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Pitzer Media Studies Major Lives the Life He Always Wanted While Making a Difference in the World

Media Studies Interns

“Ever since I was a kid I was always making videos for school projects. Any time I could get away with doing a video for a final project, I did it,” Zach Putnam ’03 says. The media studies major still makes videos, except now instead of school assignments they are for a range of clients, from commercial spots to rock bands and extreme sports.

Putnam grew up in Colorado and initially enrolled at the University of Colorado at Denver, which is a huge commuter school of 40,000 students and no dorms.

“I was basically looking for the exact opposite of that,” Putnam says. “I wanted a school with a sense of community and I found it at Pitzer.” The transition from Denver to Pitzer also included a change of majors.

“Pitzer provided me with the means and the tools to do what I wanted,” Putnam explains. “I saw the potential to use the gear Pitzer gave me access to. My major combined media studies and sociology, which enabled me to formulate a critique of the media from a very social and political perspective. We were not just producing work that looked nice. Your work is supposed to mean something. I had studied political science and worked as a lobbyist in Denver so I was always really interested in the political and social side of media.”

After graduating, Putnam formed his production company, Phi Phenomenon, which is defined as a disembodied sense of motion created by a succession of still images. His company is a full-service production and post-production house, offering experience and expertise for every step of the production process. Putnam’s Web site, www.phi-phenomenon.com, makes clear the influence Pitzer had on his education: “Phi Phenomenon believes in social change through media and we offer discounted rates to nonprofit and charity organizations,” the site says.
“One thing great about Pitzer is that Media Studies is not about making commercials or feature films,” Putnam says.
“At Pitzer they say this is how the media shapes views and viewers. They recognize that film and video can be one of the most powerful forms for social change. This has translated into my production company’s philosophy. I am first and foremost always trying to create innovative and thought-provoking media, trying to force people to think about things in new ways … kind of like Pitzer.”

Putnam started out as a production assistant for Surge, an extreme skate show on Fox broadcasting’s cable network, FUEL. Within a couple of weeks he found that the producer he was working for was always behind schedule, so Putnam started making segments for the show. “I had to form a company to bill the guy for the work so I was forced into starting a production company,” Putnam says. “Yes, it was a happy accident. But it’s also about recognizing moments and seizing them.”

Since working on the skate show, Putnam has worked on a variety of documentaries and music video projects. His favorite was for the band Uphollow. Portions of his work for the band can be found at Putnam’s Web site.
“They wanted to put out their new album on Surround Sound,” Putnam explains. “The only way to do that is on DVD format. The DVD format also allowed for visuals to accompany the tracks. I have been performing for their shows, doing live video mixing during their performances. The project took a long time to produce but it came out beautifully.”

Putnam’s goal for his company is to produce documentaries that have overt social and political messages. “A well- made documentary is one of the most powerful voices out there,” he says. Another of his goals is to continue providing a network for alumni for access to media production jobs.

“I am definitely still learning everyday, always trying new things, and that’s one of the reasons that this business is so fun for me,” Putnam continues. “Pitzer definitely helped to instill that do-it-yourself fearlessness in me. When people come to Phi Phenomenon just looking for a certain crew position to fill, I’ll often try to do it myself. If I can’t, or know someone who could do it better, I’ll refer the work to a friend, most of whom are Pitzer alums by default. In this way Phi has served as a job network for Pitzer alums. It looks really good for my company when we're able to fulfill any need the client might have, so I just want to expand my list of talented contacts. I know that Pitzer alums will be open minded, creative problem solvers and I’m always happy to know more who can help me out.”

—Jay Collier

Selected Projects
  • Live-video artist hired to cut and mix live video footage and effects projected onstage during concert performances for the band Bedtime for Toys, September 2005.
  • HD camera operator “Big Ideas” science show on location in Owens Valley, Calif., and Yucca Mountain, Nev., PBS: WNET Channel 13, New York, June 2005
  • Producer and director for Jackets for the Trip DVD, Uphollow, Hill Billy Stew Records; Commissioned by the rock band to create twelve unique video collages to accompany their new album, released July 2005 exclusively as a DVD mixed in 5.1 Surround Sound
  • Director of photography, first camera seven three-second promotional segments to air during an internationally broadcast surf contest for Globe Shoes
  • Segment producer, camera operator, editor Surge, extreme sports show
  • Editor, commercial and trailer for upcoming reality TV series, Rock School, McQueen Productions, January 2005
    n Director of photography, first camera, editor for Dinosaur Jr. concert at Spaceland, Los Angeles, Madison House Publicity; Commissioned to document the first concert in fifteen years with all original members of the band, April 2005
  • Editor, motion graphics artist, producer, second camera, key P.A. various commercials and industrial/corporate videos, Image Line productions, Clients include: Adobe software, Washington Mutual banks, MGA toys, Cedars-Sinai hospital and Double Tree hotels
  • Video producer promotional documentary and commercial, The Doogood Conservatory, Commissioned to create videos for EPK and a thirty-second ad for a non-profit organization that provides free skateboards to underprivileged kids


Alex Juhasz
Jesse Lerner
Tracy Biga MacLean
Ming-Yuen S. Ma
Gina Lamb
Enid Somogyi
Mike Simpson '86
Zach Putnam '03