Girls State Emily Worthmore Laura Hudock

When cinematographer Laura Hudock found out she would be following conservative teen Emily Worthmore for the documentary Girls State, she had a little apprehension: She had followed Republican then-candidate Donald Trump for Showtime’s The Circus during the 2016 election, and found the experience “intense.”

“The energy of the rallies was often quite aggressive. He’d always get the audience to yell at the press, which felt very scary, intimidating at times,” Hudock recalls.

But Emily Worthmore, she quickly discovered, is no Donald Trump. Though Hudock disagrees with Worthmore, and Trump, on a host of issues, her job as a cinematographer was recording her subject, not judging her.

“The main skill set of documentary cinematography is gaining the trust of your subjects,” Hudock says. “And I feel like so much of it is just how you present yourself as a person. Some of it is the energy that you bring into the room.”

She also found Worthmore easy to like and respect.

“I saw that she was a great human being, and regardless of her politics, still deserved a place and a voice,” says Hudock. “I just wanted to present her truthfully.”

Apple TV+’s Girls State, like its Emmy-winning predecessor, Boys State, follows a program designed to teach teenagers principles of good government. The documentary team spent several days following a Girls State event in Missouri attended by hundreds of girls, and focused specifically on half a dozen participants, including Worthmore. Each of the main subjects had a designated cinematographer.

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The documentary explains that Worthmore wants to be a journalist and eventually president of the United States — but first, wants to be elected president of Girls State. (The gathering includes elections for several offices, and president is, of course, the most contested.)

Worthmore is smart, warm and affable, but is very concerned that her conservative politics will cost her votes.

She was especially aware that some young women might not like her conservatism because the doc was filmed in the early summer of 2022, after the Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade had been leaked. Girls State attendees were especially interested in reproductive freedoms.

Laura Hudock and Emily Worthmore on Girls State and Good Journalism

Laura Hudock, one of the cinematographers of Girls State. Courtesy of Laura Hudock.

Hudock followed Worthmore through good moments — her relentless, personable campaigning — as well as tough ones. Worthmore admits to some discomfort with public speaking, and feels the immense pressure of campaigning. At one point, she cried over some spilled potato salad as Hudock discreetly filmed.

But Worthmore came away from the experience appreciative of Hudock’s skill — and journalistic integrity.

“When I heard about the documentary, the journalist side of me was very interested because it would mean working with/being filmed by real journalists and documentarians,” she told MovieMaker via email. “I was so interested in the production side of things and what goes on behind the scenes. I think that the directors and DPs are great examples of exceptional journalists.”

She added: “Things that I wished at the time hadn’t been filmed (the potato salad scene when I cried over some spilled potato salad) end up adding a lot of depth to my ‘character’ and I hope it’s relatable to others now. I’m so grateful that Laura filmed everything and that the directors had the ability and talent to piece it together in a way that somehow allows the audience to feel like they know me after watching the film.”

Hudock and Worthmore established a rapport not just as documentarian and subject, but as two women with a shared interest in good, unbiased journalism.

“She said to me, ‘I want to be you,'” Hudock recalls. “I think she saw something in me that she wanted to maybe find more in herself — maybe an example. Which I was happy to provide. I worked hard, and I worked focused, and I worked respectfully.”

Adds Worthmore: “I remember being so impressed by how dedicated Laura was to her job. She was constantly bending, kneeling, and lugging around a giant camera but she always made sure to cover everything; even the mundane moments.”

Hudock explains that working respectfully meant maintaining a small footprint. While Girls State directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss were presented for interviews with the film’s subjects, for most of the time she followed Worthmore, “it was just me and sound.” She used a Canon C 500 camera Canon Cine Prime lenses.

“One of the main reasons we picked that camera package was because it’s a good, lightweight, small- footprint, verite camera,” she explains.

Girls State is about inspiring young women to be good leaders, but one of the biggest inspirations for Worthmore was the woman tracking her journey.

“By the end of the week, I felt closer to Laura than anyone else I had met during the week because she was with me through all of it and watched it all unfold. It was weird to not be followed around and actually be alone at the conclusion of the program.”

She adds: “I think Laura is badass and cool. She surfs, travels, and is amazing at what she does. I look up to her as a friend and as a woman in the industry.”

After dealing with the hostility of her subject in 2016, Girls State was a way for Hudock to not only connect with the person she was covering, but give her a window to the future.

“I didn’t have a lot of women mentors to look up to when I was coming up, so to feel like I could be that for somebody else feels good,” she says.

Girls State is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Main image: Emily Worthmore, top left, in Girls State. Courtesy of Apple TV+.

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