This blog is researched, written, and edited by Stephen Pitalo. All interviews were conducted by Stephen Pitalo as well.
Stephen grew up in Biloxi, Mississippi, writing his first short story at age 4, a six-page stapled booklet entitled “The Three Mice,” the tale of a rodent family whose house catches on fire.
Armed with a Radio Shack tape recorder at age 10, he started recording audio versions of the commercial parodies in Dynamite magazine with his younger brother. After unearthing some 1930s radio serials such as “Crime Does Not Pay,” “Tarzan,” and “The Shadow” on audiocassette at a local bookstore, he began creating comic book characters and adapting them as radio programs with names like “The Black Ghost” and “The Dart.” Soon, he was scripting and recording more advanced productions; his Star Wars-inspired epic, “Defenders of Force One,” featured music and sound effects. Stephen continued writing throughout his elementary and secondary school years, winning awards for short stories, essays and school newspaper articles.
Receiving an academic scholarship to study journalism at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Journalism, he obsessively pursued student media opportunities by taking any job available, sometimes several at the same time. He wrote beat and entertainment pieces for the LSU student newspaper and LSU Magazine; he created, produced and directed the first movie review show on campus cable station LSU-TV entitled “Flick Picks”; he served as movie critic on KLSU radio, and he wrote music and pop culture pieces for the local independent newspaper “The Innovator.” He also co-wrote and directed the pilot for LSU-TV’s first daytime drama, “Horizons.” He was accepted to the LSU in London six-week summer journalism program in 1989, and was politely denied an interview with Dustin Hoffman during his run in “The Merchant Of Venice”. Upon his return home in July, he talked his way into a summer position at Mississippi Coast Magazine as their first intern ever. He graduated from LSU with a B.A. in Journalism in 1990.
After graduating, Stephen was hired as Chief Staff Writer for Mississippi Coast Magazine and Coast Business Journal. He received the 1991 IABC Regional Business Writing Award for the article “Is This Going To Be On The Test? Adventures of a Recycled Teenager” where Stephen went undercover as a student at a local high school. He wrote various pieces on political leaders, wetlands legislation, and Southern culture; he also spent two weeks covering a youth group delivering food to Catholic missions in the Mexican desert.
Seeking greater challenges, Stephen moved to New Orleans and wrote pieces for local entertainment publications including The Gambit and The Sugar Journal, while simultaneously working as part-time video store clerk so he could rent movies for free, resulting in a four-movie a day habit that lasted nearly a year. He then took a position at Industrial Words and Images in Baton Rouge, producing corporate safety videos for clients such as Exxon. He also edited Southern University and Grambling University’s academic class catalogs, as well as the Baton Rouge Register publication.
Stephen received a Board of Regents Scholarship to enter LSU’s Manship School of Communication graduate school program. In addition to the daily classes, Stephen held down several different jobs simultaneously: writer/editor in the LSU Office of Public Relations; Friday night disc jockey of KLSU radio’s “Retro Radio” show; regional director for Capitol Records’ college marketing team; and editor of pharmaceutical manufacturer Albemarle Corporation’s employee newsletter. He co-produced and hosted LSU Wildlife and Fisheries’ educational video on Louisiana’s exotic species; he worked as a DJ on KLSU radio and spun records at two local bars. He wrote and produced the “Mumbo Jumbo” zine that included features on local entertainment. He also wrote pieces for Baton Rouge Morning Advocate and Baton Rouge Business Report, and began his music video directing career by producing and directing a clip for MCA Records artist Becky Sharp.
In 1995, he accepted a position in New York with Boneau/Bryan-Brown, a public relations firm specializing in Broadway and Off-Broadway clients. Stephen served as publicist, Playbill bio writer/editor and b-roll producer, working with theatrical personalities such as August Wilson, Julie Taymor, Eddie Izzard, David Mamet, and Kander and Ebb. In the journalism world, he continued to write entertainment pieces, serving as Flatiron News’ pop culture editor as well as contributing regular music and “nightlife fiction” pieces to New York Resident Publications. During this period, Stephen wrote pieces on Kiss, Ray Davies, Cheap Trick, The Black Crowes, Drivin’ N Cryin’, Better than Ezra and other artists.
Three years later, Stephen joined Serino Coyne Inc., the largest theatrical advertising agency in the world, where he spent eight years as a broadcast producer. As one of only two producers on staff, he produced thousands of television and radio commercials for a myriad of shows including The Lion King, Wicked, The Producers, Mamma Mia, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Hairspray and Jersey Boys. He directed radio commercials with talent from Gladys Knight to Rosie O’Donnell, from Jerry Orbach to Dick Cavett. He directed commercials and video promos with talents such as Elton John, Illeana Douglas, Toni Braxton, and Judd Hirsch. His producing experiences included working with directors Bob Giraldi, Nigel Dick and Dave Meyers, as well as veteran Broadway commercial director (now Jersey Boys book author) Rick Elice.
