How can a high quality
Non-Hollywood Type 35mm Feature Film
be Shot with a Shoestring Budget?

What you are about to read are ideas that were put together using the minimum of material, the minimum of money to make a good film.

Big production companies could have spent hundreds of times more than what was done to make this 35mm color feature film titled Destiny.

We did it because we didn't have big budget. We just didn't have it. We did it because of our dreams and determination to make a good movie. We want to prove to the world that with persistence and perseverance, everything is possible.

We'll expose the difficulties we've had, then you'll learn how we overcame those obstacles. We used whatever was available out there to make this feature film.

Enjoy your reading.


Script was the most difficult part of making a good film. The Director/writer his wife and two sons and I been through at least a dozen stories ideas before they finally settled down for Destiny.

After years of watching movies ranging form worse to excellent, we realize that the story is the most important in making a good film. After all, regardless of whom you are, how big your company is, you cannot make a good film from a bad story. This is the reason we've seen big companies that made bad movies go bankrupt while small companies that made good films grew.

We used to have family meeting after meeting to discuss a particular story. One story after another. Some ideas made to a couple page of script. Only to be scraped because bigger budget was needed or more technical assistance was needed.

It was a very frustrating experience. One day, our Director/Writer's wife came up with an idea: "Why don't we concentrate on writing an original story?" Bingo. That was it. A new direction. From that day on, we just concentrated on an original story.

We used to live in a war-ravaged country, Cambodia. We knew there were many people who've escaped the country like us. Many of them left without their friends, parents, brothers and sisters or spouses. Because communication was impossible, some thought their loved one was alive, but turned out to be dead. Other thought their loved one was dead, only to find later they were still alive.

Because there were so many of these cases, Destiny was created out of this unique idea. We created this story as of the unique experience that we've learned from these victims. In memory of all Cambodian compatriots, and their surviving loved ones, we're telling the world through Destiny how cruel the war was. How war destroyed peoples' lives. Many of you might remember a movie called Killing Fields. It showed how difficult life was under a war. But what about the live of those who survived and have migrated to different countries in the world, including the Unites states, France, Germany, Switzerland etc.. They have settled down, re-married. Only to find out later that their spouses were still alive. Destiny is born.

How Much Did It Cost Us To Shoot Our Film?

We all know that without a tracking record or at least with connection, looking for money to finance any film project is practically impossible. There was no exception for us. In Hollywood term, a ten million dollar film is a "Small Budget".

Destiny wasn't a micro budget. It was a No-Budget movie. The budget was ridiculously low that some even says it is smaller than the petit cash budget of a Hollywood project.

Just to clarify, we were shooting in 35mm colored film. It is neither a 16mm film nor a video project. That was our budget.

Film Stock

We used around 38,000 feet of film. Majority of them were un-opened new film while some were re-cans. We did have to buy some of them, re-caned while we were shooting. From experience, as long as they are refrigerated and within a year time, we didn't have any problem.

We knew we didn't have lot of money to buy 35mm film. We started six moths earlier searching for them. We ended up buy those film at a deep discount. It can be done. In our case, we just didn't have the money to pay full price.

So we looked for new or re-cans film with a deep discount that we can afford. We told them who we were. If they didn't sell to us, they were going to end up keeping the film longer which is not good for the health of the film.

Cast & Crew

Casting agency was one of the obstacles we had to overcome. In general, they were nice to us. They talked to us. Once they knew it was a no-budget shoot, returned phone calls suddenly stop. One seemed to be nicer than others.

We approached the casting agency. They wanted $500 up front and a percentage of revenue from the distribution. After they were to get our check, they then wanted a lawyer involved. That meant we had to come up with more money from our tiny budget.

First, we agreed with them. After meeting the lawyer, she wanted $500 down and another percentage of the revenue or a flat fee of $5000. We though to ourselves " My god! We haven't stared to shoot yet; everyone wanted to get a piece of our pie already. That's not right."

So we told them we had to think about that. After a long thinking, we told the casting agency and the lawyer to forget about the whole deal.

We just had to do the casting ourselves. So, we spent $50 to put an ad in a newspaper. The result was overwhelming. We received stacks about two feet high of actor's and actresses' headshots, including resumes. We wish we could have cast them all. We went through each headshot.

We picked the look, the characters that we created for Destiny and rented a theater for two days for audition. It cost us $100. We auditioned our prospective talents for the role in the story Destiny.

Finally, we cast all the principal actors and actresses. We got all the roles needed for our movie for $150 instead of $1000 plus all the percentages of the casting agency and lawyer.

A total of 150 people worked for this shoot. They all included cast, crew and volunteers. The majority of them worked for free. There were three reasons for our casting adventure success.

One being our project was a feature film and was going to be shot in 35mm film, rather in 16mm or video. The second reason being we had a good script. We have a story that people can relate to. Third being the "all you can eat food" on our set (read in food).


We had 150 persons on the set, cast and crew included. It also meat we had to feed all of them during the entire three weeks shoots. Majority of the cast and crew worked for free while some for deferred.

Since Destiny was a no-budget shoot, everybody that was on the set understood they got free food. We assured everybody that they were going to get plenty to eat. That was one of the experiences the Director learned while he was on other film shoots.

Nothing is worse than to work hard, long hours with an empty stomach. For this reason, we made an effort to make sure every body had plenty of food. Some days, we even had left over food for crew to take home.

How did we do it? The answer was easy, go out and beg. We knew that we were going to have to feed lot of people. A daily average number of the personals on the set were around 20 while some days we had 50.

No way we could have the money to pay that. We started to look for volunteers to cook for different days. At the same time, we went to food stores, restaurants etc… You name it.

Wherever we could think of, we stopped in; left messages, call again and again. Some of them were nice to give us some food on scheduled days. Some just gave us raw food to cook.

Even our crew volunteered to bring food for location. We had Chinese, American, Cambodian, Italian, Philippines, and Thai. It was like an international food festival. Well, you got the ideas.

How We Got All Our Locations For $35

How can this tiny budget film afford to shoot at all these great locations you'll see in the movie? It is all about persistence. The reality is when someone turns you down to use their location for free it didn't mean that every body else has the same requirement. Also the reality is all our locations were free except for one government park we had to pay a small fee of $35.

Some of the exotic locations granted us permission of free usage were because they loved the story, they loved our honesty. They just wanted to help us out. For instance, we did have a huge cruise boat at our disposition for one full day. We also had a whole bus for two days of shoot driver included. The whole hardware store for a fragmented four days. Two restaurants for free four days.

How did we get them? First they loved our story, because it is original. Second, they loved our honesty; they just wanted to help us out. And third, we picked their off hours. Not only did they give us free access, they did even provide us with free electricity, coffee, food, telephone etc. Imagine. How much would it cost to light a set of a least 10000W of electricity every single day that we were there?

One most important point to remember when getting free location is to give the locations back to their owner at the same stage or cleaner. This is the only condition that one of the owners told us. For this reason, the Director told the whole cast and crew to exercise extra caution and he personally checked to make sure every single area we use was clean and free of damage.

Speaking of damage, again "honesty" pays off. On one occasion, one of the plastic drops dealing of the cruise board was damaged because of the intense heat of our set light. We told the manager we were going to replace them. They liked us, they told us not to worry. Because of the approach we took, we realized that making movies is also a people business.

We always have to deal with people. Of course there are some difficult people. At the same time, there are easy and reasonable people to deal with, too. The most powerful tool is honestly. The bus company even lent us their workers as bus passengers. No money doesn't mean nothing can be done. We got all our locations for a mere $35.

Production Vehicle

We had to have a vehicle that had enough room to carry our equipment from location to location. We tried to rent a light truck which was going to cost us about three thousand dollars.

With that kind of money, my god, we could go a long way for our movie. A few days before the production began, we bought our own production vehicle for $900, a Ford Econo-line Van. It is the green van you see in Destiny. We saved quite a bit.

To make this story better, after we finish using the vehicle, we sold it for $500. We ended up spending only $400 for the production vehicle.


One of the benefit shooting a no-budget feature film is to own our own equipments. We inquired about renting all equipment we were going to use in the shoot. Man! The rental costs were a lot more than we could afford.

That was the reason we decided to have our own equipment. As you can see in the Director's note, all equipments were acquired from trade up and up and up. Whatever we could do or build ourselves, we just did it. Because of the trades, all equipment ended up costing less then the rental and a lot less than their face value.

In addition, we can use them for our next shoots. Well. It is well worth the trouble. Not only we had all equipments to use in our production, a majority of them, we know the ins-and-outs. We ended up knowing how to prevent them from breaking up, saving us the repairs.

Most, they saved us from lots of professional labor that otherwise we just couldn't afford. As result, we made a professional, no non-sense feature film that you, as the audience, can enjoy.

Shooting The Script

Apart from some of the key positions, a majority of the cast and crew had different responsibilities. One point we like to bring to your attention is that we have interviewed a few people for the job of Production Manager, the person who in charge of running the crew, food, location etc. She insisted getting a full pay of $5000.

Unfortunately, except for little gas expenses, nobody got paid including the Director himself. No way we could have afforded that position. What did we do?

We chopped the responsibilities into pieces. Everybody had to work a little harder by having extra duties. It was fun. For instance, actors and actresses were responsible of their own clothes. At the same time, they had to do their own make up. All had to chip in for the re-write of the script.

We even had to modify the script before we shot. (Because we had to shoot at a row house rather than a mansion.) The Assistant cameraman was also the focus puller, film loader and D.P for a couple of location.

We had our up days and down days. But all compensate. We did have a good time finishing the shoot. Some shoots, we were so worried, while some we would love to do it again.

One scene we always remember. We were shooting a gun battle scene. By the time the crew set up the battle location, we started to shoot late in the afternoon until that night. We had to shoot lots of fireworks to simulate the war scene. We were so worried that it was going to start a forest fire, even though we had a light rain earlier in the evening. Again, this is something that we left to the expert. Making the movie was fun.


It was a little a difficult for us. Because shot footage must be developed within time or its start to go bad, we had to have all of them develop right after the shoot. The problem was the money.

We had talked before to different labs. Most of them turned their back on us. One agreed to work with us. We had to pay the lab a certain amount of money in order to get the negative develop and the video transfer for test viewing.

We were fortunate enough to have extra shots for the same scene. That saved our skin. Some of the scenes we did have two or three or sometimes four of the same shot. When one or two were bad, we did have an alternative shot to pick. That alone saved us tremendous amount of time and money we didn't have anyway.

We did have two days of re-shoot because after viewing the footage, we had to add a scene and some cut away shots.

One of the re-shots was done on the day of New Years Eve. One most important point in dealing with the lab or any body else is "be frank and honest". Once they can trust you, life is a lot easier.

Remember, a promise has to always be ended with its complete fulfillment.


While the shoot was only three weeks, it took over three months to finish editing.

A DVision Pro 2.2 non-linear editing was use for the editing. The reason being that it can put out an accurate film 24 frames editing decision list (EDL). We did inquired about the quality of that machine.

It was proven to put out the exact number of where the film negatives have to be cut in correspondence to the video editing we did. The last thing we want was to cut the negative at the wrong location.

We chose computer editing instead of using a flat bed base film-editing table. But knowing what we went thorough with the pulls up and pull down from film to video and back to film, we are leaning to use the old style-editing table for our next movie because film is still cheaper and better than the new video technology. Some of them just died a couple of years after they are born.

The final editing did finish with over ten people's ideas being put together. We edited and edited and edited. It was a tidiest work. We use to hear that editing makes magic in filmmaking. That's true!


We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with Pawel Sydor, a dedicated and passionate music composer. He is also a top graduate of Julliard school of Music. His talent is exceptionally top notch. He wanted music since he was a child. He did the best from his heart. No way we could have affords his top quality service with our budget (which was no-budget).

The only reason, he loved the story. He put 100% of his heart in the Destiny Soundtrack. He loved the project so much that he brought his sound engineer friend to help us. If you haven't listen to the Destiny sound track yet, we suggest you stop this reading here and listen to some sample that is available on this site.

You'll agree the quality is exceptional. The lady who sings the Destiny theme song sang for us free, not for the money. She sang it because she loved it. It took over four months to finish the whole sound track.

The Composer and his wife, the Sound Engineer, are both also musicians and the Director would have sit and discussed the way the each song should be written. Lots and lots of discussions, arguments, beers, coffee and work until three to four o'clock in the morning before they split. The Director then had to drive two more hours to get home.

They would meet again in a day or two to let the newly composed song digest. It was tiring but fun and a very enjoyable experience. Everybody got involved with the Destiny project because of love of the story.

For this reason, the sound track is so exotic, different and extraordinarily well written and composed. That you can count on.

Negative Matching

When talking about cutting the film negative for final release, most of the filmmakers are so afraid about it. It is just like this step is so sacred that it is reserved for only a professional film Negative Matcher.

Remember when we were young, our parent used to say: "don't play with the matches". As we grew up, we knew why our parent didn't want us to play with those matches. The same principal applies to "film negative matching." The myth is once a film negative is cut at the wrong spot, it is ruined. The audio sync will be off etc.

On the other hand, what would you do if you don't have money to pay for the high cost of a pro? It was ranging from $9000 to $25,000. On top they wanted more money for white leader and black leader. The solution is to get it done in the house. This is exactly what our Director and his wife Producer did.

They cut their negative themselves. Director used to cut film print when he was young while working in his Dad's Movie Theater. While cutting the already done film print is not the same as cutting the negatives. The splices are exactly connected exactly the same way. The only difference is to know the exact location where those splices have to be cut.

As we mentioned earlier, we know that we didn't want to cut at the wrong location. So, a double verification system had to be invented to make sure that no miss cut could happen. As far as to know where to cut, our Director did pay a pro to show him. It was a tedious work. It was just like on the job training.

It took off and on about a year to cut the whole feature film negative. You might ask. How was the quality? Well. Just watch Destiny. You have the answer. The lesson learned here is never to let any body tell you that nothing can be done. Determination will take you to success.

Audio Mixing

Audio mixing was another area we had to deal with. Don't even talk about paying for a pro to do the audio mixing or buying those high end mixing console or Digital Audio Work Station. We had to use our creativity again.

From research, we did purchase a new computer-mixing program. It was a very powerful program that just came out. We got it at a dealer cost. By now, you know what we can afford is time. We don't mind to work 18 hours a day if it could help us to got our work done.

So, after we got the program, we just put the time to learn it. Anytime we got stuck, we just paid for the time of a pro for help. We did all postproduction this way until we were close to finishing. After we did all what ever we can until the final step, we then paid for the service of professional for the final work.

And that was how we get the audio mixing done at very little cost. One thing that we were surprise was: with the hype and high cost of digital, we though digital is the king. But our professional did it the same old fashion way. And the sound is perfect and cheaper. What can we say!

As you've read, the lack of capital didn't stop us from accomplishing what we wanted to do. We made our 35mm color feature movie for less than a fraction of cost of Hollywood film movies. We did it without giving away the quality, which is sometimes overlook by them. We did it with the best of our ability.

What about room for improvement? Of course, we're human beings. There is always room for improvement. Our only goal is to prove to the world that we did what we love the most and with the best of our ability. To make our point, we did screen destiny to audiences that have nothing to do with our project. 97% of them love it! We want you to enjoy the fruit of our hard work. Go to see this movie and tell your friends. Tell them we worked hard to finish this movie. Tell them to enjoy it and refer their friends to see it and to look for movies that will come out from Sam UNG and his family.

Your friends, like yourself, will enjoy Destiny and they'll remember you for your good gesture. You'll not disappoint of seeing this movie, Destiny

© 2002 by Sakima Pictures
All Rights Reserved