The Community Builders Grant began 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”.

We here at Camera Ambassador have always been astounded by the level of creative talent in the Chicago filmmaking scene. Seeking to empower the filmmakers of tomorrow, we are so excited to continue offering this amazing opportunity.

Now in its 4th iteration, the Community Builders Grant application window is officially open for submissions!

As a resource for our new applicants, we’ve interviewed our previous grant winners and rounded up their experiences and wisdom! Enjoy.


Zach Moore (Producer for ‘Patois’, 2019 CBG Winning Project)

The Community Builders Grant was one of the first funding opportunities that Zach Moore had submitted to with the short film Patois, which he produced, about a young first-generation 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. Furthermore, 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.


Sean Sankalp Raju (Writer/Director/Editor for ‘A Nickname’, 2020 CBG Winning Project)

Sean Sankalp Raju 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, Finalists were required to create a ten-minute pitch video within a week time for the final round of competition.

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.


Jody Bailet (Producer for ‘Zero Mile Mark’, 2021 CBG Winning Project)

A Semi-Finalist in the 2020 Community Builders Grant, Jody Bailet knew that her team needed to change things up for the new round of competition. So, in 2021, they submitted the horror short film Zero Mile Mark, written and directed by Link Wolfe and produced by Jody Bailet, 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.”


Zach Moore (Producer for ‘Patois’)
“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.“
Sean Sankalp Raju (Writer/Director/Editor for ‘A Nickname’)
“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 possibly serve your story. “

Jody Bailet (Producer for ‘Zero Mile Mark’)

“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.”


Hopefully reading from our previous grant winners’ stories helped spark ideas for your own projects! We’re SO excited to read your applications!!!

To enter the 2022 Community Builders Grant, click here.