BY: ROB HOFFMAN
Devin Graham stands at the forefront of a shifting media landscape that takes filmmaking out of the hands of big-budget producers and instead makes it available to a vastly broader population. This democratization of filmmaking excites and inspires viewers to take action in an industry they may have otherwise been too intimidated to pursue. This is one of the aspects of Graham’s videos that make them so exciting: though the quality and aesthetic are suggestive of big-budget film equipment, Graham’s videos are largely shot on a Canon DSLR—a camera that most of his viewers can afford. Graham’s originality and dynamic are instead the backbones of his video’s incredible visuals.
Viewership, too, has been given a newly leveled playing field. Before the internet and online media, the films we watched were largely determined for us—essentially only having access to those that were given the opportunity to reach public screening. Now, online platforms like YouTube are able to give viewership and a video’s success back to the jurisdiction of the general public. If a video reaches large-scale success, it isn’t because of a multi-million dollar budget and international theatre screening. Viewers are instead given the benefit of free online media, and the power to make judgements based on quality.
Connectedly, Graham’s success in the industry isn’t a product of major financial backing—but instead is a direct product of hard-work and undying determination. Of course Graham is also talented—stylistically, his work is innovative and unique and therefore immediately recognizable. However Graham believes that success isn’t derived from natural talent and innate opportunity, but is rather the product of persistence and learning from your mistakes—and his life is the proof. Graham was originally rejected from film school, had two failed YouTube channels, and in the beginning had all of his hard-earned equipment stolen leaving him penniless and without the necessary equipment to pursue his dreams. Graham even admits that his first film premier left crickets in the audience, and he almost swore off film making then and there. Had he taken that moment to be a representation of his potential, we wouldn’t have the vastly popular and inspiring YouTube channel Graham is known for today—the near endless video-archive, aside from the widely discussed watchability, is largely the motivational fuel of innumerable new filmmakers, dream-chasers and adventurers alike.
Graham’s blog offers some profound insights into the truth of his work, as his life is often misconstrued in the media to be a mere string of fantasy vacations and partying. Graham even goes so far as to list a number of his major life failures, hoping to deliver the broader and more important message behind his work: It’s okay to fail—the critical choice is how you deal with it. Although it’s true that Graham’s work gives him the opportunity to explore a number of exotic locations and play with some pretty exciting technology, the amount of work he puts in is immense: “It may take 16 hours to shoot a project, and 60 hours to edit it.” And Graham puts out one video a week.
In conjuncture with long hours, the shots that Graham gets—despite many of them only spanning a few seconds—also require a massive amount of physical work and discipline. Operating on an “anything to get the shot” mentality, Graham’s working conditions are often far from glamourous. From hours of hiking and swims through long stretches of ocean, to sleeping in tents and running edits from his car in Wal-Mart parking lots, Graham has proven time and time again the value of perseverance and grit.
The truth is that the path to success is littered with failure and disappointment. So although you may stub your toe or scuff your knee on the way, Graham reminds us the importance of putting on a tough face and hobbling to the finish line. Still, Graham’s career has far from peaked—he continues to fight for his dreams, while simultaneously hoping to provide inspiration for those willing to do the same.
As Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Though opportunity may not be clad in overalls for Graham—rather board shorts and perhaps a backwards cap—the bit about hard work remains the cornerstone of Graham’s success.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Graham about work ethic, overcoming obstacles and the balancing act between work and personal life:
What were the most heartbreaking moments in your film career?
That’s a tough one because it’s all about the shot. So it could be waiting for the right moment for a shot and it never happening, like when I was looking for Grizzly bears in Canada and never even saw one. But it may also be getting all geared up for a shot and the wind or weather deciding not to help us out.
You’re putting out a new video every week. Of course there’s a lot that goes into each video: conceptualization, travel to the destination, waiting for the right filming conditions, filming and finally editing everything into a finished product…How do you possibly fit all of this into 1 week?
That is a major issue for Team Supertramp because so many issues have to fit together for everything to work out and sometimes everything just falls apart. There is five of us working together trying to meet deadlines. It may take 16 hours to shoot a project and 60 hours to edit it. We do try to get ahead of schedule and even that is tough. But the main issue is that we go all day and night working on these projects. I have had to sacrificed a lot of things to get the videos out on time.
You’ve said that you get bored extremely easily, and you’re always looking for something new and interesting to film. Do you think you’ll ever branch off from filming actions sports and extreme stunts, to shoot something completely different?
We try to take a project and make it into a new idea, something that has never been done or take a sport and make it seem more extreme than it really is. That gets me out of being bored. We are working on several things right now that I would rather not spoil the surprise of, but I can say that it will be extremely exciting for everyone.
Do you ever plan on making a feature length film, and if so would it feature the sort of content you produce now?
I have always wanted to make a feature length film, but it would have to be the right time and the right situation. What I enjoy about YouTube is that I have control over all the aspects of what we do, but when doing a feature length film some of that control would be lost.
Is it difficult to maintain friendships and relationships when your lifestyle is so nomadic?
It can be trying at times, but those that are close to me understand the kind of business I am in and for the most part do have patience with what I do and the schedule that I need to keep.
You’ve said many times before that, despite what everyone thinks, you’re not just going out and partying 24/7 and that your job requires a crazy amount of work. Are there ever moments in time where you wish you had a more laid back career/lifestyle? Of course, to most people this sounds absurd given your accomplishments—but do you ever feel like you’re missing out on something?
I guess at times when I get a little behind on our deadlines it’s tough. There has been times that there has been important issues in my family that I could not attend because I have been out of the country. I know that there are things that I have missed out on, but I think most people that work this hard miss out on things. I also feel pretty fortunate to have an opportunity most people never see.
Which video of yours was the scariest to shoot?
It would definitely be the rope swing out of Moab Utah. It was over 400 ft rope swing. I am scared of heights and the shoot was based off a cliff. We will not do a shoot if it is too dangerous for the athletes. But lets face it, we’re not dealing with normal people here. We get the best athletes to take part in these stunts. It took 12 hours to set that 400 ft rope swing up and we took every precaution to make sure no one died that day.