The Slow Mo Guys have become one of the most popular channels on YouTube by giving their audience a new way of seeing the world.
Gavin Free leveraged his access to a high-end camera into an online sensation with over 10 million subscribers and 1.2 billion views. Known to fans as The Slow Mo Guys, Gav and his friend Daniel Gruchy are YouTubers who use super fast Phantom cameras to view the world at a pace the naked eye could never achieve. Shooting at 1000+ frames per second, the subjects of their videos have ranged from slapping Dan in the face to creating a fire tornado.
For their newest project, The Super Slow Show, the guys teamed with YouTube Originals to get the budget and production tools needed to move The Slow Mo Guys out of the backyard and onto a scale that we’ve all been waiting for.
How It All Began
Gav met Dan while they were working together at the British supermarket chain, Waitrose. Their friendship was cemented through gaming and making fun videos together in their backyards.
Gav explains, “I’ve always been into cameras, so even before I had the slow mo cameras, I’d just make various videos with different friends just with normal video cameras; stupid videos when we were teenagers… I always felt like Dan was the easiest to interact with on camera. He’s always up for anything. I’d be like “go over there and trip over that thing” and he’d be like, “All right, I’m on it,” so we ended up with pretty good banter, and we also played video games together all the time, so I think that helped. We’re always trying to crack each other up and have some funny banter, so I think it worked out pretty well on camera.”
Gav went on to pursue filmmaking, getting a job with Green Door Films, Europe’s first production house to utilize the high-speed Phantom. “I worked on hundreds of commercials and the occasional movie and music videos,” he says.
Meanwhile Dan joined the British military. The pair, however, remained friends while pursuing very different paths.
Outside of his job, Gav was active with the online community for Rooster Teeth, known for projects including Red vs Blue and Drunk Tank. As his relationship with the company grew, he was offered a position creating content for them.
“I was a big fan of Rooster Teeth since I was 14 years old, so I’ve been following since a month after they started that company, and I became well known in that community. It’s a very community driven company, so typically, if they want to work with people they just hire straight from the community… They liked my style of making videos, and liked my personality I guess; I have no idea why,” Gav chuckles.
Taking the job wasn’t as easy it seemed, as navigating the bureaucracy of being a UK citizen trying to work in the US presented some issues. Gav tackled the problem with a creative flare and led to the creation of The Slow Mo Guys: “I was the first foreign hire (at Rooster Teeth)… I didn’t qualify for any type of visa because I didn’t have a degree, so I looked at my situation and thought I can use these cameras, and YouTube exists, so if I can become big on YouTube, I can become well known enough to qualify for an O1 visa.”
The Slow Mo Guys
In taking stock of his resources, Gav found the makings of YouTube stardom.
“I worked with one person who had the only two high-speed cameras in the UK at the time; I built up enough trust with him that he would let me take these ridiculously expensive cameras and go off and knock about with them,” Gav explains. “No one in our age at that time had access to cameras that could film so slow, so we were at a huge advantage at the beginning.”
He coupled the high speed camera with his natural on-screen ease with Dan, and the two began shooting slow motion videos in their backyard.
“It was the opportunity to suddenly start seeing the world in slow motion; literally anything I could think of, I could point the camera at. It was great fun,” Gav recalls.
Their process started out relatively simply, “Borrow the cameras on the weekend… We’d grab stuff from my garden shed and just think ‘what would look great.’ As it grew from there, we had to think of more and more things. We ended up doing little brainstorming sessions, thinking ‘yeah, this would look cool, that would look cool’. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Their subjects provide a visual feast when played in slow motion, from paint bouncing on a speaker to hitting jelly with a tennis racket. “Basically anything that you can’t see what happens with your own eyes — often with a slow motion camera, you get to see a whole other world, and it’s really interesting to see what looks good and what doesn’t, so we just sort of experiment and brainstorm,” says Dan.
Gav and Dan handled the entire operation on their own for quite some time, finding a way to divide the work. Dan explains, “Usually it’s just me going to a shop, Home Depot or something, thinking, ‘hmmm how can I achieve what we want to achieve with the stuff here.’ Sometimes you get inspiration in the shop, and I’ll just buy a bunch of random stuff and take it back to Gav’s place, and Gav will be in charge of all the technical stuff, all the camera work while I’ll be building the props, doing that all that sort of thing, and maybe performing a stunt.”
One production difference that separates The Slow Mo Guys from many other YouTube channels is their tendency to block shoot, where they film multiple episodes over a few days then release them spread out over the next few months. This style of shooting has been necessitated by their individual schedules, first with Dan serving in the military, then Gav moving to the US.
“We have to do it all at once, ’cause I had a full time job and so did Gav, so we’d have have to take a couple weeks at a time, when I’d be in country and just bulk shoot… But for a while no one seemed to notice… At one point, I was on duty in Afghanistan and I think we filmed one video in the whole year… I was on R&R, I came to Austin for RTX, Rooster Teeth Expo, and we managed to film a video there, but that was it for the whole year and no one noticed,” Dan explains.
Gav makes sure to plan regular releases in-between these shooting blocks: “When Dan leaves after a filming session, I count how many usable videos we ended up with, then we sort of plan out when he’s next going to be over, and I have to decide based on that how often I’m going to release videos. It averages out to about once a month or once every three weeks.”
The Slow Mo Guys don’t worry about the length of their videos as much as the content.
