Devin Graham is the absolute master of fun, the viral video version of it.
His globetrotting, extreme-adventure-meets-extreme-friendship YouTube channel is so envy-inducing that the most common comment (and there are a lot of them) is some version of “Is this real life?! I’ve been doing it all wrong.”
Graham, a 32-year-old film school dropout better known now as Devin Supertramp, has turned an extreme version of fun into Internet fame and a business that has generated well over half a billion views and counting, along with 3.6 million subscribers.
The channel has big-budget branded content featuring "pros," like the adrenaline-spiking "World's Largest Zipline" stunt for Speed Stick, but also ultra-beautiful travel videos with thousands of glowing lanterns taking flight over Colorado Springs, or an elephant playfully splashing Graham with river water in Nepal—the type of stuff that will make you ache with wanderlust.
But it's a third type of video that stands out as Graham's signature style: Take regular people, throw them into a crazy, fun but-also-kinda-scary scenario, and set the whole thing to a bumping, inspirational beat.
Think Slip and Slides are fun? How about sliding on one, right off a cliff? Want to have a snowball fight? Throw in some snowmobile stunts. Like Indiana Jones? Let’s recreate the boulder scene, but with dozens of runners getting plowed over by an inflatable ball with people riding inside of it.
And that's how we get to "Human Water Catapult." The video has beautiful people in swimsuits getting launched 50 feet into the Lake Powell reservoir, a rap video-worthy houseboat with more than 7.5 million views.
We caught up with Graham —before he was set to hop on a flight to Utah for a video shoot that will tie in the new “Point Break” reboot—to ask him how a video like “Human Water Catapault” came together.
Did you know you had a hit on your hands with this video?
Every video that we create, we do it with the idea that millions of people will share it, and that there’s an audience for that. We had already made a video with The Blob (that big bubble that does the catapulting) and it had millions of views. So our approach with this one was, let’s use the blob again, but let’s also throw in some other unique water sports, like flyboarding, and make something people really want to share on social media. That’s always the thought process. We never know for sure what’s gonna be a big hitter, but usually we know for sure what’s going to get a million views in the first week—after that it’s kind of a guessing game.
So what’s the budget on something like this?
Well, Boardco is a watersport company and they had a houseboat and the other watersports gear, and they were a friend, so it was a trade. We said, “Hey, can you give us some of the resources you have so we can do this idea?” They were stoked about that because they knew they’d get a lot of exposure, so they donated all the resources and we went in there and made it happen. So on this one, since it was a trade, I’d say we only spent $5,000 out of our pocket. That being said, most of our videos, where it’s not a trade, cost far, far more than that.
How does it come together, and how long does it really take to make a three-minute YouTube hit?
We come up with the idea, either me or someone on my team and then it’s a big process as far as making it happen. This one actually was relatively quick. We planned it out about two weeks ahead of time before we filmed it, it took a little time because we got one of the world’s best—I’m not even sure what you call them—flyboarding athletes, to be in it. Then it was about three days of actual filming, and then about another week of editing and color correction.
So who are these people and where do you find them?
They really are just friends. I feel like social media is all built on things feeling real and being real. So these aren’t actors, they’re not paid people to be in our videos. They’re friends, and we’re creating real experiences for them. That’s why it feels real, and that’s why people connect with it so much, because you’re watching very real people, and this is a very real experience. If they were actors, you’d pick up on that. It would feel off. Most of the people in this particular video were people who have been in a lot of our other ones. Sometimes we hold giant events that are open to the public where we get 300 or 400 people and we film that, but since we were on a houseboat we could only bring our closest friends, who we thought could pull off awesome tricks on the blob.
How many waivers do you make them sign? It seems dangerous, like you could get sued.
Just a waiver each, and more than anything that’s just a release form to make sure we can use the footage for whatever we want, like on TV and stuff. A couple of people did get minor injuries. A girl got one of her fake nails torn off, there were some bruises. You’re going up 40 or 50 feet before you hit the water, so there’s always a risk factor. People definitely get banged up on our shoots, but we have a really clean track record. If we’re doing a really dangerous stunt, we make sure we get experienced people.
Do you always try the stunts yourself if you’re asking your friends to do them?
Oh no. I’m afraid of heights and a lot of the things we do I’m terrified of. I’ll never send someone on something I don’t feel is completely safe, but as far as me doing stuff, I’d say only about 25 percent of the time I do it. I did the blob, though, three times. It’s actually terrifying because you’re sitting there at the end of it with your back turned and you’re not exactly sure when the person is going to jump. So it’s like a complete surprise and all of a sudden you’re flung in the air. It’s pretty intense.
Any belly flops out there that day?
Not that I remember. A couple people hit their back pretty hard. They have life vests on so there’s some padding.
Who is this big dude from the video? Everyone loves him. What’s his deal?
Christian Busath is one of our friends we’ve had in a bunch of videos. He’s just this really fun comedian we kind of met through YouTube. We love having him because he adds a whole different dynamic. He likes trying anything, and he likes pushing himself, especially when he’s being filmed. He definitely pushes it.
There are comments on this video from people saying, “This makes me so depressed because I’m not living this life.” What do you say to people who say that?
That’s definitely a recurring comment. One of the goals of our channel is to motivate people to go and live their lives, and to go outside and do fun things. Even though we see that comment, we get so many people commenting and emailing us and saying, “because of your videos I’m now going out and filming stuff,” or “I’m going and hanging out with my friends and getting outside.” So I think we’re doing more inspiring than depressing people, even though people do keep saying that.
Was this day nearly as much fun as it looked?
It was just a blast. We also flew in a big influencer, a guy named Logan Paul, he’s one of the most watched people on Vine. He was out there to collaborate as well. He’s a huge name on Vine so it was really cool. We’re doing stuff like this every week with our friends.
Have there been ideas you’ve had for videos where you couldn’t do them because it was just too extreme?
Actually no. The more I do this, the more I realize that literally any idea can get pulled off. Sometimes there are a lot of legal hurdles when we try to do stuff here so we just take it to another country.
What?! What was one that was too extreme for the USA?
“The World’s Largest Urban Zipline” is a good example. We had to close off an entire freeway to pull off that stunt, and we had to get access to one of the tallest skyscrapers in Panama. There was no way we could have pulled it off in America, we even checked into several cities here, but we were like “we’re not going to give up on this.”
Is your life really as awesome as I think it is? Is it just one big party?
I actually made a video to address this question, which I get all the time. But what I say is that everyone thinks I just go out there and have fun, party, and be a rock star, but the truth of the matter is what I do is hard work, it's a crazy amount of work. If you want to do this you have to be prepared to work as hard as you possibly can and give up some of the things you care about. We create this content for ourselves, but also for our fans. They allow us to live out our dreams, so it’s great to see how it’s affecting and inspiring people’s lives.
Want to check out more of Devin Supertramp’s crazy stunts? Watch them on Watchable.