Stephen continued to write entertainment pieces during this time, including interviews with Joan Jett, Joey and Marky Ramone, Henry Rollins, Rick Springfield, Alan Ruck and Bill Plympton.
During this time, he also founded a punk band called The Knuckle Sandwiches that played throughout the New York scene, including gigs at Arlene’s Grocery, the Lakeside Lounge, and the legendary CBGB’s. In addition, he competed on VH1′s “Name That Video” game show and won the Grand Prize: a fully loaded Toyota 4×4 and Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Albums of Rock and Roll. He sold the SUV to pay off his student loans, so don’t let anyone ever tell you that endless hours of watching TV are a waste of time.
Stephen has also worked to further charitable causes. He produced the 9/11 charity CD “New Rock for New York” with ten New York City bands to benefit the New York Police and Fire Widow’s and Children’s Benefit Fund. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Stephen produced three charity functions in New York City, including an event with an appearance by the band Better Than Ezra. Stephen also returned to the Mississippi Coast to assist in the cleanup and shoot footage of the aftermath.
In 2006, Stephen launched his own company, packratNYC, as a creative suite to incubate and birth creative projects. Stephen’s first project was producing the debut album by Scott Niolet. Called “Clearing The Debris” and distributed by Lapdaddy Records, the album included songs based on his Hurricane Katrina experiences. Other projects include producing and directing music videos for New York artists such as the Budos Band, Mary Jennings, Jason Yudoff, Gabriela Flores, Billbones, Urbansnake, Reality Serum and Supple. His video for Automatic Children’s “Now You Know” was selected for the 2014 Valley Film Festival in Hollywood (CA).
packratNYC was rebooted in 2010 as Packrat Planet, continuing to develop creative projects from inception to production, and has numerous projects in various stages of development. Stephen currently writes articles, directs music videos and creates corporate content on several platforms. On the video production side, Stephen produced and directed the video production shoot for Rosie O’Donnell’s Broadway Kids Concert. In the recording studio, Stephen produced the debut album of his former band, entitled “The Little Phil EP”, as well as the Scott Niolet single “The Long Haul” and the Big Vinegar Jr. single “Chopper Queen”.
Stephen organized the ROCK 4 JAPAN concert in New York in 2011 with all proceeds going to the Red Cross post-tsunami relief efforts in Japan. The event featured six bands including Acey Slade and the Dark Party, Cheap Trick or Treat’s tribute to LIVE AT BUDOKAN, The Youngthings, The Orion Experience, and High Teen Boogie (NYC Japanese girl-punk trio). Co-hosted by Cathy Cervenka of Cathyland and DJ’d by Dario Speedwagon & Michael Tee, the event raffle prizes included an Ibanez electric guitar, provided by Film Biz Prop Shop & The Book of Mormon; a 5-piece set of Sound Percussion drums; Cheap Trick Budokan DVD/CD sets, courtesy of Sony Entertainment; Rick Nielsen-designed checkerboard iPod and iPad cases, courtesy of Griffin Technology; CDs and DVDs including Korn, Slipknot and Stone Sour, courtesy of Roadrunner Records; and “I’m Huge In Japan” t-shirts, courtesy of VintageCotton.com.
Stephen currently contributes articles to Maxim Magazine, Maxim.com and Overflow magazine. He is currently the weekly curator of the 80sOnVEVO page on YouTube and VEVO.com’s Throwback Thursday playlist. He also currently serves as on-air music correspondent for NTN24 Latin America, based in New York.
Stephen is currently writing a book which features his interviews with over sixty music video directors about creating the Golden Age of Music Video. He has other projects in specific stages of development, including a television pilot featuring interviews with John Oates, Terri Nunn of Berlin, Dwight Twilley and more.
He frequently speaks on the history of music video, presenting multimedia talks at the Philly Music Video Festival, RE:MIX Four Festival in NYC, Big Vision Empty Wallet in NYC, Music Video Showcase in Memphis (TN), Sprockets Music Video Festival in Athens (GA), Brooklyn’s Videology, and New York Comic Con.
He has frequently hosted VJs and hosts retro video events and dance parties in New York. Past events included FRIDAY NIGHT VIDEOS series at Last Exit (Brooklyn), CLASSIC MUSIC VIDEO SHUFFLE series at the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club (Brooklyn), I LOVE THE 80s + 90s at Croton Lounge (NYC) and UNSATURATED 80s at Windfall (NYC). This led to his current music video event series under the banner MUSIC VIDEO TIME MACHINE, basing each night’s experience on a time period, artist, or theme. For example, past events include “1985,” “Weird Science VS Real Genius,” “Summer Nights,” “Motley Crue,” “All-Request 80s/90s,” and October 2015 will bring the premiere of his New York Comic Con event “MUSIC VIDEO TIME MACHINE: ComicChameleon” at Latitude.
Stephen is currently represented by Folio Literary Management Agency.