I had to call two hotels and three different rooms to get onto Devin Graham. He's currently booked into a swanky room in Sydney under an alias to avoid being mobbed by his fans. Not that he'd mind, it just might put a dent in his sleep schedule. That's how big Devinsupertramp, as he's now known, has become. He can't travel halfway around the world to avoid being recognised: everyone knows him and his work. Well, you might not know him immediately if you saw him on the street, but you've definitely seen his amazing YouTube videos. This is how Devin Graham, aka Devinsupertramp, became the biggest thing since YouTube.
Devin's had a pretty big day. I called up to his room for a chat ahead of the VIDInc festival in Sydney this weekend. All the big YouTubers are there. People he used to only go along to hear speak are the idols he's speaking alongside on Saturday.
"I went to the first VidCon in America as an amateur YouTube film maker, and I saw all these YouTubers there and they have a million subscribers each. I thought that was never part of the plan for me, but now i'm at a conference speaking next to them," he says, humbly.
Before he became YouTube extraordinaire, Devinsupertramp, he was just Devin. A guy with a film school background, no money for sweet camera gear with aspirations to one day make a move into feature films. Before all the hot girls, crazy stunts and beautiful shots, he started out as just a guy making videos for a dental appliance company.
"I was working for a company called Aurabrush who were [marketing] a tongue cleaner. They used YouTube to launch their company and I filmed, edited and directed the clips. They went on to be in every store and Walmart in America, just by using YouTube. After I saw the raw power of YouTube, so I went out to do my own thing and that's when I started my own channel," he tells me.
It wasn't a terrible idea, in fact. Instead of being a film school graduate drifting from job to job, he's a YouTube celebrity. If you've been sent a video that is distilled madness framed beautifully and set to funky beats, it's likely it was a Devinsupertramp production.
His main channel has almost 1.4 million subscribers who tune in for new videos every week. As soon as he posts one, the views rocket up through the thousands and into the millions within hours and days, while his most popular clip currently sits at just shy of 27 million views.
It was a video we featured: a clip of a Parkour free-runner dressed up in an Ezio Auditore cosplay from Assassin's Creed. The music swells as the white-clad hero leaps off walls and bounds over railings. The transitions are beautiful and the camera looks like it's floating. The beautiful thing is that this incredible production value is Devin's hallmark. This professionalism is quintessential to his work. The quality is his hallmark and the immediate desire you have to share it with your friends is his calling card.
"I love extreme videos," he confesses. "I grew up with snowboarding and I'm always looking for crazy things that people do that others can share. I find random things and film them. I went to film school and learned a lot and carried it over to the youtube scene," he adds.
His other videos have included a giant rope swing through the most beautiful mountain scenery you could ever imagine (twice), wingsuiting out of planes, taking part in an epic paintball battle, creating a water-slide out of an abandoned overflow tunnel and even catching incredible scenes as a group of guys master a water jet-pack.
Devin started out borrowing film equipment from friends to go out and shoot fun, goofy videos. He's always had a passion for it. After his first few successes, he bought a Canon 5D Mark II, a GoPro and a GlideCam HD 3000 steadycam rig to shoot more. Those are really the only three pieces of kit he swears by, and now he uses pretty much the same equipment: Canon 5D Mark III, a GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition and the same GlideCam stabilisation rig. While he can now afford to get crazily high-end equipment, he says that's not his scene.
"What I have found out after using more expensive cameras is that my fans can't connect with it when it goes up. they feel like they can't do it themselves. They like videos they can relate to," he explains.
Devin is in Australia to present at VIDInc — Australia's first YouTube festival — but he has no idea what he'll be chatting about officially. He just wants to get up there and talk about how people can start doing what he does for a living.
"To be honest, I'm not sure what I'm discussing. People are really curious as to how [I] make these things and I want to explain my passion to them. I went out when I started with no equipment and all passion, and now I make money with it. I want people to walk away from meeting me and know that they can do what they love to do. I'm all about people living and pursuing their dreams.
