Devin Graham, aka DevinSuperTramp, made the unlikely journey from BYU dropout to a viral YouTube sensation who has over five million followers. After leaving school, Graham went to Hawaii to work on a documentary. The project soon ran out of money and he was stuck on the island… feeling very much a dropout and a failure. He started making fun videos with his friends to pass the time, and DevinSuperTramp was born. Now he travels, filming his view of the world, taking on daring adventures to get his next shot, and risking life and limb.
We recently had the chance to sit down with Graham to hear firsthand what lessons he’s learned along his journey, and how he’s developed into the filmmaker he is today.
Why extreme adventure content?
I grew up in the outdoors — always hiking and camping with my dad, and snowboarding. I’ve always been intrigued by pushing human limits. One thing I love about the extreme thing is that everyone we work with is the best at what they do. Like, we had the world’s best scooter riders. I love working with people who devote their entire lives to this one skillset. You get to see that passion come through. To me, it’s super inspiring to show off their talents to the world.
How did you get DevinSuperTramp off the ground? Pun intended.
I’ve made movies ever since I can remember. I was a little kid shooting Legos and stop-motion with my siblings. In high school, I took photography classes, and after I saw the movie Jurassic Park, I was like, “I want to make movies for a living. I want to do the next Jurassic Park.” So, I went to film school. Actually, I got rejected from the film program the first time I applied, which made me volunteer for every film thing going on at the college — craft service, carrying lights, whatever I could do. One day, my roommate was like, “YouTube is going to be the next big thing for videos. You should get on that.”
And you did.
Well, I started making videos just kind of for fun, not expecting anything to happen. But it blew up. Eight years later, it’s become the YouTube channel we have now, with five million subscribers. And we get to travel around the world creating content that we love creating.
And you got to bring it full circle when you worked with Universal on promoting Fallen Kingdom.
I did! That was so fun and exciting. But yeah, I was always making content. I didn’t wait ‘til after I graduated. I was constantly looking for opportunities and networking with people from the film program. I think that was a big part of (succeeding at that time), just looking for every opportunity to milk it for everything I could.
In the early days, how did you promote your work?
I was creating all my stuff on YouTube, which, at that time, had hardly any solid, quality content. There was a lot of content, but it was mostly shot on whatever smartphone people had, or it was just people blogging. There wasn’t really anything cinematic, so right away our stuff stood out. One of the first videos I ever posted ended up getting like a million views right away, and people all around the world started contacting me, saying, “Hey, Devin, I’d love for you to shoot a commercial for us.” I had these big opportunities right from the start, just by creating content with my friends and putting it out on YouTube.
Where did you get the money for equipment?
In the beginning, I didn’t even own a camera. I just borrowed some from friends. We didn’t have any fancy stuff. I was using a Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon T2i, which are fairly cheap cameras compared to what we’re using now. But I was just creating the best content I could with the resources I had, and I was able to build a company from that.
If you had to start from scratch today, do you think you could do it again?
I definitely think it’s 100 percent doable, but I would have to play the game differently. Even now we are having to play the game differently than we did six months ago. Social media is hard because it’s constantly evolving. The algorithms keep changing.
What are you doing today that’s different from before?
One thing is just using trends and popular things that are going on. For example, a year and a half ago, Pokémon Go was very popular, so we did a video on Pokémon and it got 20 million views within a couple weeks. We have to be very smart about what content we put out — not just putting out content to put out content.
One thing that’s always stayed true since the beginning is consistent content. When we don’t put out a video weekly, it actually hurts our content being seen. The famous people on YouTube now are the ones putting out daily content. For what we’re doing, that’s impossible, so we’ve sort of shifted platforms from YouTube, which was our bread and butter. Facebook is where we push our main content now, because Facebook doesn’t favor daily content. It just favors good-quality content.
Teens will be the first to say that grown-ups struggle with knowing what’s cool. How do you chase after topics likely to blow up?
A big one is going on YouTube and seeing what videos are trending. Also, if you go to Google Trends, it shows you the top things that were searched that day, that week, that month. So, it’s being on top of that. Or, maybe, Taylor Swift is coming out with a new album; we know that’s going to be really popular. Just staying current with all that stuff. You can also use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get an idea of what people are really excited about.
Can you tell us about some of the equipment you use, and the demands that your workflow puts on your storage needs?
We shoot so much content. We own two Red 8K cameras that we film everything with, and we’re shooting daily for the most part. On an average week, we’re shooting about eight terabytes, and then backing that up — so 16 terabytes a week. Obviously, we need a lot of storage, and we need storage that we can access quickly. We’re not putting it on tape. We need to pull stuff up right there and start editing on it right away.
So, we need the biggest drives that are as fast as possible. That’s why we use G-Tech’s 96TB G-Speed Shuttle XL towers. We have around 10 of those, and we’ve been shooting with those for the last three to four years. We needed something super reliable. Some of these shoots involve forking out a lot of money. I can’t take a hard drive and just hope it doesn’t fail. I need something that never fails on me — like ever. It’s just not worth taking that risk. I need a drive I can completely trust and is also super-fast.
What’s the one piece of advice that you wish somebody had given you when you were starting out?
In my early days, I didn’t have much of a budget, so I would never back up any of my footage. I was working on two really important projects and had them all on one drive. My roommate knocked that drive off the table, and I lost all that footage. It wasn’t backed up. I only had little bits and pieces still saved on the card — enough to release it, but a lot of people wanted to buy the stock footage and I didn’t have most of the original content. I lost out on a huge opportunity.
Today, we back up every single thing we do, no matter how big or how small it is. So, if I could do my early days over again, even if I didn’t have all the money to fund it, I’d figure out a way to have backup drives. That was something I had to learn the hard way.