The Web Series "Lumina" And Seven Questions For Jennifer Thym

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I got sent word about a new Web Series that's going to be coming your way this summer called LUMINA (check the trailer) which is chock full of Asian and Asian American talent including Chinese American Jennifer Thym (director/writer), producer Sommer Nguyen (Vietnamese American), actress JuJu Chan (Chinese American, and TVB's People's Choice Award for Miss Chinatown USA 2009), Michael Chan (Chinese Canadian, star of the YouTube hit viral Wall Street Fighter IV), and Vince Matthew Chung (Chinese American, winner of the Amazing Race Asia 3).

It definitely looks like it's going to be pretty hot and you can check out more about the series down at their site at

Seven Questions

At the same time I also sent over some questions about the series, the production, advice for new filmmakers (equipment/software), and being involved in independent media over to director/writer Jennifer Thym and here's what she had to say.

Talk to me about Lumina and where the idea came from. Why did you choose HK?

I am a long standing fan of Felicia Day's The Guild, and when I was looking into getting into the film industry, I thought, why not do a web series? It's fresh, it's modern and it could be alot of fun. I'm a Chinese American based in Hong Kong, so it was an easy choice to shoot here. Also Hong Kong is such a gorgeous city in which to film - there's so much color and vibrancy everywhere you look.

As for the idea behind LUMINA - I read alot of epic comics like Elfquest and The Sandman, and intricately woven novels like Pattern Recognition from William Gibson and Glimpses from Lewis Shiner. I love shows like Lost, Prison Break, Heroes and 24. When it came to writing, I saw a strange scene at a local shopping mall and the story started forming in my head. LUMINA is a dark fairy tale - it starts out a bit like a romantic story, and then it becomes more complicated and strange as the relationship between Lumina and Ryder deepens. The story is also an allegory for online relationships - how well do you know someone really? Even if you spend six hours a day talking to them for days, would you trust them with your life?

How did you get such a great cast involved?

I met my lead actress, JuJu Chan, through a gamer friend. I used to play a MMORPG called Final Fantasy XI, and when I was looking to get into the film industry, I asked my gaming friends if they knew any actors in HK, and luckily for me, one did. After hearing an early pitch of LUMINA, JuJu was on board. For the rest of the cast, I did open auditions. My buddy cinematographer Derrick Fong had invited me to a CB Fresh video shoot, and I spotted this tall guy in a dark suit, spiky hair and dark sunglasses - he looked like he had just walked off the pages of a manga! That was the first time I met Michael Chan, the lead actor. We also were lucky to get Vince Matthew Chung, the winner of Amazing Race Asia 3, involved as Lumina's best friend, Teddy. Vince is amazingly sweet and very down to earth.

When can we see the series, how long do you see the series running for, and are there plans for a feature length film or putting it out on DVD?

We're launching the ten part series in summer of 2009, and we will release one webisode per week after launch. What happens with LUMINA afterwards will depend very much on how the audience reacts to it. If the reaction is good, we will release a DVD packed with extras as well as a CD in conjunction with the Singapore music collective The Enigmatic Army, and hopefully make our initial investment back and then some! If we can find some investors who believe in us, then we would love to make either a second web series season or a full fledged feature film based on the LUMINA story. Our producer Sommer Nguyen is hard at work on this!

You shot on the RED camera which Google tells me is pretty hot - and expensive. What was it like shooting with it and at the same time, what would you recommend indie filmmakers with less of a budget (or connections) who are reading this use if they can't get their hands on a RED camera and software that can edit it?

At first, our DP's (directors of photography) XiaoSu Han and Andreas Thalhammer were going to shoot the series with their Panasonic HVX-200, with an adapter and lenses, and I have complete faith that they would have done a fantastic job with that. A good DP can shoot wonders with any camera if the framing, lighting and movement is good, and if they understand and work within the limits of their medium. They bought the RED One camera one week before we started filming LUMINA and that we just knew that they were going to rock it. Although the RED is expensive compared to prosumer cameras, it's cheap for getting that prized film look. RED is also coming out with the Scarlet later this year, which they're anticipating on pricing under USD 3,000. Indie filmmakers should definitely have that camera in their sights. I know I do.

During preproduction, I used two free programs: Celtx which is open source screenplay software and Google Docs, for its web based word processing and spreadsheets. For post production, I used Final Cut Studio. That's an expensive investment for an indie filmmaker but it is, in my very limited experience, worth it. I didn't go to film school, so I pretty much taught myself everything with online tutorials. Also, compression is a dark art - you have to be ready to do alot of experimenting to get the right mix of file size and smooth playback. The trailer has alot of movement and panning shots - I spent about 60 hours one weekend doing trial runs getting a compression I was happy with for upload to YouTube HD.

Being involved in independent media how do you balance the art with the business? Are you just happy to be profitable?

Heh, we're not profitable yet. My first priority is making a product that we're happy with, something that matches the vision that I had in my head when I wrote the script. If we succeed in finding our audience, then hopefully we can earn enough money back to make more projects! Fan support is so critical to an indie filmmaker, especially those who have told me they want to pre-order the DVD already - I love you guys! As Patrick Lee from said on his blog, "If you are an artist, you are basically your own company." That's exactly it - we're making our own future, and we're looking for the right audience that will enjoy and support our vision. Another good resource that was recommended to me by indie filmmaker Dan Carew is Scott Kirsner's book Friends, Fans and Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age.

What's in the future for RockGinger?

I want to do an action film next. I'm excited about the new script I'm writing, but I have to see LUMINA successfully through post production first. If we get lucky with LUMINA, then I'd love to work on something related to LUMINA right away!

Last question - 5 films you love.

Bladerunner and The Matrix (I am a huge cyberpunk fan), Infernal Affairs (yes, more than the Departed), Sunshine (a Danny Boyle gem if you haven't seen it, Cillian Murphy is a fantastic actor), The Usual Suspects (of course!) and Big Fish (a deviation from the usual Tim Burton film and refreshingly so.)