The Community Builders Grant launched in 2019, with the vision of “helping build bridges between filmmakers and the community while elevating their production by arming them with the necessary tools to create”.

Now in its 5th iteration, the Community Builders Grant application window is officially open for submissions! To assist new applicants, past grant recipients and judges share their invaluable experiences and insights.



2019 CBG Winning Project


The Community Builders Grant was one of the first funding opportunities that Zach Moore (Producer) had submitted to with the short film Patois, along with Andre Muir (Director). The story is about a young first-generation immigrant girl navigating school and the traditions of her parent’s home country.

“We were very, very prepared on the budget and the timeline,” Zach remembers. “Something that really set us apart was the detail of our budget - we were able to support and defend each expenditure - and the production timeline was also very tight.”

The team went in with the mentality that the project was definitely going to be made. In fact, Zach noted that their proposal was so tight that the only thing missing from the short film was the actual funding.

“Another thing: since the grant itself is rooted in the community, a lot of the questions within the questionnaire made us think about how is the project impacting the community?” Zach adds. “Actually having to articulate the answers helped us consolidate the vision.”

As a result, at a number of Patois screenings and Q&A sessions, Jamaican and other African community members were deeply engaged and moved since they shared similar experiences. The film would go on to win the Chicago Award at the Chicago International Film Festival - an achievement that Zach is especially proud of, as it celebrates the fact that the film was made by a Chicago cast and crew for Chicago communities.


“My main piece of advice is to try to make sure that your package is as complete as possible. When submitting, do as much leg work as you can on the budget, schedule, funding goal, and distribution plan. Create a complete package and make sure that you've thought through most of the details - that gives you a leg up on folks. Building all of those assets out forces you to make your project as well-rounded as it can be.“ -Zach Moore


2020 CBG Winning Project

Sean Sankalp Raju (Writer/Director) stayed up until two every morning trying to finish his pitch video.

It’s June 2020. The pandemic had just begun. As part of the Community Builders Grant that year, Finalists were required to create a ten-minute pitch video within a week time for the final round of competition (the pitch video is no longer a requirement in recent years).

While it was difficult at the time, the endeavor of honing the pitch turned out to be rewarding for Sean. 

“It was kind of a fever dream looking back now,” Sean recalls with a laugh, “but we ended up using that pitch video to bring on collaborators, who were more invested in the work because they now had a very clear sense of what the project was.”

During voting, while Sean sought out traditional means of activating his community such as social media, he also went above and beyond in reaching out to people he was close with.

“I wrote to 75 people with personal messages of why this project was important to me,” says Sean. “It was a lot of work, but it created a built-in audience so that when the film was released, people were anticipating it.”

His short film A Nickname, based on a true story of how Sean ended up in a con to scam his neighbor and gain his Americanized nickname, went on to become an Official Selection at DC South Asian Film Festival and the Chicago South Asian Film Festival.


“The judging process for the grant application is very much democratic. There are multiple jurors who are looking over multiple grant applications. So, you really can't game the application and try to make Camera Ambassador hear what they want to hear. You just gotta be honest to the story. You've gotta be honest with yourself and pitch the project that you truly believe in. And, if you don't get it, there are a lot more like grants out there, both in Chicago and in the overall filmmaking community, that can serve your story.“ -Sean Sankalp Raju


2021 CBG Winning Project


Semi-Finalists in the 2020 Community Builders Grant, Jody Bailet (Producer) and Link Wolfe (Writer/Director) knew that their team needed to change things up for the new round of competition. So, in 2021, they submitted the horror short film Zero Mile Mark, about a troubled teen who is forcibly sent to a wilderness retreat program.

This time, they did things differently.

“We made sure that everything was a level above what we had done the year before, “Jody reminisces. “We looked at what we thought set the winning pitch apart and we tried to integrate that into our own project.”

To elevate their work, they made sure that the budget was a lot more detailed and realistic. They secured more key members on the team, ensuring that most departments were covered. They gathered feedback from their own community in order to fully realize their vision. Likewise, taking inspiration from the previous year’s projects, they filmed their own concept video and scripted their own pitch ahead of time.

“The amount of prep we did was really helpful in solidifying our intentions,” Jody reveals. “It just pushed us to get things a lot more concrete before jumping into production.”


“I would say the most important thing is to know your story. Of course, I'm not saying that other projects didn’t, but I think the way we were able to present it was really concise. We pitched with a pre-ordained scripted manner, which really helped communicate to people what the story was. So, I think rewriting a pitch script and going over it and consolidating it, then having other people watch it… that was just really important in being able to communicate our ideas.” -Jody Bailet


2022 CBG Winning Project


In the 2022 Community Builders Grant, Linh Tran (Writer/Director) and Hannah Schierbeek (Producer) only had a few weeks between the Finalists' Announcement and the Pitch.

"The most difficult part was the preparation for the pitch, because there was only a couple of weeks to prepare between the time the finalists were announced and the date of the pitching event," says the team.

There were a lot of nerves, especially since it was the first time the duo had pitched in-person for a grant. Nonetheless, they ended up winning the vote that year.

One thing that Video Funeral had benefited greatly from was timing. By the time the grant had opened up in March, the project had already been largely developed - both in logistical timelines and in story. 

"Because of this, we already had the required materials ready at the time of submission," they elaborate. "We didn't have to create anything new or rush the script development in order to submit."

They went on to wrap production on Video Funeral in 2022. The film follows Lam, a Vietnamese international student, welcoming her younger sister, Phuong, to her Chicago apartment. Phuong brings a DVD of their father’s funeral, which Lam could not attend.


“Use visuals in both the application and the pitch if you're chosen. It's important to not only be clear with your vision in the written material, but to also accompany it with any concept art, color, or visual references that will clarify the style and tone of the project." -Linh Tran and Hannah Schierbeek



Katie Waters
Foley Artist, Noisefloor

"Don’t forget to share a detailed budget and timeline.

For budgets, don't only list the total amount. Include an explanation and breakdown of what costs are going to be spent on. 

While making your timeline, if you're not sure how long it takes for a specific step of the filmmaking process, consider reaching out to a vendor that specializes in that field and learn more about what they do. The film community is kind and these conversations will only better your project in the end."


Michelle Maslanka
Producer, Motion Source

"In my opinion, a strong application goes beyond technical skills. As a judge, and potential audience member, I look for authenticity and passion from the filmmaker. That helps me better understand why you are making this project, what makes your project unique, and how it will make a difference. And be sure to proofread your application as well - details matter!"

Janelle Snow

"I love to hear/read about what’s inspiring the team to tell the story - what ignited the spark and what human fires you want to light by telling it. I also like a detailed budget (and one that includes some compensation for the folks in front of as well as behind the camera)."


Philip Lauri
Partner and Executive Producer, Three Words

"This might sound a little obvious, but make the screenplay your first priority. Write economically, with strong pacing, and strive for emotional collisions. You want the reader to feel connected - that’s what will really drive your success. 

Of course, don’t ignore everything else. Formulate your ideas with scarcity in mind. Budget and all the small details will fall in to place with good writing."

Jordan Graves
Co-Founder and Business Director, Talus Films

"If I had any advice for applicants - it would be to give equal attention to all parts of the application. I've seen applications with great scripts, and great production plans, but very little thought or attention given to distribution - which really weakens the whole application."





We’re excited to read your submissions this year! Thank you for sharing your story with us, and thank you again to the previous winners and judges for sharing their thoughts.

To submit for the 2023 Community Builders Grant, click here.