Producer Of ’11 Minutes’ Docu-Series Shares Her Own Story Of Surviving The Vegas Mass Shooting

Image courtesy of Ashley Hoff

October 1st marked the 5 year anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. We all remember hearing the news about a gunman who fired bullets from a hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay Casino Hotel into a crowd of country music lovers at the Harvest Music festival. Today, survivors are still dealing with the trauma and pain that event inflicted on their lives, as well as the nation.

But many of them have found new hope through the community they have created with each other. Many of them recently went back to the original site for a memorial service, and on September 27 a few days before that, streaming platform Paramount+ released a new original docu-series titled ’11 Minutes’, telling stories of courage and survival through first hand accounts.

The power of ’11 Minutes’ is in its immediacy. Many of the first-person stories told by concert goers, Las Vegas Metropolitan PD, Sunrise Hospital trauma staff and FBI Agents are visually documented in real time by bodycam footage and 200 hours of cell phone video. In one instance, viewers accompany heavily armed officers on their step-by-step assault of the shooter’s hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay. 58 lives would be lost and over 800 people injured.

Among the survivors is Ashley Hoff, an ambitious and uber-successful Hollywood producer and development executive whose credits include ‘The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey’ (CBS), ‘JFK Jr. and Carolyn’s Wedding: The Lost Tapes’ (TLC), ‘The Home Edit’ (Hello Sunshine/Netflix), ‘Catfish’ (MTV), ‘Who Shot Biggie and Tupac’ and ‘Home Free’ (Fox), ‘The Lowe File’ (A&E), and ‘Fight Like a Girl’ (WWE/Quibi/Roku). 

The Iowa native has spent the majority of her career developing, selling, and producing stories across many genres including premium documentary, true crime, character-driven docu-series, and formats. In addition to her work in television, Ashley also co-produced the Emmy-nominated documentary, ‘The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things’.

After surviving the Vegas shooting, Ashley decided to utilize her producing experience to help bring healing to herself, and others. Her goal, as the five-year anniversary approached, was to turn the narrative away from the shooter and towards the survivors of the event – sharing the light, connection, and heroism present on the night of October 1, 2017. Ashley pioneered this project and was heavily involved during production and post-production to ensure the stories of those present were told authentically and with care. 

We had the chance to talk in-depth with Ashley about her survival experience, the making of ’11 Minutes’, and why we as a society must do more to continue to lift up important topics and stories long after the news headlines have moved on.

’11 Minutes’ is finally out in the world. How are you feeling about it, both in your role as a producer as well as a survivor?

It has been the hardest and most rewarding project I’ve ever done – a true intersection of personal and professional. As a producer, I’m so proud of the piece – how it came out and the stories we got to shine a light on. As a survivor, it has been overwhelming to hear the feedback. As a creator, you always hope that your work will move people.

But approaching this is as a survivor, I worked tirelessly on behalf of the survivor community as well as those who were lost and experienced loss that night – to get the story right, to tell it with honesty, integrity, and respect. To hear how it is touching lives has been overwhelming in the greatest way from people simply feeling remembered to stories of how this has inspired healing for them or their families – it’s been incredible to see it ripple out into the world. 

How did you balance those two roles while making the series, given the amount of trauma you undoubtedly had to face again and again making the show?

I worked really hard on my own mental health care both prior and during. I knew it would be an undertaking, and to use the old airplane adage, I had to “put my own mask on first” before I could help others share their story. I’m not shy to say I’ve attended intensive retreats, meditation workshops, and gone to weekly therapy and business/life coaching for quite some time. We need to make mental health care more normalized and accessible in America. It is lifesaving medicine and needs to be treated as such.

People have asked if I was able to compartmentalize as a producer on the series while talking to others and my answer is – I did not nor did I want to. My therapist once said to me, “You went through a horrible thing, and it would be far more abnormal to pretend it was normal.”

With this in mind, while I was on set, I was very open with my own story and emotions. I felt safe with my crew to simply be human, and I felt obligated to be that for those sharing their journey with us. If something moved me to tears – I cried. If something made me smile – I did. I believe this vulnerability as a storyteller allowed others to feel they could be the same during their interview. 

You have had quite a successful career in Hollywood as a producer, making numerous entertainment series. How was ’11 minutes’ different in terms of how you approached the storytelling?

Making ’11 Minutes’ was different in every way from other projects I’ve worked on due to the personal connection. This is a television series, but it is also a very real memory for me and 22,000 plus other people. I chose to be a storyteller, but it wasn’t just my story. The pressure to do it right and hold it with care weighed on me heavily. 

What was the most difficult aspect of the Vegas shooting to return to during the filming?

We were given access to hundreds of hours of cell phone and body camera footage. I’ll never forget the day I saw the timeline laid out for the first time in post. It was like watching a memory in your head come fully back to life. It shook me for days. I thought – I might not be able to do this. I might not be able to watch this day in and day out. But a few days later, I tried again, and I just kept trying.

It is still incredibly hard for me to watch and listen to, but it has also been a part of my healing journey in an unexpected way. A fellow survivor once said, “It’s hard to watch, Ashley, because it was hard to live.”

I think it is important for that truth and this story to be out in the world. It is what creates awareness and hopefully change. 

