First time I really had a conversation with Norm Hollyn, we were sitting down during ‘Casino Night’ at the Editors Retreat talking about depression. While it might seem kind of depressing to be having a deep conversation about depression while everyone else is having fun losing fake money, it was far from it.
I had originally met him the day before as both of us were on a panel discussing the future of editing. I was sort of representing A.I., there were a few people from other companies representing other technologies and I think Norm was on the panel as the token flesh and blood editor. It was a great discussion and Norm had a very grounded and very positive view of how technology shapes filmmaking. I think he probably had to be that way. He had to prepare his USC students (he was Professor of Cinematic Arts at USC) not only how to create compelling films but also how to deal with any technology changes that were coming. Technology may come and it may go, but you still need to know how to tell a good story.
As some of you know, I wrote a blog post about my depression and my struggles with it. I’ve had many people email me about it, both those who struggle with depression and those that it helped them wrap their head around the disease. It seems to have had a very positive impact. Norm had a lot to do with how that post came to be.
I’m pretty open about my depression and am generally happy to talk about it (unless I’m in the middle of it). I don’t feel remaining silent about it helps anyone and had been mulling over the idea of a blog post for a while. However it’s one thing to discuss it with friends and acquaintances in person and another to put it out for the whole world to see in a blog post.
I initially sat down with Norm talking about some of the topics of the prior day’s panel discussion, but somehow got onto the topic of depression. Being open about it, I started talking about my experience with it. He asked a lot of questions about it and, I think, got more detailed answers and a better understanding of the disease than he had previously. The end result of the conversation was an invitation to speak to his USC classes about what it’s like being creative and dealing with depression or other mental health issues. Encouraging me to speak to other creatives about something that was clearly not an uncommon problem.
So in the Fall of last year I went down to USC and talked to both his graduate and undergraduate students. Both talks went really well, especially with the grad students. Perhaps because it was a smaller class, it ended up with a lot of back and forth conversation. Almost a group therapy session, as most of the students related their own struggles with depression or anxiety or whatever. It went well enough that after he returned from sabbatical this Spring, we planned on doing it once every semester.
Unfortunately, as you may know, on March 19th he unexpectedly passed away in Japan, spending some time there as a guest lecturer.
Every once a while you come across someone and you’re like ‘I’ve got to get to know this person better’. I was truly looking forward to spending more time with him, getting to know him better, and further fleshing out how to talk to creative students about depression and mental health. The blog post was a direct result of my conversation with him and my talk with his students. I had been on the fence about being so public, but his encouragement gave me some confidence that it was the right thing to do. And speaking to his classes really confirmed it was the right thing to do.
He will be missed. He was a guiding light to many students and other filmmakers. In talking to other people in the industry since his death, I’ve come to realize how many lives he touched in a positive way. I think most of us can only aspire to that.
And I have no doubt that I share something with many people who knew him. His unabashed encouragement to tell my story. For that I am eternally grateful.
For those interested, here’s a link to the post on creatives and depression.