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Camp Reel Stories puts teenage girls behind the camera

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The summer camp in Oakland looks to close Hollywood's gender gap by teaching young women all aspects of filmmaking.

Hollywood has a way to go before it closes the gender gap, a fact not lost on the people behind Camp Reel Stories. In an attempt to level the playing field, the nonprofit teaches girls between the ages of 12-18 all aspects of filmmaking in week-long programs every summer at the Oakland School for the Arts.

In just five days, the teenage participants write, shoot and edit a film under the guidance of industry veterans. The girls also learn how to look more critically at what they see onscreen.

Esther Pearl founded Camp Reel Stories in 2013, informed by her own experiences working in the industry. At Pixar, she says she was often one of only a few women in the room.

“I wasn’t aware what a problem it was until I got older and my position started to change and my opinions were being asked in a different way and I had no one to confer with," Pearl says. "I was being asked what all women thought. And I was like, Our product is seen all over the world, so a data point of one or two doesn’t seem the best way to get information.

"And then it was lonely – there were times when you wanted some people to hang out with that got what you were going through. My career was great – I didn’t understand why there weren’t more women doing what I was doing.”

It’s an eye-opening week for the girls, who are exposed to career options in the film industry they may not have known existed. It has sparked creative interest for many campers previously uninterested in the field. 

"I was very into YouTube and that was my thing," says a 16-year-old participant named Jenna. "I really loved watching YouTube videos, but I wasn't super into film. Then I was introduced to the camp by one of the original campers and I think it probably even got me more inspired to get out there. To not just watch YouTube videos, but to watch more movies, more TV shows, really learn more about the process and really think about it as a potential career for myself."

But even if they choose another path, Pearl says the skills they learn in camp will translate.

“Having some basic filmmaking skills will be useful, also being able to tell a story no matter what you do," Pearl says. "We’ve all been to presentations where someone can’t get to their point or you don’t know where they’re going. So getting the girls to understand beginning, middle and end, or pacing, working together in a group, and collaborative, creative processes – those are skills they’ll continue to use whatever they do.”

The other faces behind the program, such as freelance filmmaker and photographer Christie Goshe, are also excited about training and inspiring the next generation of women in film. 

"It was really great to be asked and also give these girls a role model like, Hey! I'm a young woman doing this and making it happen," Goshe says. "The girls for the most part are such go-getters. I think that they're a generation that will hopefully be able to continue to push the envelope on a lot of things. I think they're geared with a lot of technology, social media and being connected that I think it could go a lot of places."

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