If there is anyone who could be called a “YouTube Sensation,” it would be Devin Graham. His wildly successful channel, Devin Super Tramp, recently crossed the 1 billion views mark. He has more than 5 million subscribers for his unique brand of action/stunt videos that are filmed in some of the world’s most exotic locations
Devin Super Tramp
Video Views: 1,202,420,141
Channel Type: Entertainment
User Created: Jun 14th, 2010
Because of his numbers, the channel regularly works with companies like Ford, Subaru, LG, Fox, Disney and Pepsi. Even Facebook and Google have secured his services. In fact, many of his extreme productions are made possible by corporate sponsors. How else could you set up stunts like the “World’s Most Insane Rope Swing Ever,” “Slip and Slide off 500 Foot Cliff” or “Assassins Creed Meets Parkour in Real Life”? Those are just a few of the titles in the long list of popular videos on his channel.
We caught up with Devin in between international trips and corporate meetings. We talked with him about how it all began, when Hollywood came knocking on his door and where it’s all going. Devin also gave us some great advice for any YouTuber who wants to learn from his success.
The Early Years
“I grew up in Portland Oregon, from there ended up going to college at BYU in Utah and ended up traveling the world as a YouTuber.” That’s the quick take from the guy who says he loves what he’s doing for a living. “I get to travel and get to work with some of the world’s best athletes. We film in some of the most remarkable and cool locations, and I get to share that with everybody.”
Devin would say that he’s always been involved in creating videos, long before YouTube was even a thing. “I got interested in snowboarding and started doing snowboarding videos. I was making stop motion videos with Legos. I was making kind of random, stupid music videos with my friends to any song that was popular.” That was whenever his parents would let him borrow their video camera. When he wasn’t making videos, he also loved watching action movies and says his inspirations are Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan and J.J. Abrams.
“When college hit, I went to film school at BYU because I wanted to make Hollywood films like ‘Jurassic Park,’ which any kid dreams of.” He says a shift came when, “My roommate at the time, Jeff Hartman said, ‘Devin, YouTube is going to be the next big thing; you should look into this.’” Devin checked out this new web site and was not very impressed. The year was 2008 and the content was definitely not Hollywood blockbusters stuff. Mostly, he saw people’s home video uploads and didn’t think much of it.
While still in college, he had the opportunity to work with an up and coming company, Orabrush, who wanted to get their product on the internet. Specifically, they wanted to upload the video to YouTube. “We did this video and it ended up blowing up and getting millions and millions of views. They started selling millions and millions of product. I saw first hand the power of advertising a product through social media using YouTube.” He says that this was his first step in the YouTube world.
In 2009, Devin started his own YouTube channel and an opportunity came for him to go to Hawaii for a year and do a documentary with BYU Film School. “While I was there, I had a lot of free time. I started doing kind of fun, random things. The college kids I was staying with were always looking for the next adventure.” He shot and posted the adventure on his channel, and the popularity grew. “We started getting millions and millions of views and people all around the world started contacting me. It opened up a world of possibilities significantly faster than the traditional route of going to film school, then going to LA and looking to make it there.” In 2010, he renamed his channel “Devin Super Tramp.”
Devin feels that the main thing that helped him stand out early on was quality. “I got into the YouTube world when most people were just blogging and shooting videos on phones, so the quality wasn’t great. I came in there with a background in film, so I had the advantage of making my videos look a lot nicer.” He says his videos looked like they were made on a budget but they really had no budget. The one piece of equipment that made it possible was the Glidecam, a hand-held video stabilizer similar to a Stedicam. In fact, Devin eventually partnered with Glidecam for his own Signature Series unit.
In the early days, Devin was still borrowing cameras. Primarily he was shooting on a Canon 5D Mark II and a Rebel T2i. He’s stepped up significantly since then and his gear package includes a Red Dragon, Canon EOS R, Canon 5D Mark IV and the GoPro HERO7. He also has a variety of drones including the DJI Inspire. He still believes that quality is key. He often shoots in 8K, which is becoming standard in Hollywood.
In the corporate world
Devin found that, when you make a quality video and you get millions of views, you catch the attention of corporations who want your help in getting “eyeballs on the screen” as he says. His first big gig was for a cell phone company who wanted him to do a shoot in Iceland. He laughs because, “When I got off the plane, they saw me as a 25–26-year-old, and they were expecting this old guy because of the quality of my work.”
One shoot led to others with larger and larger deals with bigger and bigger budgets. Devin tells us, “It’s been a pretty unreal experience for us because I get to work with all the companies that I grew up loving that I would always dream of wanting to work with.” They approach him to create videos that will attract an audience. This means sponsored action videos. “90 percent of these brands are reaching out to us and saying, ‘we’ve seen your content and we’ve seen what you’ve done with other companies.’”
That does not mean they are doing commercials. In fact, Devin points out that they try hard to balance the product and the content of their videos. “If its too in your face and product heavy, the audience gets mad and says all we’re doing is pushing a product. We try to find the right balance where the brand is happy and we’re happy and it’s not too in your face.” They’ve had to learn this the hard way. They found that the “product heavy videos” were some of their lowest-performing uploads.
Another balancing act for Team Super Tramp today is in which corporations they will partner with. Devin has tried to keep their look and brand consistent, so “We’ve had so many companies that we turned down. We won’t go with a company that doesn’t represent our brand or that we don’t want to be looked at with.” For example, they have turned down cigarette companies because they feel that doesn’t represent them well.
