Last year, Esther Pearl and Zoe Boxer founded Camp Reel Stories
, a media camp in the Bay Area for girls ages 13 – 18. Excited by the concept and curious about how the camp helps girls turn big dreams into practical action, I interviewed Pearl. Her responses are below. I cannot wait until my kids are old enough to experience this magical place.
What inspired you to found Camp Reel Stories?
I have worked in film and media production for 15 years, and though I really loved my work I was often disappointed in the lack of female characters on the projects I worked on and how few female colleagues I had. When I became a parent to a little girl I dug deeper into this inequity and what I found was astonishing.
From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, law, politics, or as a business leader. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946. These statistics are enormously detrimental to young women’s impressions of themselves and their perceived value in the world. While this is disheartening, this also means there is a vast untapped market for both talent and products that represent the diversity of our society.
I look at this as a great opportunity to create change in not only the lack of equity in the industry, but a creative opportunity to create new filmmakers and producers that are excited about creating characters and storylines that interest them.
My partner and I created Camp Reel Stories (CRS) as a fun way to connect young women with professional mentors, give them story telling and production skills to tell stories that reflect their unique point of view, while incorporating media literacy and leadership workshops. CRS believes that when women and girls are better reflected behind the scenes they will be better reflected on the screen.
What do you teach the girls during the sessions? What do you think they get out of their time at the camp?
Our campers get a lot! They learn filmmaking and production from leaders in the field, they take media literacy and leadership workshops. The girls work in small teams and have an adult producer that guides them the process and in just one week they write, shoot and edit a short film. Last year we had six films completed and this year we will have even more! They also have the collaboration and creative skill building process mirrored for them as they see they professional mentors work together to create not only great short films, but a fun camp experience.
How many campers attend?
In 2013 we held our inaugural camp and we had 32 campers. This year we will have 2 summer camps and can take up to 90 girls, and those spaces are filling fast. You can apply at http://campreelstories.com/apply
What do the alumni go on to do?
Thus far we have 50% of of campers signed up again this year. We have elected 2 student board members from our first cohort to the CRS board to help grow our organization. Two of CRS films were accepted into a local film festival and were screened for a huge audience just this past Friday night and other festivals have asked me to submit their work. 100% of attendees surveyed from the CRS pilot camp said through CRS they learned how gender equity in the media affects the way women are perceived in the media, 85% now view the media more critically and 92% felt more comfortable in their leadership ability, felt their skills as filmmakers improved and plan to continue making films. 20% of our campers have made changes or created an educational plan for a career in the media.
Also many of our campers have used what they learned in camp to speak to their classes and schools about gender inequity in the media, sharing knowledge about the Bechdel test and to organize screenings of films with strong female characters.
What are some examples of media that you think promotes positive images or girls and women?
This is a tough one, because as an adult and a parent of young children I have a different lens than our campers about what a positive image is. The media has made it harder and harder to decipher between a celebrity and a role model. This is something I talk about a lot with my own kids and with our campers. There is a difference between a Kardashian and an actress, it’s important to acknowledge that.
Personally I have seen a lot of films that have really interesting characters and relationships that wouldn’t always be appropriate for a younger audience and I like complicated characters. Recently I saw and loved, Enough Said, Short Term 12, The Bling Ring, Philomena and Frances Ha.
With my daughter and son I find it so hard to find interesting characters in films that we all can enjoy. We all really like the Miyazaki films and we are introducing films from awhile ago since the pickings are slim currently. Some of those are Bend it like Beckham, Black Stallion, Mary Poppins. And everyone loved Brave and Despicable Me.
The campers also seem to be able to access to Netflix, Hulu and other online resources to search out media that they can relate to. I was surprised that so many teenagers were familiar with some 80 and 90s classics, such as Breakfast Club, Harold and Maude, Amelie since they can’t find a lot of current media they can relate to.
What do you do during the rest of the year? Do you plan to expand? What are your goals for the camp?
The rest of the year is spent planning the future of Camp Reel Stories. This year we will triple in size, we will offer 2 summer camps and an afterschool program in the fall. 40% of our campers are on financial aid so I am always fundraising to make sure that anyone that wants to attend can. The films from last year have been entered in several film festivals and now are being selected and screened. I also try to collaborate with as many like minded organizations as possible.
We hope to offer camps in other locations the just the Bay Area in 2015 and we are researching those opportunities now.
What is a typical day at camp like?
Each day is a little different, but we incorporate icebreaking and leadership activities into every morning. The girls are on an accelerated schedule, so they have to get to know one another AND learn filmmaking quickly so that they can get to creating their films. Everyday they learn about some part of the creative process and immediately get hands on experience in that area. On Monday morning 30-40 girls who don’t know one another walk into a room, but the end of the day the have formed a small team and have an idea of what they want to make. That process is impressive and we are amazed at how quickly the girls can set aside their differences to get on to the creative process.
Tuesday they learn storyboarding, audio and video and work with their team to finalize their story. They also take a media literacy workshop so that they can see the direct correlation to the lack of representation both behind and in front of the camera. Wednesday they shoot, Thursday they learn to edit, and they edit a rough cut of their project and then at the end of the day show it to their fellow campers and get creative feedback. Friday they fix, by either reshooting or reediting, anything that they want and on Saturday they screen it at a Camp Reel Stories film festival which 250 people attend.
It is amazing to see these young women come out of their shell in the course of the week and I can’t wait to see what this year brings. We are restructuring a bit since we got requests for both more time to shoot and more media literacy.
It sounds like a lot of work, but we also have a lot of fun. In the end we are so proud of the work that the campers have done and the community created, not only with the campers, but with our volunteers, professional mentors and families. It’s quite exciting to see everyone fired up to create media that is more interesting and reflects the diverse fabric of our lives.
Visit Camp Reel Stories here.
All facts are supported by research conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith, Ph.D. at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism