Camera Ambassador Grant winner Raju faces challenges

This past summer, director and writer Sean Sankalp Raju won the Camera Ambassador Community Builders Grant for his project A Nickname. The autobiographical short film tells the story of how the filmmaker received the moniker, Sean, as an Indian American child.

In an economy where funding an independent film is especially difficult, Raju was ecstatic when he heard he would be receiving support after pitching the project. “I can’t even describe my feeling in words…this grant is going to go such a far way in making this film happen,” says Raju.

Despite overcoming the hurdle of funding, Raju was met with another challenge that is now common in the filmmaking community: learning how to shoot a film in the midst of a global pandemic. With a storyline that required a summer shoot and a deadline from the Community Builders Grant, Sean had to drastically change his plans for production and he had to do it quickly.

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His first response was to read the new guidelines and protocols from organizations such as Cinespace Chicago and SAG-AFTRA. As he studied best approaches to run his set, Raju raised concerns that are at the heart of many productions. “Performers and hair/makeup will still be at higher risk, given the nature of their work,” Raju explains. With a hindrance that is still very new in the film industry, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to draw the line. “Safety is the most important thing on any set I lead, but quite frankly, I can’t tell if I’m overreacting or appropriately concerned.” Raju added.

With the safety of his team in mind, Raju committed to remodeling the structure of his production. “Not only did we ask all cast and crew to be tested before arriving on set, but we also hired a designated Health Safety Supervisor for our shoot days,” Raju says, “we’re rotating schedules for actors…this is something we don’t feel comfortable compromising on.”

Even Camera Ambassador, the camera rental house that funds the Community Builders Grant, is taking note on how filmmakers run their sets. “We’ve looked at other productions who are renting from us and we have many clients who are shooting everything from commercials to short films. There are additional parameters that have to be achieved in order to ensure safety, but we’ve seen this successfully done for the past month and anticipate we’ll continue to,” Erica Duffy, Camera Ambassador’s founding partner explains. “One thing that we’ve seen as a critical step is requiring all cast and crew to be COVID-19 tested 2 days before production begins,” Duffy says.

Establishing and enforcing protocols such as this can make or break the safety of productions in a world where gatherings are risky. But Raju has decided to meet the challenge head on, “We’ll make it work.”

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What inspired Camera Ambassador to create this grant?  We saw a need within our community. It’s really hard to raise funds, pull together a quality crew and cast, figure out gear, locations, and wardrobe, think about your audience and distribution …. AND this is all before you even begin to shoot or edit! We want to do our part in ensuring that the mid-west has the same support, infrastructure, and funding that either of the coasts have. This is a brain child of Camera Ambassador’s founder Erica Duffy. She wanted to create a platform that long outlived even her and ensured that for generations to come her personal mission to enable artists was fulfilled, thus was born the annual Camera Ambassador Community Builders Grant. This is not your typical grant either as the prize list includes cash money, gear credit, mentor sessions with outstanding local talent like Angie Gaffney and Charles Gardner, prep, audition, and call back days with Compass Casting, Use of the conference room at Stage 18, rehearsal space at Camera Ambassador, a partnership with SAG, a catered lunch during production from Northern Fork, a wrap party with food and booze included, discounts on location audio and post production from Noisefloor, and a few more secret prizes that we’ll be announcing in the next few weeks!

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