The Slow Mo Guys don’t worry about the length of their videos as much as the content. According to Gav, “Our channel’s not really about trying to beat the algorithm. In my opinion, if you’ve got some very interesting looking footage in the video, people will watch it no matter what the length is. I never try to put any padding in the video, I’ll just show the most interesting stuff we’ve got and I’ll trim out a minute or so, and whatever length we’re left with I’ll upload.”
With videos that run a gamut of speeds depending on the subject, Gav has to decide what frame rate and resolution to shoot each video in. This requires a certain amount of guesswork, but like most things, experience goes a long way towards getting it right. He explains, “When you’ve been doing this for so long, you can kinda get an idea of what combination of cameras and frame rates and resolution that you need. We pick between three different cameras that we use depending on if we want it to be a very-cool-to-look-at 4K video that’s not necessarily as fast, or a much lower resolution extremely high frame rate video like the ‘How TV Works’ video that we just put out. You get the hang of it, and typically I try to shoot the maximum speed I can so I can speed it up in post. It’s always better to shoot too slow than not slow enough, because you can’t put frames in in post, but you can take them out.”
Another aspect of producing slow motion videos is sound. The Phantom cameras don’t record sound, so Gav gets creative in post-production, “I’ll take the real time sound from our regular camera and I’ll sort of slow it down slightly and plonk it on the timeline, to give us a place holder. If you slow down real sound that much, it becomes completely inaudible… I then find sounds that are similar, usually from sound effect libraries, then I slow them down a little bit to give it a bit of realism. If you’re looking at water splashing around in slow-mo, and you play real time water splashing it’s not going to match at all.”
Even with the work split between the them, issues come up in having a small crew. Gav recalls one instance: “We were doing a video where two paintballs were colliding, we had two paintball guns, two gas cans, and during the process of replacing one of the gas all of the gas leaked out, and we didn’t have a spare one, so because there was only two of us, that was the end of the shoot. We had to leave and go to Home Depot, then come back and finish.”
It’s also important to note that not everything they try works out. They aren’t afraid to reshoot an experiment, or abandon it altogether if it seems like it won’t be interesting or viable.
Dan states, “Sometimes we can’t get a reaction that we want, we can’t get the experiment to work in a certain way, and we end up just ditching it and then maybe trying again the next filming session. Like for some reason, it took us ages to get mentos and coke right. I think we bought some really bad coke the first time, where the reaction just wasn’t impressive. So we tried that again later. And sometimes we get it all shot and we decide that the slow mo just isn’t interesting enough if it’s not something that people haven’t seen, or it doesn’t show something in a new way.”
Gav adds, “I would say that, based on the stuff we shoot in the back garden, we only upload around fifty percent of it.”
In their experiments, Gav and Dan make sure to take safety into account before shooting any project. Dan explains, “I’ve gone ‘we’re not doing that, it’s just not going to happen, I’m not comfortable doing that’ sometimes… We’ll have little contraptions to make it safe, like we did one with a microwave, where we found a method of hiding around the corner to make it safe. We think about it and we take precautions to be sure.”
Gav adds, “There’s some things that we’ve written down and even sometimes gotten the props ready and decided against it because it’s too unpredictable. One time we had a suggestion to throw things into a flipped upside-down lawnmower, which I assume would make some nice footage, but it seemed too unpredictable, like if the blades flew off or if some shrapnel flew out and killed one of us. We tend to err on the safer side even though some of them [the videos] look quite dangerous.”
Dan notes, “I’ve somehow built up a lot of experience in what’s gonna work and what’s not. I can sometimes look at something and say ‘that’s safe, or that’s not safe’ having experienced the military practical side of things. And also, just filming the videos, I’ve built a wealth of knowledge on what’s good and what’s not; what’s going to work and what’s not.”
The Super Slow Show and Beyond
In late January of 2018, The Slow Mo Guys launched their newest project, a collaboration with YouTube Originals called The Super Slow Show. The project is filmed in Southern California and allowed them to work on videos that were otherwise outside the scope of their production facilities (aka their backyard) and their budget.
The Super Slow Show enlists well known figures such as actor Dylan Sprouse, actor/neuroscientist Mayim Bialik, physicist/performance artist Dr. Megavolt, sumo wrestler Yama, basketball star Kevin Durant and skate legend Tony Hawk. The show provides bigger stunts and experiments than Gav and Dan have previously been able to do.
Gav explains the origins of The Super Slow Show: “At VidCon 2016, I pitched the idea of a bigger budget slow-mo show to the YouTube Originals team, based on bigger things that we couldn’t do in our backyard. Originally it involved more travel, where we would actually go to different places, where you’d have to go to the event in order to film it in slow mo as opposed to something you could just recreate. But then it became a much bigger show than that, where we actually had a full blown set out in the desert and tons of ideas and tons of crew, which was nice.”
Other than a bigger budget and bigger stunts, the Super Slow Show releases videos four days a week for 12 weeks, giving fans a ton of content in a short period of time.
After the Super Slow Show wraps season 1, the duo will go back to producing videos their usual way and closer to their older release schedule. Gav, Dan and their fans all look forward to the new, even higher-speed Phantom camera, supposedly coming out in the next year. “We’ll be going even slower as time goes on,” says Gav.
Gav offers some advice to new content creators looking to make their place on YouTube: “Figure out something that you enjoy doing that isn’t a chore, then just start making it. I wouldn’t focus too much time learning technique, in terms of editing or the way you should be on camera; you just get the hang of it over time. Maybe your first twenty videos wouldn’t be any good, but you would have learned a lot and I think that’s typically how creators get started; they never really go in fully educated on the situation — you can learn along the way.”
Dan adds that, “It has to be something you’re passionate about and that you love doing. That’s the number one thing.”