Creatives Commissioning Creatives – A Trailblazing New Initiative to Encourage a Kinder Ecosystem Amongst Freelancers
At the helm of a new initiative, Creatives Commissioning Creatives, sits Ng Swee San. She is a freelance writer that has written more than 100 hours of produced tv programmes. She also served as President of Screenwriters Association (Singapore) for eight years, stepping down in January 2020.
Creatives Commissioning Creatives is an initiative that began with the aim of having freelancers come together to create projects for each other. Swee San began by commissioning a project to focus on dengue fever awareness on 19 March, which is a very personal subject matter for her. She commissioned video production for two finalists, Yvonne Loh and Fang out of four pitches.
She successfully raised $1400 from donors to help commission a second project Inspiration in Isolation, Togetherness Apart, in a span of less than two weeks. Sinema.SG had a chance to chat with Swee San to find out what drove her to spearhead this project.
Could you tell me about yourself and your background?
I am a freelance writer. I have written scripts for Channel 5, from prime time dramas to kids dramas. I have also written 3 children picture books and I also lecture in a few tertiary institutions.
I understand that you had dengue during the SARS outbreak many years ago. Since 2020 began, there have been over 4000 cases of dengue, amidst the COVID scare. Could you tell us about your experience at that time?
I was aware that dengue existed before I fell sick but I wasn’t terrified about it. I knew there were certain steps to take to avoid dengue. When I came down with a very high fever, it did not occur to me that it could be dengue. I managed to lower my temperature with medication but it was momentary relief. The second time I went to see the doctor, I was advised to go to the hospital immediately. Dengue symptoms are actually very similar to SARS symptoms. It was a bad experience because it felt like an endless waiting game for diagnosis, blood test results, to be warded. Every day, your blood gets tested again until your arm is blue-black.
The doctor decided to ward me together with over 60 people who were all considered to be suspected SARS cases. This really surprised me because I thought if I was suspected to have SARS, I would be quarantined or isolated. But there were not enough quarantine facilities at the time. There, men and women were together in one ward, with two shared toilets – one for men and one for women.
I couldn’t get any sleep at night because there was never a moment of quiet. Patients groaning in pain, people walking to and from the toilet, people ringing for the nurse. When my blood test results came back, it was clear that I had dengue. Due to the restrictions on visitors, it meant that hospital stay was more sad and traumatic than during normal times.
With this initiative, how did you find yourself leaning in this direction of paying it forward? What gave you the initial push to do so?
I kept seeing and reading all these posts [in the SG COVID-19 group] about the difficulties people were facing and all the loss of income. I know a lot of people are suffering and that I cannot help everyone, as one individual. However, I am happy even if I can help one or two people. It is not so much financial help but more of an encouragement to value their time and give them a sense of purpose. Hopefully they will see that even $50 earned from this, is enough to buy a meal for a few days. When one starts to believe that they can get through a few days, they go on to believe that they can get through the next few days as well. I also hope to start an industry practice to pay Creatives for pitching, hence I paid for all four pitches. It so happened that I have some clients who were kind enough to give me a bigger deposit than they needed to and helped me pay this forward.
What do you aim to achieve with your first commission on dengue awareness?
I just want to raise awareness that dengue is dangerous and encourage everyone to be careful. Everyone needs to do their part to ensure that they aren’t breeding mosquitoes. I think people have even less control over dengue than COVID-19 because a lot of the latter relies on personal hygiene. However, dengue is not like that. Even if you do your part, others in your neighbourhood might not, and you may still contract it. Even though they are tinier than people, mosquitoes can still cause a lot of harm. I want to also remind people that you do not develop an immunity to dengue just by getting it once. Even dengue patients are going around spreading this misconception. There are four strains of the dengue virus and you can get it four times in your life.
With this initiative, what is the direction you would like the community to move towards? What’s next?
I hope more people do these projects and commission other projects. We [freelancers] don’t have to wait for clients to commission us. Why don’t we become our own commissioners? I want to start an online auction of artwork. Auctioning art and giving a portion of it to a freelancing pool to help your peers will boost morale and income. Corporate clients or wealthier individuals can have access to art and maybe gain some new knowledge about art directly from the artist of the piece. It’s a win-win situation. I also want to collect enough money to commission a third project.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted on 26 March and Swee San has since gone on to commission a second project, after having raised $1400. She has also submitted proposals for the art auction, drawing the attention of Carousell who have expressed interest to pitch in. Other art platforms have also shown interest.
In these trying times, there are people who are more comfortable than others. What would you like to tell them to help others?
Even if you don’t get anything back, or karma doesn’t reward you, know that your kindness will benefit someone else. It’s a chain of kindness. If the whole society is kind, we have a more patient and compassionate society. In times of crisis, you want people to be helping each other.
If you want to take part in Creatives Commissioning Creatives, be sure to head to SG COVID-19 Creative/Cultural Professionals & Freelancers Support Group. Swee San is setting a strong example of how Singaporeans rallying together can help ease the bigger burden. We at Sinema.SG are proud to support the endeavour.