"The best piece of advice I could give anyone would be to film everyday and fail everyday. Every time I go out on a shoot, I'm learning from it. You can't sit around and say 'I'm going to wait for the perfect movie to come along,' because if you do that you won't have the experience others have. Every video I make I learn something and become better. You have to film everyday despite rejection," he says with pride in his voice.
It hasn't always been the smoothest of rides to the tippy-top for Devin Graham, however. The Devinsupertramp channel is his third in about as many years.
"Nobody really watched the videos on my other channels," he confesses, adding that practice made perfect.
"I have my earlier videos which are around five to 10 years old, but I'm proud of those because they got where I'm at now. Everything I do is out there. Sometimes I'm not proud of the stuff I make, but I put it out anyway so I can learn from the mistakes."
One particular mistake he's still learning from came from a mock Halo battle video he made.
"I put so much money and time and a lot of people's hard work into it. It completely flopped and people didn't like it. It's something i put my heart into and it didn't do well. It's hard with social media, knowing what's going to take off: it kind of hurts your self-confidence but you know you can go bigger next time," he admits. Even stuff he considers as not his best work, however, still gets almost two million views.
So with all the travel, sponsorship and fun he's getting, does he still want to do feature films? Not so much anymore.
"I wanted to be a feature film director once, but there are 500 people in the way from studios on a project like that. With YouTube, there are only the fans to answer to," he says, free as a bird. That hasn't stopped him from making a few narrative-driven films, however.
It's been a hell of a ride to get to where he is now: sitting in a fancy hotel room on the other side of the world, here to share his experiences to people who want to follow in his footsteps. Devin tells me he's done a bunch of sightseeing around Sydney today, fighting jet-lag the whole time. He's been all over the popular landmarks including the Opera House and the Zoo, and he's in love with the city.
"We're going to be doing two video shoots in Australia while we're here," he reveals. "One just showing off how pretty Sydney is, and a crazier one we're shooting on Monday. It's like a trike drifting video which is down crazy grass gulfs. On these insane courses people have made courses and they go super fast on home made karts. We've had several people submit ideas for what else we should do while here," he says, every word filled with inspiration. You can tell that he loves getting paid to go beautiful places all over the planet to meet with people who love his work.
Everything Devinsupertramp works on is for the fans. Later on this week, he'll be announcing a road-trip around America with the folks from Mountain Dew. He'll travel and meet different fans who have submitted great viral video ideas and help them come together.
The only thing fans want more than great visuals, is new content. They're rabid for it.
"There's a lot of production that goes into each video, but depending how often I have to travel, I try to post a new one every week or even every other week," he says. The best thing for him right now is the corporate interest that fuels his addiction to awesomely sharable videos.
Once you get a [fan] following, you get a brand and then everyone wants to work with you. Last week we shot a video for Ford, then one for Mountain Dew the next day, the Reebok the next and another Assassin's Creed video at Comic-Con after that. We're getting these huge brand deals and that's because we're getting the views. They pay for it and I publish it on my channel so it's a win for everybody," he says.
"I just love things that people have never seen before. trying to discover those things. i love human slingshots, for example. What I like to shoot is stuff that gets a lot of views. Whatever that is, it makes me like it a lot more, but each video is completely different. One week it's puppies, and one week it's parkour then it's Australia. Each one is like one of my babies: they have different meanings to me," he says.
Devin is pretty beat by this point. I'm not exactly helping his mental state by quizzing him at a late hour, but I can't let him go without asking the one question that seems to pop up on every one of his YouTube videos, and spreads as far as Gizmodo comments when we share one of his videos: where does he bus in that incredibly photogenic crowd from?
He's still got his sense of humour about him, so a wry laugh comes forth before he answers.
"The people are made up of some folks that I know and then they can bring on their friends. I never want my videos to feel staged, so the people I bring are either friends or friends of friends. You'll notice around 30 per cent of the same people in a lot of my videos, but others are just some that I meet on the day," he confesses.
We exchange pleasantries and hang up. Tomorrow he'll be up and at them again, planning his next viral sensation, and we'll be watching.