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Fred Brown tribute

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By Edward T. Krupka
When people talk about the late sound editor Fred Brown, certain words come to mind: legendary, curmudgeon, maverick, patient—but one word stands above them all: professional.
Before he died recently, Brown had been a leading sound editor for over 45 years. He was nominated for an Oscar for The Exorcist, received an Emmy for The Red Pony, was nominated for a dozen Motion Picture Sound Editors awards over the years—and received the MPSE’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. He worked on some of the most sound-memorable movies of the 60’s right through the 80’s—Elmer Gantry, Straw Dogs, The Exorcist, Rambo I and II, The Deep, Conan the Barbarian—just to name a few.
Brown liked to say that patience and creativity go hand in hand. Only weeks ago, a sign on his desk read, “Nobody listens.” Well, when Fred Brown talked, they did.
Raised in Glendale, California, the young Brown heard through his friend’s mom that Columbia Studios was taking on apprentices. He leaped at the chance to be a sound effects apprentice. After a stint in the Marines, Brown returned to Columbia, started his career on Elmer Gantry and got the first-ever sound editor screen credit. In the early 70’s he started his own company editing films for Stanley Kramer, Arthur Hiller and most importantly, Sam Peckinpah. That friendship with Peckinpah spanned over 16 years and six movies.
Here is the last interview that Fred Brown ever granted.

BTL: How did you get into sound?
Fred Brown: Well, when I was a kid I would listen to the serials on the radio—The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, stuff like that. I drove my parents almost to drink when I re-enacted some of those shows. Flash forward to my days at Columbia when I would hear gunshots, Indians, thundering hooves beating from the editing rooms. Man, was I in heaven!
BTL: Talk about Elmer Gantry.
Brown: Let’s see, I just came back from the Marines when Richard Brooks saw me and put me in that show. Incidentally, it was Mr. Brooks who gave me the screen credit, not Columbia. He was the one who broke the barrier. Anyway, he saw some of the effects and thought they were spot on. He smiled, shook my sweaty palm and voila, I became the sole sound editor on Elmer Gantry.
BTL: When did you meet Sam Peckinpah?
Brown: I believe it was on Straw Dogs. When I met Sam, he was quite a handle—literally. I remember once on Dogs he started ranting like usual at the Brit crews about something, then in the next breath he was talking to me fine. That was Sam.
BTL: Was he that way through all his films?
Brown: Sam was an acquired taste. He drank, got wild and with his bizarre sense of humor he’d carry on tantrums, which didn’t bother me because I handled myself with roughers before. But yeah, we accepted his behavior as normal. We got along famously. Weird, lovable guy.
BTL: Talk about The Exorcist.
Brown: Well, Billy Friedkin came to me and said he wanted me on it. That was that. He was exceptionally demanding and exacting about the track. Of course, what he wanted before lunch often differed mightily from what he wanted after lunch. However, much of the credit due can be laid at the feet of editor Bud Smith. The late Bob Glass mixed the sounds beautifully—best example of peaks and valleys.
BTL: What particular films are you most proud of?
Brown: Elmer Gantry, both Rambo pictures, The Exorcist, Killer Elite, The Deep—best Foley I ever did. And Nighthawks with Sly Stallone. It was my first Sly experience. It must be some flaw in my nature that I get along so well with the Stallones and the Peckinpahs of this world, and yet I’m provoked to distraction by others. Go figure.
BTL: How important is the crew to you?
Brown: Invaluable. If you get a crew that really knows their stuff, things move faster, smoother and are a lot more fun.
BTL: What tricks of the trade did you learn?
Brown: Always do it yourself! An editor should possess creativity, patience, consistency—and most important, a sense of humor. The rest follows by itself.

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