Editor’s Note: These are leaders. They are inspiring. They are mentors. They are visionaries. They are, quite frankly, tough guys. These are our 2022 WOMEN’S REEL. During Women’s History Month, you can meet these incredible personalities from advertising, entertainment, media and production. women love Erica Duffy make “Herstory”.
Erica Duffy is the sole owner of Camera Ambassador, the only female-owned rental home in the Midwest and she is the mother bear of the entire operation. Erica enjoys connecting with clients, co-workers and people. She is very active in the Chicago film community and recently accepted the role of General Manager of The Midwest Film Festival.
Erica also funds and hosts the annual Community Builders Grant. They are now in their third year and it is amazing to see each winner’s project come to life and experience success.
Besides being an aerial yoga enthusiast, she is an amazing travel planner and was probably a world famous travel agent in a past life.
What is your origin story?
I grew up in New Hampshire where production companies and movie sets were around every corner. I didn’t even really think about how a movie or commercial was made. I ended up going into the medical field as it seemed like an obvious choice as I really enjoy taking care of people. After graduation, I quickly became bored with the nuances of working in the same office and doing essentially the same thing day after day. I went through an “early life crisis” and sold everything except what could fit in my Volkswagen Golf and moved to San Francisco. I had no idea what my plan was, but looking back, everything was exactly as it was supposed to be.
How did you enter the world of cinema?
I saw this amazing movie, samsara, it was the first movie that really made me curious about how it was made. From there, my partner and I started buying and selling used camera gear through e-commerce because there was a market there for it, but also as a way for us to learn and to access many different types of equipment very quickly. We ended up moving to Chicago about a year after we started, and we got to meet a lot of local filmmakers. But at that time I didn’t even know rental houses existed, so when my friends started asking to borrow cameras I had in stock if they weren’t sold by the time their shooting dates were coming up, I was curious again! I learned about the market from them and decided I wanted to combine all my skills and passions for helping people do business into one great company. We launched the Camera Ambassador rental division in 2014 and have always focused on designing it from a filmmaker’s perspective.
Although there will be more, what do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
I am truly proud to be the sole owner of Camera Ambassador and proud of the filmmaker, leader and business owner that I have become.
Additionally, I held my position at the Midwest Film Festival as Executive Director for just over 4 months before going into full quarantine. The biggest blessing in hindsight was that in those four months we had an extremely accelerated schedule to rebrand and relaunch the festival. At the end of February, we hosted a sold-out film fair with the Chicago Film Office that really showed the community what they can expect from us in the future.
What drives you to create?
It’s so inspiring for me personally to see so many women around me kicking ass in so many different roles in the industry. Something as small as seeing another woman in a role you aspire to gives you hope and confidence that it’s achievable.
Coffee, Lunch or Happy Hour. Name a famous woman you’d like to attend every reception with.
Coffee: Kim Kardashian
Lunch: Oprah Winfrey
Happy Hour: Beyonce Knowles
What is the biggest challenge for women in your industry?
In most of my experiences, the Chicago film community does a great job of helping and supporting women-led businesses. There are so many organizations like Mezcla Media Collective and Women in Film Chicago that enlighten and uplift women like me. I’ve also had so many organizations and filmmakers reach out to me and feature me on podcasts, blogs, articles, etc. All of this helps lift me up and the fact that women can have successful and dynamic careers in the film industry.
If being a woman is your superpower, what is your kryptonite?
Daufenbach camera …. haha no, just kidding! I would say that my kryptonite wants to do too much sometimes. If an incredible project or something in which I see a vision comes my way, I have a hard time saying “no” or setting limits. It’s something that I’ve definitely improved over the years and I think in some way it’s served me and allowed me to grow really fast, but I know it’s not sustainable long-term.
How has having the superpower helped you?
I hope that Camera Ambassador, as a woman-owned rental house, will allow other women and especially young filmmakers to see themselves. Also, the rental home can be an intimidating space, but it doesn’t have to be and one of the most effective ways to do this is to offer things like free equipment demos and preps, to have a diverse group of people working in the space like women and BIPOC, and create a culture that fosters community.
When you’re not creating, what do you do in your free time?
I enjoy spending time with the people I love – my family, my friends and my fiancé. I love being outdoors, planning unique and authentic trips, traveling, playing with my golden mini cashew, decorating, shopping, going out to dinner, seeing shows such as magic and burlesque shows, and sleeping !
Predict your future! Where are you in 5 years?
In five years, I hope to have a few little munchkins running around. I have long focused on my career and I really want to be a mom. I also hope to be bi-city and permanently escape the Chicago winters. Otherwise, I hope and believe that my life will be quite similar. I plan to lead Camera Ambassador for a long time and continue my work as a creative woman, pushing boundaries, creating industry standards, and supporting other underrepresented filmmakers.
BONUS QUESTION for Erica Duffy:
As someone so involved in the Chicago film scene, what do you think makes Chicago special as a film city and what do you hope to see Chicago’s film industry grow in the future? ?
It’s absolutely the people and their passion that make Chicago a special movie city. Chicago isn’t always considered the easiest place to work. Obviously the snowpocalypse and freezing temperatures are not for the faint of heart, but I think if you have the will and the hustle the opportunities are endless. Cities like New York and Los Angeles are already so defined by the culture of the industry and who’s who. Chicago is a huge incubator that allows creators to discover their craft and learn how to rise to the top. I don’t think I could ever have accomplished what I have in any other city, and for that I will always be indebted to giving back to the filmmakers and the community here. I hope to see Chicago grow in many ways. I always look at the industry ecosystem here from the top down, because if there’s money and growth at the top, then everything else ripples through. We need more investors and backers here, more studio space, and an expanded tax credit. We also need more resources for independent production, like grants and mentorship. From where we were 8 years ago when I started working in the Chicago film industry to now, we’ve come a long way already, and I firmly believe we’re just getting started!
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