us to do what we had done during our years in New York.”


The two had recently moved from Santa Monica to be closer to downtown so they could enjoy a more diverse part of the city, she said.

She said her husband had an enthusiasm for even the simple things in life, such as their weekly dinners with their daughter. “A renaissance man with vast intelligence, a huge heart and who gave and received immeasurable pleasure from his life,” she said.

Along with his wife Janet, Hollyn is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Conn-Hollyn.