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The Good, the Bad and PEAK: How I Discovered the Secret to University Life Through Movie Magic

By HWA PAUL NAMKOONG


Photo by Paul Namkoong


There wasn’t a single moment when I didn’t think about it.


Everything in my life had led up to this opportunity. I followed what I saw on TV and the news. I picked out the targets, staked them out, and planned out all of the enthralling details. It didn’t come easy, to play God over whom I took and whom I spared. But I fell in love with the power it gifted me. I closed my eyes and envisioned what would slip out of their lips, the unnatural movements they would make under my gaze. Many will see, and many will learn.


Then I did it. It was even better than I expected. But the time I spent after, cutting and dicing so that the originals became unrecognizable, was all the more appealing: 


Spending 50 hours on creating a tiny, 3-minute advertisement for our fledgling PEAK program turned out to be one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve ever had. 


Film is murder, and I am its (terrible) executioner.


I like shooting movies. I like watching them. I’ll occasionally film pigeons in an empty parking lot and label it art. The moment that made me fall in love with creating movies, however, was very different from the experience I had shooting the PEAK promotion. That’s not saying that I didn’t like filming it — in fact, I became even more attracted to movies because of how different the method of production was. 


From the short experience I’ve had working on set, I remember getting hypnotized by the teamwork and organization of each individual contributor. I once saw them as nobodies, mere scrolling words upon scrolling words in an endless stream of movie credits. But when I saw the key grip coordinate with the cinematographer, who waved him off while stealing yogurt from the lactose-intolerant director’s chair, who had to rush to the bathroom after an intern gave her yogurt (out of all the foods to give to a lactose-intolerant person), I couldn’t help but fall in love. 


The “magic of cinema”, or any other term you want to assign it, came to me not on the screen, but from what lay just behind it. You never for a second consider or appreciate the hundreds of people who collaborate in unison to make the moving art that you consume; it’s almost as beautiful as the finished product.


So when I was asked to make this promotion, I panicked. How could someone who likes movies for their invisible teamwork possibly make a likable movie with an invisible team? I had doubts about both the PEAK ad and PEAK itself. However, this process of drafting, interviewing, filming, and editing, as I’d learn, flipped my entire outlook on school and how to seize opportunities.


When I first started mapping out whom to shoot for the production, I thought I would lack content.


I planned to feature two students in our class and showcase their hobbies and dreams. The usual university promotion. I only kept the main club activities in mind when I looked over my list of friends to choose from. Oh, she does tea ceremonies? Super traditional and flashy. He plays American football? That’s the last thing you’d think of when you think of Japan… Great! I wanted to paint a picture of PEAK that, frankly, didn’t feature a lot of PEAK.


I was worried that the people I covered wouldn’t make for enough entertaining clips to fill the timeline, and that I had to insert copious amounts of horrible narration to fill the gaps. 


Getting to know the subjects better, on the other hand, helped me to see these doubts in a different light. It started from the interviews: why’d you come to this school? What does your average day look like? What do you hope to achieve here?


The questions might’ve been basic, but the answers were anything but. Following them around raucous meetings for the most esoteric of clubs, football games attended by middle-aged Japanese obaasans* who didn’t know the rules, and packed river-lantern festivals with evil lanterns that sprinted downstream and away from us, helped me to understand how liberating PEAK actually was. My worries quickly shifted to cutting down months of video into a final draft that ran for less than four minutes. 


Like my misunderstanding of people on film sets, I was equally mistaken about university life. Maybe my anger came from some cognitive dissonance between this program and my American college fantasies, with their dreamy lecture halls and jungles of student clubs. 


Producing the PEAK video helped me to break my assumption that PEAK limited my chances, when it was the complete opposite that was true. The opportunity that I managed to carve out made me realize the hidden boon of a program as young as ours: If you’re missing something, go and make it yourself. An outlet to make movies? A student publication? Some class hoodies? It’s all out there for you to seize, and nobody else. 


The great college programs are the cumulative result of continuous generations of students: they came in and built the things they desperately wanted but could not find, founded the clubs people had interest in but had no clue whom to share it with, and pushed for change and growth in institutions that may have once looked as small and rigid as ours. I’m now excited to take part in building our program from the ground up. Call it overoptimism, but as I once said, life is more exciting when the cheese doesn’t have holes; you have all that unsullied space to dig and claw and search for the gold within the cheese. 


So go stake out and murder your university experience. Be the first to strike cheese gold in PEAK. Hopefully, along the way, you’ll find a more professional metaphor for this concept than I did. Bon appétit.



Translation notes


* obaasan — Japanese term for grandmother