New York Festivals Television & Film Awards Grand Jury Spotlight Interview profiles prominent award-winning Broadcast executives from around the globe. As industry leaders, they understand the elements that go into creating compelling award-winning nonfiction content.
2019 Grand Jury member, DT Slouffman is producer/director for 21 Productions is a broadcast media veteran whose career began at the ABC television network with roles on many top productions such as Wide World of Sports, Monday Night Football, and the Bowl Championship Series.
He created 21 Productions in 2001 to relaunch his career as a contract producer, writer and director for the likes of TLC, TNT, TBS, NBC/Universal and CBS among other networks and production companies.
DT’s hard work is manifest in projects like the documentary Scandal on Thin Ice for Lifetime Television, a series of features for Champ Car Productions focusing on actor Paul Newman’s second career as an IndyCar owner, the Discovery Channel’s Rebuilt: The Human Body Shop and the reality game show Dream Job for ESPN Original Entertainment.
Most recently, D.T. produced episodes of the reality series I Found the Gown for TLC, created forty consecutive days worth of reports & features for TNT’s Inside the NBA and NBA.com and worked on Coca-Cola’s Open For Summer image campaign with New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie, celebrity Chef G. Garvin and Olympic gold medalist Alex Morgan.
NYF: What are the new creative opportunities available for production and what are you excited about?
DT Slouffman: Isn’t the media business exciting? The continual evolution of the production landscape is a blessing and curse of our industry. Documentaries have found a large audience outside of movie theaters thanks to streaming and OTT distribution platforms. Wireless cellular networks have empowered new means of video acquisition, giving journalists the opportunity to be seen and heard remotely without the presence and expense of satellite trucks. Even more exciting is the thrust within many colleges and universities over the last five years to focus on storytelling in their media arts, journalism, and mass communication curriculums.
NYF: How will storytelling continue to evolve to keep pace with today’s audiences viewing habits?
DT Slouffman: Storytelling is at the heart of all great communication models. Recently, while preparing to shop some pitches and treatments, I reviewed some metrics focusing on the viewing habits of millennials. It was interesting to find that that demographic widely consumes documentaries through social media and streaming platforms. The key to catching them was the ability to teach them something. That possibility — to learn something new — attracts and keeps us as viewers. As long as content creators, journalists, and visual storytellers use stories to engage and teach, our work will transcend the mode of distribution.
NYF: Who has influenced your career either as a mentor or as an inspiration?
DT Slouffman: I actually keep a running list of influential works. It covers all conceivable story models. Books, musical albums, long-form journalism, essayists, graphic novels; it touches all media. I think it’s important to keep a list like that because our work is hard, and you never know when you will need to seek inspiration from trust wells that never run dry. As to mentors, I’ve had a few. I am still in regular communication with my collegiate journalism and media ethics professors, Dr. Michael Longinow and Dr. Doug Walker. Almost three decades after taking classes from them, these masters of their respective subjects have continued to be available to me, and I am grateful. In fact, they were invaluable resources as I created a graduate-level media literacy course that focuses on the legitimate fake news problem (mainly in social media) and truth-telling.
Doug Wilson, one of the original directors at ABC Sports, was my first real mentor in the business. I learned so much about visual storytelling from him. As storytellers go, he is just amazing and could turn anything he covered into art. Directing skills aside, I could listen to Doug tell stories for hours. Rob Dustin, a media executive based in Nashville has been a friend and mentor for years, too. He is really one of the pioneers in streaming sports coverage. He figured out how to harness digital distribution with figure skating events long before the major sports leagues had any inkling of using live streaming as a business model. I have learned a ton from Rob.
NYF: What goes into your creative process and how do you strive for greatness?
DT Slouffman: I just want to tell stories. When I find one I like, I hope it’s something that can resonate with others. First, I try to boil down every story I tell into a thesis statement. Then, my creative journey begins in earnest as I try to compile and assemble the visual evidence that will prove or disprove this statement. I am always looking for images interviews and support that original statement about the story. If the support material isn’t there, I pivot and explore that. This methodology keeps me on my toes.