Don’t you dare call yourself a Filmmaker, a Musician, an Actor, an Artist, until this happens

Recently, during an interview, the writer of a magazine asked about what my designation in the article should be.

“Should it read, Josiah Ng, 27, Filmmaker? I heard you were a filmmaker?”

I paused and surprised even myself when I couldn’t respond. I was dumbstruck because I didn’t know if I was fit to be called a filmmaker. In fact, I always shudder when someone introduces me as a filmmaker because I don’t know if I’m worthy of the title yet. I don’t know if I’ve earned it (yet).

This started me on a journey of wondering when or how someone could be conferred a title such as ‘Filmmaker’. When can I start to identify myself as a ‘Filmmaker’? But the bigger question became, who am I and what’s my identity?

There are different standards that different people hold when it comes to whether one can be officially called a filmmaker (or an artist, a musician, an actor for that matter). Would I have to make a certain amount of films first? Would I need awards to back the title up? Some think that you first have to premiere a film at a film festival. Others hold the belief that whatever you are paid to do helps to legitimize your identity. What about peer or industry acknowledgement?

But in the end, isn’t the definition of a filmmaker simply, someone who, well, ‘makes films’?

True, ‘actor’, ‘filmmaker’, ‘musician’, ‘creative’, these are just labels, and maybe I shouldn’t even be concerned or confined by a mere designation. In fact, it can become frightening, life-threatening even, when we peg our identity (who we are) to what we do. What happens when others stop loving the films we make? Does that mean that they have to stop loving us too? Does this mean we stop loving ourselves when the works we create become failures?

But what if, say,

our identity is not defined by what we can do

(I can make art, so I’m an artist),

but instead, in

what we can’t stop doing

(I can’t stop making art, so I’m an artist)?

This instantly takes away the burden of having to deliver results in our works just to validate our identity. Instead, we are now motivated to reach a place of discipline and never stop doing what we love to do.

Who we are is not what we can do, it’s what we can’t stop doing

When you can’t stop doing something, you’re obssessed, you’re passionate, you just need to make another film or you feel miserable. You need to just write or that burning sensation in your belly just wouldn’t stop. You must make music or the world around you seems dull and colourless. What can you not stop doing? Maybe that’s who you are made to be.

Passion and Obsession are the parents of Perfection.

The notion, quality above quantity is a familiar one, but when it comes to mastering a craft, it’s important to give weight to the impetus of how quantity breeds quality. So keep doing what you can’t stop doing, in huge amounts (it takes hard work), and I believe that perfection will soon be born beyond the labour pains of its maternal influence, ‘passion’, and the more focused paternal side, ‘obsession’.

Who else couldn’t stop doing what they were doing?

Many ‘greats’ of yesterday have also displayed this characteristic of becoming who they are because of what they couldn’t stop doing.

Isaac Newton is said to be a serial inventor. Even when he failed (said to be more than a thousand times) he just couldn’t stop inventing. The inventor is one that cannot stop inventing.

Pablo Picasso said, “we artists are indestructible; even in a prison, or in a concentration camp, I would be almighty in my own world of art, even if I had to paint my pictures with my wet tongue on the dusty floor of my cell.”

The painter is one that cannot stop painting.

Beethoven continued composing, even up till the last stages of his life when he almost became deaf. The musician is one that cannot stop making music.

Name a few great artists of today and you will also find that many are where they are not (just) because they are talented. It isn’t about what they can do. It’s about what they can’t stop doing.

You now refuse to let failures define who you are

In embracing the fact that you will become what you cannot stop doing, you also start to accept for yourself that failures are inconsequential in defining your identity. You stop telling yourself that you’re a failure just because you didn't get that award or reach a certain goal. Instead, you ignore the things that you couldn’t achieve and start focusing on what you just need to keep doing.

Too many artists have placed their identity in the work that they do, so much so that when failure hits the very thing they do, they think that their lives are in shambles too. But those that clasp tightly to what they cannot stop doing just keep going.

It’s not about what you can do. It’s about what you can’t stop doing.

How then can we apply these thoughts to the next generation?

The kid that cannot stop singing, don’t stop her.

The kid that cannot stop drawing on the wall, guide him, don’t victimize him.

The kid that cannot stop play acting, let him continue.

The kid that cannot stop dancing, tell him that the world’s a decent dancefloor.

A special note about a local filmmaker

Bertrand Lee just appeared in the office today. He was in a pair of crutches because of an accident that crushed his legs in 2005, about ten years ago.

The filmmaker was in the office because he was hired to shoot a commercial. Despite the setbacks that he has faced so far, he still carries the fire to trudge on and keep making films.

I thought I should just update this post and make a note about the filmmaker here because he embodies what I am just learning – the filmmaker is the one that cannot stop making films.


Because I’m a Christian, here are a few things that I’d like to express that points my above thoughts to the relevance of my faith (haters gonna hate) –

Notice too, that there was something that Jesus couldn’t stop doing. He couldn’t stop loving us despite the sins that we have committed. Nothing could have stopped Him from saving us and setting us free because he couldn’t stop loving. How does Jesus call us to identify ourselves as Christians, as His disciples? “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”John 13:34-35

May you reach a place where you can proudly and openly say, “I can’t stop loving you.” Never stop loving people. Never stop loving God.

It’s not about what you can do. It’s about what you can’t stop doing.


Illustration by Alice Bloomfield

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