Media Life: George Clooney film off to good start thanks to Auburn titles creator

“Up In The Air” follows Gareth Smith’s “Juno” success; Weimar’s Matt Medlin produces two Sundance Film Festival offerings; Hitchcockian starling hoard calls Newcastle couple’s yard home; Auburn’s lost rocker releases new CD; “Ghost Whisperer” comes callin
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Moviegoers get a sweeping view of landscapes shot from thousands of feet above the ground during the opening titles sequence for the new George Clooney movie “Up in the Air.” With retro R&B group Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings providing their musical take on Woody Guthrie’s anthemic “This Land Is Your Land” during the sequence, the geometrics of the geography unfold 30,000 feet below the camera. It’s detached yet surprisingly intimate. And it’s a strikingly beautiful opening for “Up in the Air,” a movie that goes from limited to widespread theatrical release this weekend and tells the tale of a resolute air traveler, played by Clooney. The titles are the brainchild of ex-Auburnite Gareth Smith, a Los Angeles-based title designer whose work has already set the table for two previous Jason Reitman films – “Juno” and “Thank You for Smoking.” Smith, who grew up in rural Auburn and graduated from Del Oro High School, initially was working with a Hank Williams song “Ramblin’ Man” and had been toying with the idea of using primitive animation techniques that were so successful for “Juno.” But with a change in song, his ShadowPlay studio took a different direction, coming up with a detached view of the world that better fits Clooney’s airport-loving character in the comedy-drama. If “Juno” is any indication, expect plenty of awards buzz in coming weeks. “Up In The Air” has already been nominated for six Golden Globes. And Smith, who cut his cinematic teeth filming from the halls of Del Oro, is part of the excitement. SUNDANCE TAKES TWO One of the high water marks of anyone in the independent film business is to get a screening at the annual Sundance Film Festival. When the powers that be were making selections for this coming January’s festival in Park City, Utah, they did an Ernie Banks and said, “Let’s play two” on films co-produced by Matt Medlin. Medlin, who grew up in Weimar and graduated in 1996 from Colfax High School, is onboard as co-producer on Sundance picks “Obselidia” and “Night Catches Us.” Both films will have their premiere screenings at Sundance. “Obselidia” was filmed in Death Valley this past year on a tight, $250,000 budget. Medlin’s parents, Sandy and Mike, even drove their motorhome down to the desert location so it could be used by the crew. “Night Catches Us” is a gritty street drama based in Philadelphia. “Obselidia” is getting the most attention. It’s up for the Sundance “Grand Jury Prize” and the filmmakers are already receiving calls from potential distributors. It’s a giant step up in the film industry for Medlin, who graduated from UC Santa Cruz with degrees in film and economics and then started out as a non-paid production helper in New York. He relocated to Los Angeles 1½ years ago and has quickly moved into the thick of the filmmaking fray. HITCH FLOCK Sacramento’s News10’s Will Frampton captured some amazing video footage Dec. 10 of what an expert estimates are 500,000 European starlings. It’s a shifting formation that looks more like a tornado than a giant flock of birds. The video was filmed around Highway 16 and Watt Avenue. Now the question of where they go at night has been answered. All half a million of them have been ending up for the past two weeks in Donald and Hazel Winton’s backyard in Newcastle. Hazel Winton said the mega-flock flies in like clockwork just before 5 p.m. for an overnight stay and then leaves again at about 5 a.m. – no matter what the weather. In a scene straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, Hazel Winton said one visitor asked whether she had water running outside, the noise from the roosting flock was so noticeable. “No, it’s just the birds,” was her reply. A bird lover, Winton said starlings darken the sky on their arrival at her Rattlesnake Road property, near Auburn. “But we take all this stuff in stride,” Winton said. How long the birds will stay is anybody’s guess. HENDRIX RETURNS Auburn rockabilly survivor Al Hendrix is out to prove he’s still rockin’ with his new CD “Rockabilly Lovin.’” Hendrix, who first recorded in the 1950s but found that nationwide hit elusive, has been in the studio with Nevada City producer/musician Jimmi Accardi and Accardi’s band The Mixers. The new recording is on Hendrix’s own Hummingbird Records … Who you gonna call when you need some insider information on private detective work? In the case of TV’s “Ghost Whisperer,” it was Auburn’s Don Treco. The owner of Gumshoe Detective Agency, Treco reports that a script coordinator contacted him for advice on private investigator lingo for an upcoming episode of the hit CBS series. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at or 530-852-0232.