Media Life: Auburn titles creator ups goosebump factor in new horror film

By: Gus Thomson/Media Life
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Former Auburn resident Gareth Smith’s titles work is up on the big screen again – this time with horror meister John Carpenter in the recently released thriller “The Ward.” The film, which came out earlier this month, has the classic Carpenter feel – with a ghost, a shadow-strewn mental ward and a quality of eeriness that keeps the spooky moments coming. And it was Gareth Smith and his ShadowPlay Studio that were given the job of setting the stage for the horror to follow with a disturbing titles sequence that delves into the brutality of early psychiatric treatments. Smith and his Los Angeles studio delivered a series of historical images – from woodcuts to paintings to early photos – and then “shattered” them in slow motion with the help of computer imagery. “It was simple conceptually but insanely difficult technically,” Smith said. Smith, a Del Oro High School graduate who grew up on the outskirts of Auburn, said one of the highlights of his “The Ward” work was the opportunity to meet Carpenter, whose successes have included “Halloween,” “The Thing” and “The Fog.” “When I was growing up, I loved his horror films and never thought I’d be in a position to meet him,” Smith said. “Verite” on HBO A prankster, Carpenter playfully coached Smith to work with him to attempt to up the budget in a meeting with producers. As the movie moved toward completion, Carpenter provided input on the titles sequence – which seamlessly starts after a live-action sequence that starts “The Ward.” “The Ward” work has followed highly acclaimed titles sequences by Smith and ShadowPlay for hit movies “Juno” and “Up in the Air.” Since completion of “The Ward” Smith has branched out with his wife and fellow titles pro Jenny Lee to start their own titles partnership. One of their first projects, which has already been seen on HBO, was a title sequence and video montage for the drama “Cinema Verite,” which delved into the aftershocks of the 1973 PBS documentary “An American Family.” The “Cinema Verite” work has an Auburn look about it, with Orange Street near Placer High used for some of the images and interior photos shot locally. Tapping out a mystery Auburn author Norma Lehr is delving into the mystery realm with her latest novel – “Timestep to Murder.” Published by Seattle’s Camel Press, “Timestep” gives Lehr a chance to work one of her passions into the story line. She’s a lifelong tap-dancer and the book’s main characters are retired showgirls who have returned to the late-great Cal-Neva Club in Tahoe to relive their glory days at a 25th anniversary reunion. In the best mystery novel tradition, people start dying in mysterious ways. Lehr, an Auburn resident for more than a quarter of a century, has belonged to two local tap groups, including the Timetappers. A former nurse and health-food store owner, she has also been successfully writing novels since the early 1990s, starting with a string of well-received youth-oriented ghost stories. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at 530-852-0232 or