Words by: Joseph Koh (Photos by: Sherman Ng)
Interview with Sherman Ng
When I first met Sherman Ng, Founder of Salt Media and Entertainment, I was immediately drawn into his vulnerability. Even though he is a Council Member of the Southeast Asian Audio-Visual Association and was a speaker at the Asean International Film Festival 2017, he had no reservations in sharing the rough seasons of his past. Like a riveting film, Sherman’s life has been full of adventure — he has been both a banker and pastor, both of them which has led him toward discovering the Father heart of God.
Responsible for bringing The Case for Christ to Singapore, he shares with SELAH his passion for good stories and their ability to shape and transform culture.
You started out in the finance industry, which is vastly different from the entertainment sphere. Could you share with us your background?
I grew up in a broken family — my parents got divorced when I was seven years old. This meant that I grew up like an orphan. With no father figure in my life, I felt like I had to fend for myself and earn the father’s love, which in turn built a rebellious and strong-minded spirit in me. At 22, I moved out of my mum’s house due to a huge disagreement.
My family background caused me to feel that I needed to prove myself, so I strived and worked hard. God prospered my banking career and I rose quickly up the ranks. I managed to buy my first condominium at 26 years old.
Did this fatherlessness impact you in other ways?
Even though I was serving in church, I was still behaving badly. When people disagreed with me, I would take things very personally. I was abrasive and had problems with authority figures, as I was fearful that no one will defend me and everyone will reject me and that I won’t be good enough. I had hurt people along the way, and it is still something that I wish I had done better.
Your banking job led you to become a pastor. How did this happen?
When I was in the banking industry, materialism would be my weakness. I changed cars almost yearly and spent on branded items like watches. In 2011, I felt God told me to stop being materialistic and to refocus my life. When I refused to heed His call to stop my bad behaviour, He had to take it away from me. My business dried up. I had defaults and my business came crashing down — I went from hero to zero. To add insult to injury, I found out that my girlfriend was cheating on me. I lost everything and ended up in an old, shoddy rented apartment that was waiting to be en bloc.
During that same period, my stepfather, who was a pastor of a small church, contacted me and told me that he had lung cancer. I felt that I needed to reconcile with him. I began to turn my heart not just toward him, but also to my biological parents with whom I had fractured relationships. My stepfather had two concerns before he passed on: his son (my step-brother) and the church he was pastoring. On his deathbed, I promised him that I would take care of both.
Pastoring was tough. The church wasn’t big, thus I had to supplement the income. However, every door I knocked on shut me out. My confidence hit rock-bottom — I felt useless, stupid, and incompetent. Yet, the ministry door started to open. I was willing to do anything because I didn’t have any money. I got by with bare essentials. I decided to take on the pastor role at my stepfather’s church. This was a transformative time for me as, at the same time, God put father figures into my life to journey with me and I started to change; God opened my heart for brokenness in relation to myself and others. I started reconciling with people in my life, including my father.
What made you decide to eventually enter the entertainment industry?
In 2014, God whispered to me about going back to the marketplace. I was upset with the Lord, as I had already been prepared to be a pastor for life and it wasn’t as if I hadn’t tried finding a job in the marketplace. But God used five people from three countries in two months to tell me that I needed to go back to the marketplace. Some of them didn’t even have my contact: they had to use Facebook Messenger or ask others for it.
My first brush in the marketplace after a few years took place in March 2015: I managed to secure a 7-digit corporate finance deal in nine days, with one of my spiritual fathers. God was using a father to nurture me back to the marketplace.
Then, a few friends asked me to work with them on a film — a Singapore–Philippines–U.S. production, starring Rebecca Lim. Doors miraculously started to open and I found a way to finance this film. It was a result of me applying my banking experience and knowledge into the media industry.
This led you to start Salt Media & Entertainment?
As I started working in the entertainment industry on an ad-hoc and freelance basis, God spoke to me about making this a serious business. In 2016, I decided to incorporate Salt Media because we had a serious business plan.
More importantly, I was ready for God to work in and through me. My focus ever since then has been: “God, when you move, I will follow behind. I won’t focus on the strategy of the business but in loving the people around me and hearing Your voice.”
Why did you choose “Salt” as the name of your company?
Salt is not all the time seen but you can taste it. I’d like to impact people’s lives but I don’t necessarily have to be known for it (in a good way!).
Could you share with me values that are important to your business?
The business centres around honour and people, especially since the media industry is known to be very dark.
One of my actresses’ father had a stroke when she was filming in Cebu. I was the only producer on set, and my first decision was to send her home in Singapore. Everyone in the industry would say this is crazy because production would be delayed, resulting in a huge loss of money. But we did it nonetheless. For me, it was honouring her as a person. She is not a commodity and her family was important to us.
We also seek to honour our partners — we carry principles of the kingdom, in that we don’t scheme and oversell.
What is good storytelling to you?
If a picture paints a thousand words, what more a good movie? Good stories are able to shoot home what’s important to the heart. If a project moves me, I believe that it will move people.
Speaking about good stories, Salt was responsible for bringing in The Case for Christ. How did this come about?
One of my good friends, also a Christian in the media industry, had watched the film in one of the markets and asked me if I was keen to bring it in. As I thought about it, I realised that I had an opportunity to shape culture: I could serve the local body of Christ with such films. If Salt didn’t bring it in, no one would have bothered to bring it in.
We had taken on a risk with The Case for Christ, but it has actually done very well in the Singapore Box Office. It has beaten quite a few faith-based films. The studios in the U.S. were very happy with us; they were very surprised by our performance.
The next one we’ll be bringing in will be the Sony Pictures production, called Paul the Apostle of Christ, which opens in theatres 22 March.
What has been the biggest struggle for you thus far?
The biggest struggle lies in getting the body of Christ to support you. It should feel like a family business, where members of the same body are ever ready to help and/or encourage. It is challenging getting Christians to understand that small decisions — like choosing to watch a Christian film — can shape the kingdom.
This struggle is also evident in the Pastor Kong Hee case: Many have told me, “Oh, God is judging and punishing them.” There are also people who say that God is testing them and their hearts. However, God spoke to me recently about it: He shared with me that this situation is more a test for the Church than for the City Harvest Church leaders. How we respond to a fellow brother or sister in Christ during a crisis is more important than the crisis itself.
John 13:34–35 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I’ve been judged, condemned and rejected a lot, so I know how hard it is. There is always a deeper story to it. I’d imagine if we love 5% more and judge/gossip 5% less, the body of Christ would be way more effective.
Could you share with me your vision for Salt Media?
With Salt, we really want to be a game-changer. We’ve got two pedigree Hollywood films this year — one stars Geoffrey Rush and the other one stars Sofia Vergara. It’s quite a rare opportunity for a Singaporean company to play at this level. We also have an upcoming film that stars Hugh Jackman, Mel Gibson, Gary Oldman and several more Hollywood A-listers.
We want to change the way that things are being done: to be ambassadors in the kingdom and try our best to represent Him. Thy kingdom come and thy will be done.
Details of screenings for the Paul Apostle of Christ movie can be found here.