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Francie Brown '82

Francie Brown 1982

When Francie Brown came to IUP in 1977 and decided to major in Journalism, she had no idea what she would do with her degree, since newspaper reporting appealed to her, but so did public relations and advertising.

“Writing was the only thing I did well,” Ms. Brown said, “other than talking—and who would have guessed there was a future in that?”

While at IUP, Ms. Brown admired all her professors, but particularly those in her Journalism courses, including J. David Truby, “who pushed my buttons like crazy because he refused to give me A’s until I stopped blathering on, which really got my knickers in a twist, because I came to college convinced that all my many words were pearls,” she said. “That probably did more for me than any teacher’s ever done.”

Ms. Brown indicated that Randy Jesick and Bob Russell were also “fine horse-hockey detectors. Their style was a little more encouraging, so I learned to look for my strokes there after David had finished batting me around,” she said. “It was a great combination for me, and I learned a lot from all of them.”

When Ms. Brown got “bit by the acting bug” and decided to minor in Theater, she said, “Donald Eisen and Barb Blackledge gave me so much, though I wasn't even a major and they needn't have spent so much time and energy with me. I will always be grateful for that.”

After she graduated from IUP in 1982, she attended the University of California Irvine, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts and learned phonetics, the study of dialects, as well as the physiology of speech and vocal anatomy, which are extremely important in her career as a dialect coach.

Ms. Brown has worked for 22 years as a dialect coach for more than 80 films, including Remember the Titans, Fight Club, Holes, The Chamber, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Blind Side, and most recently The Fighter and Inception, both nominated last year for Academy Awards. She said she uses “a library of thousands of samples from various sources” and gathers dialect samples through audio files on the Internet or by visiting the settings of the films.

After coaching Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock for her role as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, Ms. Brown earned a career first. While accepting her Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, Ms. Bullock publicly thanked her. Ms. Brown feels that it’s very special when anyone is given an award by peers, and she’s grateful that Bullock included her in her moment. “It’s one of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received,” she said.

For The Fighter, a biographical drama about professional boxer Micky Ward and his brother Richard Eklund, who helped train him, Ms. Brown faced the challenge of assisting an actor with not only picking up the Lowell, Massachusetts, dialect, but also in catching the “velocity, cadence patterns, and individual ways of producing certain sounds” that were specific to Mr. Eklund.

“We were very lucky to have Dickie Eklund and his brother Micky around for pre-production, and they were both patient enough to speak with me while I made sound recordings,” which Brown then used in coaching star Christian Bale, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dickie Eklund. Ms. Brown has worked with Christian Bale for more than eight films for the past 10 years.

"Christian is a gifted dialectician, and, when I work with him, it’s very much a collaboration,” she said. Her coaching involves having the actor speak, she listens, makes adjustments or suggestions, he does it again, and they continue. Ms. Brown said coaching Bale is “a little like having the outsized luck to be Fred Astaire’s choreographer. You give him these simple steps, and what he does with them is just jaw dropping.”

Being able to work with actors and actresses and being employed all over the world may seem glamorous, but Ms. Brown said that, while it’s a privilege to be able to travel on “somebody else’s dime,” it’s a little like being in the army: “What parts of the world you visit and how you see them are out of your hands.”

She admits that, while “it’s big-time fun to be able to say, ‘So sorry I can’t chair the PTA book drive because I’ll be on location in Fiji that month,’” the job can be anything but glamorous. “You get to throw up over the sides of little boats on your way to work at 4:00 a.m. on a tiny stretch of beach with no shade and 120-degree temperatures while desperately trying not to scratch the mosquito bites on your feet because jungle rot makes a nasty infection and the nearest good hospital is in the Philippines.”

Ms. Brown has also coached actors while in a coal-burning derelict freighter on the Black Sea “in a country which has not, by the way, heard of OSHA ventilation rules,” she said, “and where you wear a paper mask and still cough all day and all night if you’ve been unfortunate enough to still be on the ship when a storm rolls in and maroons you at sea with 120 people and two ancient, overflowing toilets.”

An avid reader, Ms. Brown said that she inherited the trait from her mother, Nancy Brown, of Philadelphia. “I’m named after Francie Nolan, the main character in the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

Ms. Brown is married to Roger Nall, who owns a boutique visual effects company. They and their older son, Rob, who is a video game designer, and younger son, Nick, who is 12 and currently interested in being an astrophysicist, reside in Los Angeles.

Published profile on 5/31/12

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