Devin Graham bids Hawaii farewell, presents video-tribute to surf photographer Jon Mozo

Written by: 
Kevin Brown

Popular social media videographer Devin Graham gave a presentation on generating successful content to aspiring students in the HGB on Sept. 26, and showed a screening of his video tribute for the Mozo family.

Taylor Steele, manager of BYU-Hawaii’s Media Production Center, a special instructor at the Willes Center for International Entrepreneurship and organizer of the event, said, “Devin Graham is a film maker and social media influencer who produces adventure and extreme sports videos on YouTube under the name ‘Devin Super Tramp.’”

Graham’s videos have influenced the world and his YouTube channel has obtained over 4.5 million followers since the start of his career in 2010, said Steele.

At the opening of the event, Graham puzzled the audience with a statistic he said was true for the social media industry. “Over 70 percent of what I’m going to tell you tonight is going to be a lie. Everything is changing. [These techniques] are going to be different weeks or months from now.”

Referring to these constant changes, Graham said his career started because he himself had to change his views. “I had a friend tell me that YouTube was going to be the next big thing. I thought, ‘No, that is not where professionals go, that’s where people that don’t do much go.’

“But then one of my friends pitched the idea for a tongue brush, and we decided to market it on YouTube. With $200, we went and made the best video we could make. Then we saw the video generated millions and millions of dollars in revenue from that product. That was when I saw the power of social media.”

Graham said he soon embraced all platforms of social media and began following people randomly to generate viewership for his videos.

To show the world what he was capable of, Graham said he travelled to Oahu and filmed one of his first videos, “The World’s Widest Slip and Slide,” which generated over 3.7 million views on YouTube, and he effectively kick started his professional career as a videographer.

Such success wouldn’t come without hardships and lessons learned along the way though.

Devin mentioned a YouTube video, “Camera Wars,” where he drained all of his life savings to make a movie of epic proportions. “It didn’t catch fire like we hoped it would have. However, we were okay losing money just because we knew it would be seen by other people and other companies.”

Graham said this was a calculated risk he took with the content he created. He said he even resorted to making videos without pay to get his name out there. 

“Opportunities wouldn’t come to me. I had to make my own opportunities. I realized that by doing things for free, people starting seeing what I was all about.”

He said he eventually landed a deal to make a promotional video for a company selling water jet packs. “The developer didn’t think my videos would sell his $100,000 product. However, it ended up increasing his sales by over 300 percent.”

The company sent him a letter verifying the authenticity of social media, and Graham said he was able to land deals with Nike, Adidas and Champion. He said he was even contacted by an Israeli company and flown first-class to film a video in Iceland.

“I was 26 years old. They were caught off guard when I stepped off of the plane. I don’t think they would have flown me first class if they knew how young I was,” he said jokingly.

Realizing he had expectations to meet, Graham said he did what professional videographers have to do when they get a contract: create consistent content. “Whenever you land a deal…[companies] are going to expect you to do it over and over again. It’s like a dog that learns news tricks. I had to make sure that I would keep doing business with them, otherwise we were both wasting out time.” Graham said this was accomplished through working many tiring days and sleepless nights.

Steele said, “He is one of the hardest working filmmakers that I have ever seen and I think it shows with his work.”

Graham said he even takes projects on through sole passion for what he does. While visiting the island of Kauai with friends, he said he made a video, which later went viral, of nature shots around the island and posted it on YouTube. Because of the video, Kauai Tourism contacted him to make additional promotional videos of the island.

He said it is very important in the social media industry to do projects that are accompanied with personal passion.

As for other projects, Graham said it doesn’t hurt to do other projects but videographers shouldn’t sacrifice their standards to take on contracts.

“I had to decide early on what my standards were,” he said. “I was asked to do a video with the NFL in Florida. All of these cheerleaders came out and were wearing next to nothing. I was like, ‘This doesn’t represent what I am about.’

“I talked to the head cheerleader and said, ‘We have to get these girls to cover up a little bit.’” She said, ‘No, this is what sells.’”

What became a defining moment in his career, he said it took a lot of courage to not back down and do what he felt was right. “Modest is hottest,” he said as he finished the story of saying how the cheerleaders eventually came out with modejackets.

Graham said he wanted the last lecture he would give in Hawaii for a while to benefit as much as possible aspiring videographers. He asked the audience to raise their hands if they were considering videography as part of their future careers, and over half of the audience responded.

“There are a lot of you,” he said, “so I want to make sure you know the essentials to succeed.”    

He said, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. My start idea was with YouTube. However, Facebook favors people who put up content every few days, and even that is an interesting dynamic.”

From data he obtained, Graham said over 77 percent of Facebook users watch videos on mute so videos must grab people’s attention with text when not using audio.

However, he said the biggest component of his success as a videographer was because he surrounded himself with good people, including his wife, Megan, who also attended the event.

“I actually met [Megan] in this room. It was a Great Ideas competition and I was chosen to be one of the judges. She interviewed me and things took off from there. How could you not resist? I mean, look at her,” he said while she was standing on the podium next to him.

At the conclusion of his presentation, an audience member and aspiring videographer who drove from Waikiki to say farewell to Graham, performed a haka dance as a token of his appreciation from the people of Hawaii.

Graham, leaving on that note with tears in his eyes, said, “I’ll stay until the last person leaves. I want to speak with everyone because you guys mean so much to me.”


The Screening of “Transcend”

Following the presentation, a screening of Graham’s project, “Transcend: The Jon Mozo Story,” was shown to students and community members in attendance.

Graham said he took on the project after hearing about the tragic story of Jon Mozo, a professional surf photographer who suffered fatal head injuries while photographing Pipeline in 2005.

Nikki Mozo, the wife of Jon Mozo, and Graham worked together to direct and produce the approximately hour-long movie tribute that highlighted the Mozo’s lives before and after the incident.  

The tribute shed light on Jon Mozo’s love for the ocean and showed clips of him surfing and photographing waves and surfers, as well as photos of a shark attack where he nearly lost his foot. 

The video also showcased Jon Mozo’s interactions with those around him. “He was passionate about his career, and his family, but also his Polynesian culture,” said Nikki Mozo.

Stu Hinckley, a BYUH graduate of computer science and friend of the Mozo Family, said, “Back when I was here, Devin finished a teaser for ‘Transcend’ and showed it at Malaekahana Beach Park. Here we are, seven years later, and it’s still not actually done. There is just so much to it.”

Nikki Mozo said, “Devin interviewed over 60 people to make this happen. He started over 7 years ago, and I haven’t had to pay a dime for any of this. He did this whole thing out of the goodness of his heart. When I realized that he was leaving, I figured this would be a good opportunity for us all to get together.

“We still haven’t released this story because it is so hard to tell the story. I want to thank Devin for being so patient. It’s so difficult to put together.”

Jon Mozo is a BYUH alumnus, who at 33 years old was on top of the world as a renowned surf photographer in Hawaii. It tells his story of surviving a shark attack in the water at Hukilau Beach while going to BYUH and his love affair with the ocean. He died doing what he loved, says movie information.

“Transcend is not the tragic ending of a life lived on the edge, it’s the inspiring beginning of immense majesty immortalized.  A story about his intense love for life, and his family’s resolve to continue his legacy,” it says.

The Mozo’s children, Makana, Amber, Ariana and Anela, were also in attendance at the event. 

Date Published: 
Monday, October 9, 2017
Last Edited: 
Monday, October 9, 2017

NOTE: This story's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Oct. 2017 print issue.