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Thrillseeker: Behind the scenes with Devin “SuperTramp” Graham
From cliff jumping to tarp surfing, YouTube’s premier director is living and filming on the edge.
Devin Graham is driving down a road in Utah that he’s never been on before, and he’s looking to find a costume designer.
He knows which one. Graham’s been talking with the guy for weeks. But he’s “the worst with directions. Like the worst, the worst, the worst,” and he’s on this road trying to handle this interview at the same time.
Graham, a filmmaker, is also stressing because he shoves off to direct a Paramotor video around Paris next week. Then it’s to England for something he calls “a werewolf shoot.” After that, a quick stop off in the Alps “and a couple other places in that part of the world” before heading back to his home in beautiful Provo, Utah.
“Because I’ve shot in all of these amazing locations, I get flown to all these amazing locations,” the 29-year-old told the Daily Dot. “It works out really nice.”
Graham’s plan is to film two installments in a series inspired by acclaimed first-person shooter Halo for his YouTube channel, which is inching ever so close to 100 million total views. He posted a similarly themed video early this month—called “Assassin’s Creed Meets Parkour in Real Life”—and that’s already racked up more than seven million views. Now he’s driving around Utah looking for a costume designer and has no idea what he’s going to do.
“We’re going to go over how we’re going to play it all out,” he said. “We’re flying in a bunch of people and bringing in eight other guys that will wear the costumes and are all legit for stunts and everything. I’m going to try to get as many videos out of the Halo costumes as I can, because it’s so expensive to fly everyone out.”
This is how it happens with Devin “SuperTramp” Graham, the most popular person on YouTube you probably couldn’t pick out of a crowd. First there’s an idea. Then there’s somewhat of a loose plan. Then, before you know it, 30 attractive 20-somethings with long hair, broad shoulders and tight waistlines are cruising into town on plane, train, and automobile to do some wildly creative activity like wakeboard in a ravine or ride on the world’s largest swing.
“I try to make sure people are really having the time of their life,” he told Wired‘s Playbook in April. “The videos that do the best are the videos where people are having the funnest time.”
The fun started in college at Brigham Young University, where Graham went to study film. He wanted to make action movies like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, but he ended up making snowboarding videos instead. He and his friends would head out into the mountain with a camera and some boards, rig up some ramps, press record, and let ‘er rip.
He broke his back on one jump, broke his leg on another, and before long, Graham was relegated to camera duty. He’d study film just as often as he made it, but the stunts would never be for him.
But Graham got bored at BYU—he said he finds himself getting bored quite often—and before long found himself shooting commercials for Orabrush, a dental hygiene company that helped pioneer social media marketing with YouTube videos. The company’s “Bad Breath Test” picked up more than 17 million views, and in a roundabout way, Graham found his calling.
“That’s where I learned the power of social media,” he said. “I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to try this.’ I started my YouTube channel, moved out to Hawaii, and it took off.”
Out in Hawaii he filmed “Waimea cliff jump” and “EPIC Tarp Surfing.” It’s where he shot “The Fire Knife Dance” and the “Ocean Symphony,” “North Shore in Slow Motion,” and the “Water Jet Pack” video. The latter’s almost eclipsed six million views.
These are the videos for which Graham has become known, even since returning to Utah. (His girlfriend, violinist Lindsey Stirling, helped bring him back last year.) They’re non-plot shots filmed in pristine conditions on pristine cameras. Their images pop, the colors radiate, and the music behind both pumps. They’re choreographed parties, jubilations, and clips that everyone wants to watch because they’d so badly like to be there. And they’ve helped wean Graham’s attention from the notion of feature films.
“With feature films, you always have a studio and producers and everyone around you saying ‘You can’t do this.’ ‘I don’t like your idea,'” he said. “It’s not really your film.
“With YouTube, my boss is my audience, which means that my audience tells me what I can make. For me, that’s much better than having one person tell you what you can and cannot do.”
Filming utter jubilance has been Graham’s bread and butter since he took to YouTube in August 2010, but as he’s said, he gets bored. And while his videos are always depicting a different scene, it’s often more of a transplantation than a transformation.
“I kind of have terrible ADD, as well,” he said. “If the videos aren’t moving forward, it doesn’t become a challenge. Then I lose the magic.
“You can’t spend two years shooting the same thing. At least I can’t.”
That’s why Graham is driving through Utah looking for a costume designer in a place he’s never been: He’s looking for something new.
The next era of Devin Graham involves plot lines and storyboards, characters that bear both desire and deceit. It involves shoots like the upcoming Halo sets and this month’s “Assassin’s Creed.” It involves people like Stirling who bring dimensions besides stunts and jumps, but most of all it involves Graham, who’s long been transfixed on making what’s good look even better.
“I get my high on life by putting my camera in dangerous situations, like leaning off a cliff or riding in a flatbed truck,” he said. “Or ‘Shooting the Tube’ where there’s so much water flying everywhere. As you go out of the tube, you go out and there’s water all around you, just shooting everywhere. And I’m trying to do whatever I can to prevent water from getting all over my stuff. That’s what I’m into. That’s how I have my fun.”
Photo via Scott Jarvie/Facebook
Chase Hoffberger reported on YouTube, web culture, and crime for the Daily Dot until 2013, when he joined the Austin Chronicle. Until late 2018, he served as that paper’s news editor and reported on criminal justice and politics.