Less than a year after graduating, Grace Oathout (T’16) became one of the first permanent employees of burgeoning production company Tripod Media, working on a hit Netflix series and receiving a promotion in the process.

She first landed a gig with Tripod via connections she made and fostered while at Duke. The English and Visual and Media Studies double major had always attended DEMAN Weekend and Duke Arts events, and she remembered seeing Ryan White (T’04), a documentary filmmaker, speak during a session she attended as a first-year student.

She admired White’s work, which includes “Serena” and “The Case Against 8.” White has also founded his own production company, Tripod Media, with his best friend, Jessica Hargrave.

But it wasn’t until Oathout’s senior year that she connected with him. She was discussing her options after graduation with one of her public policy professors, Adam Hollowell. Hollowell, knowing that Oathout was interested in documentary, connected her with White via email.

Oathout met White in person when he visited Duke to deliver a lecture at a Center for Documentary Studies class. They had a brief conversation – White told her Tripod Media, which was still a new company, might get funding to hire a production assistant. The funding wasn’t in place yet, but White said he’d keep her in the loop.

Months passed. Oathout didn’t hear from White and planned on moving to New York City. But her trajectory changed when White called her with two updates – they had the PA funding to hire her, and they had a story for her to work on.

Oathout watched the preliminary footage that introduced the story that would later become “The Keepers,” a Netflix original series.

“The job was such a cool opportunity, and I was blown away by the story arc and the characters,” she said.

Two weeks after that phone call, she changed her plans and moved to Los Angeles, a place she had never been.

While working on “The Keepers,” Oathout was promoted to production associate, and she will work as production coordinator on White’s next project, which is currently in production.

As Oathout grows in her personal career, Tripod Media is also growing. In the past, the company worked alongside other production companies, but after the success of “The Keepers,” Tripod Media is moving toward working independently. The company has set a goal to become a full-fledged production company with a year-round staff by 2018.

Oathout looks back on her move to Los Angeles as a risk that paid off. She started at Tripod Media as a freelance employee but says the liberal arts education she received at Duke helped her in research and critical thinking.

Oathout also took entrepreneurship classes while at Duke, such as Amy Unell’s class on multimedia documentary. During that class, she said, students had the opportunity to learn from great mentors like Kimberly Jenkins, who was one of the first women in the tech space.

Working for a small production company has enabled Oathout to learn a lot about arts entrepreneurship because each member of the team is intimately connected to each phase of the process. This has allowed her to explore which phase of the process she likes best, which has helped her narrow in on her personal career goals.

As a member of a small team, Oathout has been tasked with huge responsibilities, like fact checking legal proceedings and licensing archival footage. Although the implications of these tasks can be daunting, she said, she’s fortunate enough to work with supervisors who trust her enough to handle these tasks.

 

And in 2017, she returned to DEMAN Weekend — not as a student this time, but as an employee of Tripod Media.

“So many Duke students think they have one chance to get the right job right out of college, but that’s not true – you have the rest of your life to get the right job,” she said. “So don’t hesitate to do something different if it feels right. Often, these opportunities are worth the risk.”

To learn more about Tripod Media, visit its website.

To read about more Duke Entrepreneurs, click here.

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