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Han-Su Kim

Hansu Kim, photo by Yoon

Photo: Yoon

 

TEXT: STUART GOMEZ

 

Everyone—even the most devoted skater—struggles to comprehend the root of our obsession. It’s been obvious since the early days of skate media that we needed to honestly answer those lingering questions we all have about what it’s really like to film a video part at a high level. But part of the problem with telling these stories seemed to be a lazy focus on the superficial aspects. We need the story, and the story that’s behind the story.  Essentially, tell us something we don’t already know.

That’s where PUSH series comes in, now in its second season. PUSH follows eight Pro skateboarders as they travel the world filming a video part, shot completely on ultra-high definition RED cameras. With five episodes apiece, PUSH gives the skaters a lot of room to tell their own stories. This forum comes with a catch: the skaters have only eight months to finish their parts. This is a harsh limitation for such an ambitious project.

Luckily, there’s a guy in charge who is more than capable of keeping all of the balls in the air. If you follow PUSH—hell, if you’re a fan of any of The Berrics’ documentary pieces—you know this man’s work. Whether you know it or not, you are big fan of Han-Su Kim.

Han-Su is the Lead Filmmaker at The Berrics and director of PUSH (“Also,” he says, “kind of producing, editing, filming, scoring a little bit… and color correcting.” A jack of all trades.). Eight skaters with five episodes each, plus the trailers and other promotional videos, that’s a hell of a workload. But somehow Han-Su seems to work better when he’s under intense creative pressure.

 

 

Han-Su first got the skating bug as a nine-year-old in California’s Inland Empire, when he happened to catch the ’99 X-Games on TV— you know, the one where Tony Hawk does “the 900.” (yes, that 900). “I couldn’t believe it,” Han-Su says. He’d known about skateboarding, but seeing that epic moment on TV was the first time he really started to pay attention.

“I begged my mom for a board,” Han-Su says. “I think she was just glad that I wanted to do something. She was really gung ho for any kind of outdoor activity.”

“I didn’t really even know that skate videos existed,” Han-Su remembers, “or magazines, either.” After three years of perpetual solo skating, he eventually made friends with some skaters. Some neighbors moved in who opened his eyes, so to speak: “They were like, ‘Yo, you gotta watch these videos!” Those VHS copies of Shorty’s Fulfill The Dream and Habitat’s Mosaic would start Han-Su on an unexpected professional career with worldwide exposure.

His teenage years were fairly dominated by skateboarding and music (Han-Su is an accomplished musician. At fifteen, Han-Su got his first camera—the Panasonic DVX. At this time, he was in a new school in a different city. “here was a skatepark right next to the school and he started hanging out with the dudes there, filming with them every chance he got. Eventually, Han-su bought “a really shitty generator,” borrowed a friend’s truck, and went on missions. “It didn’t seem like we were actually doing anything,” he says. “We just had nothing else to do.”

Han-Su’s formal videographer education included a video production class offered by his high school. But he had already dipped his toes into the wild world of Final Cut Pro and learned most of that stuff on his own. Studying at a local community college and New York University likewise didn’t satisfy his interest. Eventually, Han-Su would discover that the best way to learn would be on-the-job experience.

“It was never like ‘I’m gonna make a living from skating,” Han-Su says, “but all I wanted to do was film skating.”

 

 

He got his start at The Berrics in 2011 by answering a call for interns on the site. After sending some YouTube links of his work, he received an email and later a phone call inviting him to be an (unpaid) part of the tiny staff. “It was the week of my 21st birthday. I remember getting the call and thinking, ‘This is the best week ever!’” (Han-Su recently learned that Colin Kennedy, The Berrics’ current VP of Creative, is the one who plucked hand-picked him for consideration. Coincidentally, being a new hire himself, this was one of Colin’s first duties.)

Like many newbie Berrics employees who are nervous about their first day, Han-Su played it safe and arrived well before his scheduled shift—first impressions count for a lot, and punctuality is favored (even in skateboarding). His first official duty had “intern” written all over it: moving chairs around—or, furniture transport specialist—preparing for the live stream of the short-lived “Skate Talk Live” series. He wasn’t even allowed to touch a computer for the first month. But soon Han-Su was asked to run the sound gear for the live stream.

