Unlike most directors, Thomas Lim did not dream of being a film director from the beginning and in fact he studied a very irrelevant major in school.
“I never went to film school. I actually studied finance at university in Singapore because in Singapore you can’t go wrong with finance. Then I got my Masters in theatre from one of the top drama colleges in London, majoring in acting and directing for theatre,” says Lim.
After graduating, Lim did not jump into the filmmaking industry directly but travelled a lot to experience different kinds of life.
“I was a TV actor in Mainland China, and a theatre and film actor in Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore,” he says. At the same time he is also a screenwriter. “My inspiration comes from real life. I’ve lived in several countries in the past 18 years, and have lots of messages to tell the world through my films. But some of these messages come and go. If a message stays with me long enough it’ll probably find its way into my next film. “
Macau – where dream begins . . .
“I started writing my first feature film – Roulette City – in 2008 after I moved to Macau,” he says. “At that time I wanted to become a filmmaker because being an actor forces me to remain passive – it’s the nature of an actor’s job. But I like to be proactive. So, I thought I’ll make films. Ever since, I’ve fallen in love with the art of filmmaking – and later embraced the business side of it as well.”
Lim is so obsessed with Macau he chose the city as the background for his first movie and Sea Of Mirrors, which is finished this Summer. To him, Macau is a cinematic city. “The look of the place naturally evokes emotions in both the filmmaker and the audience. Everywhere I look in Macau I can almost feel stories calling out to be told.”
Lim’s latest movie – Sea of Mirrors – was shot in Macau last year, with the story unfolding through the eyes of a Japanese actor who goes to Los Angeles to find a former Hollywood actress. The actor thinks the actress went to Macau many years ago and befriends a Japanese actress who went to Macau to meet her fan. He wants to find out from her (the Hollywood actress) what actually happened to the Japanese actress in Macau that led to her child being kidnapped.
“It’s a psychological thriller that leads to a shocking end!” says Lim. What is more of a surprise is that this film was shot completely on an iPhone.
“I began shooting when I only had 50% of the budget. It’s always been something I’m unafraid to do, though I wouldn’t advise it because it increases the chances of never completing the film. That’s why it took us so long to finish: we had to raise more money during post-production.
“Since we were on a low budget I wanted us to use this limitation to our advantage and not avoid it. So, I thought filming on an iPhone would create a talking point for the film, and it has indeed done much more than that,” Lim explains.
As expected, it was not easy to shoot this way and the crew paid much more effort in achieving the desired results, he recalls: “It was our first time shooting on the iPhone, and while it’s small and handy, the iPhone doesn’t zoom, and therefore we had to get creative on shots we’d normally zoom in to achieve. We actually had to light our sets even better and work harder on sound in order to compensate for the weaker iPhone camera.”
In the end, however, there were still many scenes that were not good enough, many of which Lim had to discard. However, the quality was much better than expected. “When the colour grading was done, the film looked like it had been shot on 8 or 16mm film and I found myself telling the colourist: ‘I can’t believe an iPhone can achieve this!’”
Lim always encourages people not to restrict themselves by equipment: “In this time and age, we can shoot films with our phones, and edit them with our laptop computers. There is absolutely no excuse to not make films anymore. The main things that still hold people back are fear of failure, and an insincere attitude towards filmmaking.”
Lim’s sales agency took Sea of Mirrors to the Cannes film market and attracted strong interest from buyers who wanted to see the final product.
“I hope this movie gets into festivals and wins awards, and eventually is released commercially in cinemas in at least Japan, Macau and Singapore. More importantly, I hope this film improves the careers of the people who were involved in it,” he says.
The director also revealed that he wishes to shoot in Macau a third time.
“I want to complete a Macau trilogy within the next two to three years. When I first shot here in 2008, I didn’t know many people, and knew very little about filmmaking. This recent time, I felt like I knew everyone, and every corner of Macau, and hopefully a lot more about filmmaking.”
WHAT DOES MACAU MEAN TO YOU?
- Where is your favourite place in Macau?
TL: Travessa de S. Domingos because I lived there when I lived in Macau between 2008 and 2010.
- What’s your favourite food in Macau?
TL: It’s the wonton noodles in the food centre on the 3rd or 4th floor of Complexo Municipal do Mercado de S. Domingos .
- What’s the biggest attraction of Macau to your mind?
TL: My friends, whom I love so much.
- What’s your most memorable experience of Macau?
TL: There are too many! One that I can think of now was the first time I was interviewed in Cantonese by TDM TV network. I was so nervous because I wasn’t confident about speaking in Cantonese!
- What do you want to experience in Macau next time?
TL: I want to see Sea of Mirrors open in a major cinema, or win an award at a festival in Macau. Either of those – or maybe bungee jumping, which I’ll never have the guts to do!