Filmmaker takes Media X helm

Kevin Pontuti

Filmmaker Kevin Pontuti comes to University of the Pacific from the University of Wisconsin, Stout’s Entertainment Design program.

This fall, the first wave of students began studying in the College’s newest program, Media X. The program, which prepares students to work in the ever-changing media landscape, has surpassed expectations by enrolling 27 students in its first semester. Those students have jumped right in, getting their hands on the latest cameras and experimenting with photo assignments.

“The first big project we are starting is to take a John Muir-related artifact and use that as inspiration for a media project,” said Media X program director Kevin Pontuti. “Students will work in small groups to create videos, installations, virtual reality experiences or social media campaigns. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the students come up with.”

Media X is University of the Pacific’s response to the changing technology and media landscape and provides a mix of communication, business, computer science and humanities.

“Media X really brings together the creative side with the business side with the analytics — the critical thinking — from a lot of different areas in a really integrated and interdisciplinary kind of way,” said Pontuti.

Why Media X?

The program has been five years in the making and started when faculty from a variety of disciplines began looking at ways to expand Pacific’s media offerings. English professor Courtney Lehmann, who guided the program’s development as interim director, describes it as an experiment in “radical interdisciplinary work.”

“There’s tremendous overlap in our units throughout the university around Media X, which is fantastic,” she said.

According to Lehmann, faculty tried to come up with a three-word title that would describe new program. The “X” in the name represents the crossroads between disciplines and units on campus, but it is also a placeholder for what’s next in media.

“It’s the unknown variable,” she said. “And it will be up to the students to solve for X.”

The Media X program offers three pathways:

  • Maker, for students interested in production, performance and design
  • Manager, which emphasizes creative entrepreneurship, persuasive communication and social media management
  • Analyst, with a focus on research, interpretation and analytics

Pontuti says that in the Maker track, particularly, the goal is to create producers with a point of view, storytellers who can operate their own equipment and adapt to new technology and trends. Students have the opportunity to learn both what goes on behind the scenes as well as how to create performances in front of the cameras and microphones, so they can become well-rounded producers, directors, performers and designers.

The Manager pathway prepares students to take advantage of the opportunities that both new media and social media bring to the business world. There is a focus on creative entrepreneurship that enables students to navigate the complex dynamics of global business that is undergoing a rapid transformation by developments in technology and cultures.

“Students who are interested in learning about the business side, working in the artist representation side of things — the producing, marketing, management side of media —would be well served by this,” Pontuti said.

The Analyst track combines the traditional strengths of the arts and sciences with digital media, cultural studies and the 21st century tools of data analytics. The pathway enables students to develop a holistic understanding of “big data” as well as to engage in cross-disciplinary analysis, aimed at developing a deeper, contextual understanding of digital content and cultural products.

Changing media landscape

Hollywood producer Vahan Moosekian, who graduated from Pacific in 1972 with a degree in theatre arts, knows firsthand how fast the media industry is changing. As producer of television shows such as “Lie to Me,” “The Guardian,” and “Rosewood,” he has seen the industry changed by cable, satellite and now streaming services.

“It’s moving so fast most of us in it can barely keep up, mainly because of technology,” Moosekian said. “You know, when I began in the industry, I wouldn’t have dreamed that people would be watching television by streaming it on their phones.”

Not only do audiences have more access to consume media, anyone can make a video or write a blog and publish it. The costs of both production and distribution have gone way down thanks to advances in digital technology.

“You don’t have to be working for CBS. You don’t have to be working for 20th Century Fox,” Moosekian said. “You can make it your backyard and you can get it distributed on the internet, and if it’s really popular and word of mouth gets around, you could have 10 million viewers.”

The flip side of that coin, Moosekian said, is that there’s more competition, so the ability to stand out by telling a good story is more important than ever. While he was not involved in the development of Media X, he agrees with Pacific’s approach of teaching media in the context of a liberal arts education.

“If you’re not a student of history, if you’re not a student of human behavior, if you’re not asking the questions, ‘What is the human condition? What are we doing here?’, then who cares what you have to say?” he asked.

Pontuti is a filmmaker and comes to Pacific from University of Wisconsin, Stout where he ran an entertainment-design program. He said Media X is not a trade school approach to media-making where students learn the technical part but nothing more.

“We’re also going to be including a lot of media literacy, critical thinking, asking the questions ‘Why is this important? Why are we making this?’” he said. ”The biggest thing we can impart is teaching students how to teach themselves.”

Experiential learning opportunities

During the first week of classes, students were already getting hands-on experience with state of the art equipment purchased from Canon and demonstrated by a company representative.

In new facilities under construction in the University’s library, students will be able to work in a demonstration and exhibition space.

“Students can try out new technologies, they can learn across platforms and they can apply the kind of book learning that they’re getting in the traditional classroom to this media environment where they have lots of toys to play with and exciting things to work with,” Lehmann said.

They will also have other opportunities for experiential learning that could include CGI programming, drone photography, virtual reality environment design, new media marketing and others.

Pontuti said this is an area where alumni help can be invaluable. Pacificans working in relevant fields are invited to lecture in classes, establish internships, offer opportunities for students to shadow them in the workplace, loan equipment or seed grants to pay for additional technology.

“We’re really excited to connect our students with alumni and the regional professional community. The conversations we’re already having are strengthening the program and I’m hopeful that our Pacific alumni will continue to support us,” Pontuti said. “There is nothing better than getting our students directly connected to industry leaders and especially ones that can share their connection to Pacific.”

 

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