A Camp for Grown Women? ABC Exec Reveals the Not-So-Secret Getaway of Top Hollywood Execs

Shondaland Illo - H 2014
Illustrations by: Tomi Um

Shondaland Illo - H 2014

Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, production executive Sara Fischer explains how Campowerment brought her joy, sanity, friendship — and a host of new Hollywood connections

This story first appeared in the 2014 Women in Entertainment issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Everything I learned about how to navigate in this crazy industry, I learned at camp. When I transitioned from live sports at CBS to my first job in scripted TV working as an assistant director on the set of Remington Steele in the mid-1980s, I had little idea of what I was doing. The first A.D. told me to "just think of it as campers and counselors, and you are the counselor." Bam! I had an instant understanding and have thought of this throughout my career -- up to the present as vp production at ABC Studios, where I head up all the Shondaland shows, among others.

Long before ABC's TGIT shows, I was a camper at Kinni Kinnic in Vermont. Yep, I was the person singing camp songs on the way to my wedding. And after living vicariously through my kids' summers at camp in Minnesota, I was introduced by a mutual friend to Tammi Leader Fuller, another camp-obsessed TV exec. This Emmy winner -- who was Jeff Zucker's camp counselor 30 years before working for him at the Today show -- had just chucked her 34-year career to found a sleepaway camp for grown women.

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There's no lake at Campowerment in Malibu, just spectacular views of the Pacific. No name carvings in the cabins, but this campground, owned by Wilshire Boulevard Temple, does have standard camp activities like songs and gourmet dark-chocolate s'mores around the campfire, along with electricity and running water. For a long weekend ($1,150), more than 100 women from all over the country sleep on bunk beds -- but with fancy mattress toppers. The "bug juice" is spiked with Vixen vodka at elaborate happy hours. And no camp "mystery meat" here -- more like tri-tip and kale salad with balsamic, along with vegan and gluten-free options.

But that's just the surface stuff. The people who sign up are here to go deep. Campowerment is a transformational weekend with workshops led by experts in health and wellness, love, sex, parenting, business empowerment, productivity and spirituality. The secret sauce? No one reveals what they do for a living for the first 24 hours. Plus, with sweatpants as the great equalizer, by the time days two and three roll around, no one really cares about anything but meeting more great people and making the most of their time.

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The first time I went to this grown-up camp, the girls in my cabin ranged in age from 32 to 62, from Colorado to California. The entire weekend, I had no idea that four of my 11 bunkmates were also industry execs and stressed-out moms looking to run away from home to play. Paramount Pictures consultant Jill Brody Sundahl, Pixar Animation Studios marketing and promotions manager Shannon Ryan Nicosia, former Warner Bros. branding exec Lisa St. Amand and talent booker (formerly of CBS' The Talk) Ivy Lasky: All of us enjoyed days with yoga and meditation classes on a bluff high above the ocean, archery and workouts such as PoundFit drumming and Yoga Booty Ballet. And yes, don't laugh, there was an arts-and-crafts shack where vision boards were made (it's fun). And "color wars," a true throwback to camp, with teams screaming through relay races and Cheetos tosses. It was the best time I've had losing my voice in a very long while.

I returned to Campowerment this fall. On the last day, I headed for the ropes course. That's where the bravest of souls, including Twentieth Television senior vp business and legal affairs Lori Bernstein, climbed a 35-foot telephone pole to take a "leap of faith." The physical and mental challenge of this exercise brings most jumpers to tears. Not one of the ladies cheering Bernstein on from below knew until later that in "real life" she is a studio exec. "In my world, relationships are important, but often people only know each other in their work mode," she says. "At camp, almost immediately, you get to know people on a different, much deeper, more intimate level."

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Among the other campers this go-round were Paramount Pictures president of consumer products LeeAnne Stables, Warner Bros. Television executive vp marketing Susan Kantor and Marnie Nir, co-creator of Hulu's animated Mother Up! series. Nir says she made not only great connections but also "so many new, real friends, which isn't easy to do in Hollywood." And just like the old days, we sang, "Friends, friends, friends, we will always be," arm in arm, this time with our new camp pals. It sounds corny, but I have no doubt I have made some new friends for life. I just pray that when the time comes, I can find enough internships for all their kids!

For more information on Campowerment, go to campowerment.com.