Why was it important for you to talk about your experience publicly, on social media and elsewhere

If I’m honest with myself – I was very naïve previously in regard to mass shootings. They were very sad, very scary things that happened to people I saw on the news. I prayed for them. I wept for them. I wished it would stop happening, BUT did I truly ever think this would be a part of my story? No. Until it was.

It is important for me to tell my story and to share the narratives of other survivors because this doesn’t just happen to people on the news. It happens to Ashley’s, Natalie’s Jonathan’s – it can happen to anyone. It’s important to me that we humanize the issue because this is a very serious thing that forever changes very real people.  

Ashley Hoff at the Harvest Festival in 2017. She posted this image on social media after the shooting, sharing some of her experience and the healing that she experienced since by connecting with other survivors.

What have been some of the most impactful stories or perspectives on the incident you’ve heard from other survivors?

Over the course of the past few years developing and producing this project – I’ve heard hundreds of survivor’s stories. My deepest regret is that we didn’t have more time and that we couldn’t share all 22,000 people’s stories. The truth is – if you were there that night – your story is incredible. You’ve been through something life-altering and are still doing the daily work to survive and heal. THAT is inspiring. 

Our goal with this project was to share the story with an emphasis on the light that was present in the darkness – resiliency, heroism, the connections made, and the survivor family formed. I believe we did that and in focusing on those stories, hopefully inspired, at the very least, the world to know that little things can be very big things and bravery and kindness matter more than words can say.  

Shows like this that cover topics as horrific as a mass shooting can be hard to watch, but as a producer and survivor, why do you think it’s important we DO watch?

After the shooting in Uvalde, TX – I was profoundly inspired by the sentiment shared by Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves in a speech they gave following it. They said that we have to stop looking away. We have to recognize what happens in these events instead of talking about it for a couple of days and then moving on to the next hard headline.

Unless we dive into what lies beneath the headline and the stories of those touched by these events – nothing changes. This is a night 22,000 people plus all of their loved ones will never forget. I think it is important for the rest of the world to remember. It isn’t just the job of those touched to hold these memories. Until these headlines cease – it is the responsibility of all. 

While there were subjects who shared on the topic of gun reform and policies, you made an intentional decision to focus the series on individual stories, rather than the politics. Can you share why you did this? 

As cheesy as it is to say – I believe love and connection evolves hearts. The truth is – there are a lot of things that need to change for these events to halt. I personally believe there is a world where the second amendment and an assault rifle ban can live hand in hand. I also believe we need to improve access and affordability to mental health care in this country. These are big topics and I think sometimes people feel so overwhelmed by them that they don’t know where to start or they hear a top line and think a piece of content is polarizing – so they tune out.

I feel like going in through personal narratives makes things just that – more personal. I always said if this piece inspired even one person to be kinder – it would have been enough. Because when people ask me what we need to change – I always respond that something we can all do right now is be a kinder neighbor. I believe that people who feel loved and seen do not commit mass acts of violence. It seems small and it is simple – but kindness has the power to not just change lives. It has the power to save them. 

How do you hope ’11 Minutes’ will be a source of healing and bridging the gap in this ongoing conversation?

As media, we have the power to record history. We also are the only people with the power to rewrite it or write it correctly. I often felt like the narrative shared surrounding that night focused on the worst person there. That isn’t the history I remember and cling to. As I ran out of that field, I remember bearing witness to some of humanity’s most incredible moments. That is what I wanted people to remember. ’11 Minutes’ is hard to watch, but I believe it tells the story of a night when people truly showed up for one another, putting their lives on the line for each other in one of our nation’s darkest moments.

I know this will not be something everyone can watch or feels ready to watch. I support everyone where they are at in their healing journey, but for those who do watch, I hope they do take something away. Perhaps it is healing, pieces put together, inspiration, or new perspective.

I hope people will leave with an understanding about what it is like to go through something like this and I hope all will be inspired to approach each day with bravery and kindness.  

Can you tell us about some of the team you worked with on the series?

We had an incredible team on this project. I have to take the opportunity to shout out my incredible female producing partners in crime – Susan Zirinsky, Sarah Longden, Jessica Phillips, Aysu Saliba, and Alana Saad. These women inspired me daily and I feel so blessed to have walked this journey with them. Thank you for lending your time, creativity, and hearts to this project. I am forever grateful. 

You shared a beautiful and powerful post on social media, showing two images of you 5 years apart wearing the same pair of boots from the night of the festival. Can you tell us what it meant to be vulnerable like this on social media, and what we can all learn by being open and vulnerable about difficult times in our life? 

It’s important to me to share my story and be vulnerable because I know the first hand value of talking through these matters. What we went through is hard and complicated, but sharing it, owning it is a part of me, and working through is cathartic. I’ve been able to – whether it be through posting on social media, writing articles, or through working on the documentary – turn my pain into purpose. It holds great meaning to me personally and has been a part of my healing journey… and if any of what I share helps or inspires just one other person to not feel alone, keep going, or to be a kinder person – that truly is the greatest gift I could ever think to give with my work. 

We are incredibly grateful to Ashley for taking the time to share her story, and for making this powerful docu-series. We hope you take the time to watch the stories of hope and healing in ’11 Minutes’. All episodes are available to stream now on Paramount+.

Ashley Hoff’s Harvest Festival boots which have become a reminder of the horrific event in 2017, as well as the resilience of the survivor community she is now a part of forever.

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