“I didn’t know how to run sound,” he says, “but I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’ll learn.’” The crew was using DVXs to shoot the show, which is the model that Han-Su uses. “Eventually, it was just like, “You wanna run this thing?’ And I was like, ‘All right, yeah!”

Han-Su proved to be an excellent fit at The Berrics and more projects started coming his way. His next task was cutting a few dozen pieces of Street League content (“It was really fun—I’m down to edit a bunch of parts!”).  The only real critical feedback that he received during this period was about his song choices.

By showing that he was capable of handling a wide variety of jobs, he seemed to cross a threshold into having more creative responsibility. Of this time, Han-Su recalls, “we didn’t have as many filmers. We had a ton of things that needed to be shot and cut, so I was kind of forced to get a lot of experience in a short amount of time.”

Having gained a lot of trust, Han-Su was accepted into a notoriously small team—a total of five dedicated filmers—with a rapidly growing workload. The video series that aired during this period were groundbreaking and seemed to really solidify a recognizable documentary style for the site at the time.

Han-Su has a slightly more modest take on his early Berrics work. “I watch some of it now and it’s terrible,” he says. “Like, ‘what the fuck was I thinking?’ But what I like about it is that I see myself in it.”

 

 

Some of the work that he is proudest of will just happen to have an epic story behind it. A couple of trips with the DC Shoes team to Asia stand out in his mind (“That crew is just so fun to be with!”): taking boat rides out to exotic islands, getting seasick, and sharing bouts of nausea with the boys. “It’s amazing, though,” Han-Su says. “It’s just a paradise.”

Han-Su has lots of stories—he’s worked on lots of projects. His best guess of how many Berrics videos he’s actually produced is somewhere in the range of three hundred to four hundred pieces. This is a mind-blowing number when you consider the travel usually involved. Like all filmers, Han-Su sometimes has to cross hemispheres to get to back to the Berrics offices to cut what he just shot.

“I remember one time I had just got off a flight from Bolivia. I landed at LAX at 7:00 a.m. and then went to work at 8:00 a.m.,” Han-Su says. “But that’s for all of us; all the filmers are just everywhere.”

By the time the first season of the PUSH series rolled around, the whole team was accustomed to hectic schedules. But PUSH was a new beast entirely. “I’m pretty proud of PUSH. That was a challenge and unlike anything that we’ve ever done before,” Han-Su says. With a punishing schedule and unexpected twists and turns coming from all directions, Han-Su says, “I kept thinking, ‘How are we gonna finish it?’”

The focus for Han-Su as the director became “how do we get faster at what we do, but still be good?” That was also the hardest part, but he succeeded. By this point in Han-Su’s career, he’s no stranger to improvising. Anyone involved in coordinating a project of this size will tell you that there needs to be, let’s say, “creative” time management solutions. (Sometimes, sleep is a luxury.)

Another notable challenge with PUSH is something that has become a defining trait of Berrics’ docu-pieces: atmospheric scoring. Han-Su’s approach to season 2 is primarily to make sure that it doesn’t sound like season 1, but also ensuring that the score and the visuals embody the skaters’ personalities. Part of the challenge is to resist the temptation of just repeating the same sound cues or genres that each skater has been associated with over the years—a sort of skate typecasting.

“”I have very minimal relationships with any of the guys doing PUSH, but I’ve grown up watching a lot of these dudes. So I’m very aware of what their style has been married to over the years,” Han-Su says. “So how do you go outside of that, but not go too far? I try to find a different side of them to represent.”

The first season of PUSH was new territory for everyone involved. Getting used to the hyper-advanced RED camera system and managing the workflow was overwhelming, but everyone learned from that experience. Han-Su’s outlook on Season 2 is marked with the positive perspective of a guy who learns by doing and doesn’t say no when asked to do an unfamiliar task.

 “I actually feel like I have more on my plate this year,” Han-Su says. “But I’m only gonna come out of it stronger, you know?”