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StudioDuke to Help Students Commercialize Artistic Projects

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Duke students with commercial aspirations for their creative projects now have a direct pipeline to the arts and entertainment industries.

StudioDuke — a virtual creative lab connecting student artists with Duke alumni who have attained preeminence in creative fields -- launched this week. The project is led by Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, in partnership with DukeArts and the Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network (DEMAN).

The idea for StudioDuke was born when Kip Frey, interim director of Duke I&E, noticed that although Duke offered translational programs for other areas, such as science and technology, there was nothing similar for the arts.

“The goal of StudioDuke is to marshal resources for our arts-engaged students with the same intensity we bring to engineers, scientists or students with business ideas,” Frey said. “Duke has long provided translational services for commercial and social entrepreneurship projects, but, strangely, never for creative undertakings. StudioDuke fills that gap.”

Students will connect with StudioDuke by submitting their creative projects to a selection panel headed by Frey and Scott Lindroth, vice provost for the arts. Once accepted, each work—such as a screenplay, musical project or novel—will be assigned to members of the StudioDuke Mentor Board based on genre and industry segment. The list of StudioDuke mentors includes directors, producers, authors, agents, and executives from companies like HBO, Universal, Netflix, NBC, and William Morris Endeavor.

Each accepted student will work directly with her/his mentor for as long as necessary to produce a work ready to be pitched professionally—then the StudioDuke staff and mentors will facilitate travel and support for the student to present in-person to industry professionals.

Stephen Zapotoczny ’97, one of the StudioDuke mentors, said he wishes a similar program existed when he was a student.

“Establishing a career in the entertainment business is difficult, and if we can smooth out the pathway a little, it will be a huge asset for these students,” Zapotoczny said.

He spent nearly two decades in Hollywood producing an array of TV shows, books, videogames, and films—including the critically acclaimed Vietnam War epic We Were Soldiers with fellow Duke alum and Academy Award-winner Randall Wallace—before moving his family back to Durham. In Durham, Zapotoczny founded his own media company, The Magic Factory, which creates, produces, and distributes award-winning original family entertainment in a variety of mediums.

“My experiences at Duke led to my career,” Zapotoczny said. “But while I was at Duke thinking about working in entertainment, I was gobbling up any piecemeal resources I happened to find and seeking out guidance from faculty and alumni – it was all very scattered. Having a formal entity to help students develop the stories they want to tell and get them in the hands of actual industry players will be an incredible resource.”

Access like this is exactly why Lindroth is excited about StudioDuke.

“We’ve had success connecting artistically-inclined students with alumni in the industry with DEMAN Weekend – which bring alumni in the entertainment, media, and arts industries back to Duke’s campus to network with students – but these brief interactions do not to allow for in-depth mentoring,” he said. “StudioDuke will deepen our connections with alumni by allowing them to work with students over time.  We are building a structure to help our students create truly professional arts portfolios.”

David Garfinkle ’83, another StudioDuke mentor, echoed the practical advantages of the program. Garfinkle is a veteran Broadway producer whose credits include Ghost, the Musical and Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.

“It’s really exciting that Duke is going to provide this level of creative mentoring and access to the industry,” Garfinkle said. “I think it’s important to give back as a StudioDuke mentor because this type of experience has the potential to elevate our industry as a whole. Current students are the future leaders of the arts and entertainment industries. Lin Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, developed some of his early work while he was in school, and StudioDuke provides a forum for Duke students to do the same.”

Garfinkle’s interest resonates with Sterly Wilder, associate vice president for the Duke Alumni Affairs (and DEMAN sponsor). Reflecting on StudioDuke’s potential across the Duke community, Wilder said the new program presents a great opportunity for alumni as well as students.

“The main thing alumni want is an opportunity to engage with current students,” she said. “Especially in the entertainment and media industries, which are notoriously so difficult to penetrate, StudioDuke will provide a unique bridge. Not only will our mentors engage with students creatively, they will want to talk to them about jobs, internships, and life.”

Frey also sees StudioDuke as an opportunity to expand Duke’s arts community.

“I hope this program will start to attract greater numbers of students interested in the creative arts and the entertainment and media industries,” he said. “That kind of outcome can’t help but add to the spirit of innovation and creativity we are building here at Duke.”

Amy Unell, director of arts engagement and partnerships for Duke I&E, Duke Arts, and Duke Alumni Affairs, said StudioDuke will help continue to shape Duke’s burgeoning arts scene.

“StudioDuke comes at an exciting time at Duke – the arts are on the rise to meet the growing demand from students,” Unell said, citing the soon-to-open Rubenstein Arts Center, which will host DukeCreate workshops, offer “mini residencies” to student project teams, and expand visiting artist opportunities. “The program provides an important framework that compliments the educational goals of Duke’s arts programming with hands-on translation of creative ideas.”

StudioDuke will accept student submissions for this year’s cohort until Jan. 5, and the application can be accessed through the Duke I&E website. Inquiries should be directed to Amy Unell, who can be reached at