Dirk Hoogstra, PSYC ’94, knows what makes a good story. Vikings. Aliens. Blood feuds. Prehistoric bones. He starts with a fascinating subject, and builds immersive worlds. Through numerous outlets, Hoogstra’s stories have reached millions of viewers, readers and gamers.
In June of 2017, Hoogstra founded Triton City Entertainment, which develops sci-fi franchises for TV and film. The business model he created with fellow Terp and art director/general manager Paul Weil frames stories first as graphic novels on digital platforms. This electronic storytelling and storyboarding allows publishers and producers to experience the pitched content in a dynamic way that will help them better see and experience the potential of the plots and characters.
Triton City launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdsource funding for its independent ventures, which uniquely allows the public to help make projects possible.
Hoogstra has long been a leader in the entertainment world, including his time as chief creative officer of Stephen David Entertainment, as well as longtime service as former general manager of History (formerly the History Channel) and H2. In that role, he led the development of popular, award-winning programs such as Vikings and Hatfields & McCoys. He also worked in production and development at Discovery for more than a decade.
Many of his projects focus on science fiction themes and content.
“I loved reading comics as a kid, and sci-fi novels when I got older. I love science, and my favorite sci-fi is rooted and connected to real science. There is also a huge advantage in this genre when it comes to storytelling. There’s no area of the human condition you can’t explore,” Hoogstra said. “It also happens to be the most commercially successful genre in the world with a passionate fan base and international value.”
While success, for some, is a linear build of projects and processes, Hoogstra takes a “more is more” approach to his interests and ventures.
“I’m not a huge planner or task manager. I set a goal and I’m comfortable not knowing exactly how I’m going to get there. I believe this gives me a lot of flexibility and comfort as things evolve and change,” Hoogstra said. “I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to predict how you’ll get to that goal so you may as well be comfortable with that uncertainty.”
Parts of Hoogstra’s successful mindset and creative approach were developed as a student during his Maryland days.
“I’ve always remembered something I saw in a video in a child psychology class at Maryland, and I apply it to storytelling—whether it’s a scripted series, marketing or brand campaign or a documentary,” Hoogstra said. “The quote comes from a test that a researcher was administering to a toddler who was watching a scene play out with dolls in a dollhouse: ‘Only the unexpected is entertaining.’”
Hoogstra started his path at UMD as a biology major, but found the math and chemistry components to be challenging. With the help of an academic counselor, he decided to explore psychology, and said he was “very happy to make the switch.”
Some of his success as a student foreshadowed the career path to come.
“My senior year, I had a 400-level psych class called Animal Behavior. I loved the professor and the class. I described it as ‘It’s like going to the Discovery Channel,’” Hoogstra said. “It was because of that class that I decided to seek out a job at Discovery. I looked them up and found out they were based in Bethesda. What a stroke of luck! I found a temp agency that fed into Discovery. I took various temp jobs and applied for full-time jobs until I got a job with my first mentor. I was at Discovery for more than ten years.”
As a new class of graduates will soon participate in commencement and join the work force, Hoogstra has some advice for students and young alumni: “Work ethic. Work ethic. Work ethic. You don’t have to be the smartest, just set your mind towards a goal and prove that you’ll outwork everyone,” he said.
For new graduates, he adds, “Identify someone or several people who are doing what you want to do and learn as much about how they did it as possible. When possible, choose your boss—find mentors, not dictators.”
In addition to meaningful work and being his own boss, these days, a big part of what keeps Hoogstra motivated and inspired is his family.
“My daughters keep me engaged creatively—they both have beautiful imaginations, and we like to make up stories together,” Hoogstra said. “My wife is way more organized and driven than I am, which helps to keep me motivated and moving toward my goals. My wife and I also train together, CrossFit and running trails with our Rottweiler, Dutch.”