As the clients have grown, so have the level of stunts. Devin is quick to note that they no longer use college friends to do the stunts. “We now use 100% professionals. That’s because a lot of the stuff is so dangerous that we don’t want to take any chances.” He points to a video they did with Subaru. It was a slip and slide off a 500-foot cliff. “Something like that, where there’s no room for error, we want to make sure we bring on the best of the best. So we flew in a bunch of the world’s best base jumpers.” The result was an epic video that has gained over a million views. He also pointed to this one as an example of a good product mix. The cars are present, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a car commercial.
His epic videos also often have a great back story, so Devin decided to create a second channel — Team Super Tramp. “I’d say three to four years into the Devin Super Tramp channel, I realized that my voice wasn’t as strong as I wanted it to be just because I wasn’t an established face.” He felt it was important to get in front of the camera partially because of the corporate sponsors who were surprised and how young he was. “I want people to know who I am so they’re not surprised when I show up. I was just kind of this ambient figure.” This was all part of building the brand. It was also important to show people what went into the shoots and the stunts they were creating.
The calls from corporations have also led to the opportunity for travel, which Devin loves. You’ll see videos on the channel from all over the globe, but shooting internationally always comes with challenges. “There are just so many rules and regulations. In London last week, they are so strict as far as flying a drone in the city. We had to hire another pilot that had his pilot’s license and all the permits and had him fly in London.”
He adds that he always works with local authorities on their unique regulations for video recording. He would advise to always research before you travel. “Don’t try and fight it, but be respectful of it. The more research you can do beforehand, the better off you’re going to be.”
So what kind of advice would Devin give for the aspiring YouTuber? First, he tells us that consistently and timing is key “Whether it’s incredible or something that’s just OK, [consistency] gives the people who are watching expectations.” He says that, currently, he tries to put up a video every Thursday. It’s almost like thinking about your channel in the classic network style. Your program is going to “air” the same day every week.
Next Devin says, “[Create] content that you’re passionate and excited about. If you’re not doing that, the audience stops watching.” He says that audiences can tell if the producer really cares about what they’re making. It doesn’t matter if it’s big stunt videos or quilting. “They wont care if it looks like you’re just going through the motions. What I watch the most is what I am most excited and passionate about.”
As you’re getting started, Devin says it important to be willing to do things for free and help out whoever you can. “It always comes back and helps you. Even to this day, we’ll have a big brand and spend the entire budget on the production just because we know it will be something that we’re proud of. We won’t make any money off of it, but we’re creating something that is going to last. That will give us bigger opportunities down the road.” He says that helps to build your reputation in the industry and gives you key contacts. Investing in quality work, even if it’s someone else’s, will always pay dividends.
One thing Team Super Tramp has learned over time is being willing to adapt to changing times. This is especially true as every platform is constantly changing their algorithms. “If you asked me 7–8 years ago what works on YouTube, I would say something different than today. Its changing and evolving so fast that what worked one week isn’t going to work even two weeks from now. It’s just staying up which what’s trending.” With that in mind, he says, “As often as you can, do stuff that is trending and also what you love to do and what you’re excited about.” Devin points to a piece they did called “Fortnite — The Rise of Pink Panda.” It was something of a departure from their norm. It includes more narrative storytelling, which Devin loves, and it focuses on something that’s trending. It’s turned into one of their most popular videos with more than 23 million views.
We’re slowly shifting to do more narrative storytelling.
Finally, Devin points to hard work as the ultimate key to success. He says of the successful YouTubers he’s worked with: “They’re the hardest workers I know. They are working 24/7, around the clock. When I first started, I had no social life at all. I was just creating content. You have to know it is going to take a lot of work in the first two to three years.” He says that initially, for most people, they may not see a lot of success. But he says, “The people who keep on pushing through it and network and connect with other people are the people who find the greatest success.”
There is a lot on the horizon for Team Super Tramp. Devin says that one of his goals is to go back to what he originally wanted to do when he was in college. “The next long term thing is we’re slowly shifting to do more narrative storytelling but have a lot of stuff we’re known for like action and adventure.”
Narrative filmmaking has always been one of Devin’s passions. “Within the next five years, I would love to do more long-form web series using platforms like Netflix or Hulu and kind of exploring possibilities with that.”
In the near term, they are planning an exciting trip to Africa, which you can join in on. “We’re doing something we’ve never done before. People are always saying ‘Hey we would love to go with you when you do your filming!’ It’s usually too dangerous. So we’re doing a trip in Zambia this year and where we’re going to has a zip line. We’re going to have bungee jumping out there and we’re also going to be doing a service project for several days.” Fans can actually go along on the experience. They will, of course, be making a video about the whole trip. The idea is to engage fans with first-hand experience and also immerse them in a different culture.
The team is working hand in hand with the local tourism bureau. Devin says that is especially important in Africa: “They are already aware of all the experiences that are out there and they know what would be the best experiences based on our audience.” The event is in May, but don’t worry if you can’t make it this year: “We’d love to have you come with us. We’ve been super stoked at the response, so we hope we’re going to be able to do it every year starting this year.”
Look forward to more adventures and excitement from Devin and Team Super Tramp in the months and years to come. They’re not slowing down.