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How The Slow Mo Guys Took Over YouTube

Gavin Free and Daniel Gruchy told BuzzFeed News how their “ridiculously silly” project became a web sensation.

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YouTube challenged Gavin Free and Daniel Gruchy to recreate some of the internet's favourite memes in GIF form, and that's exactly what they've done.

Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News met up with the Slow Mo Guys to find out about their success.

The first question I asked was: What's it like being famous?

And they really are famous, you know. Over 4,500,000 people subscribe to their channel. It's a surreal thing to happen to two very normal guys from a small Oxfordshire town, Thame, who one day decided to film some silly stuff in slow motion and upload it to the internet.

When I met them at YouTube's offices in London, they certainly didn't act like celebrities, and seemed to find the whole thing almost as surprising as anyone else.

"I was at the airport today," Gruchy said. "I was at the x-ray machines and the guy told me to take my belt off. And of course, as I'm going through he says, 'Stop sir, you'll need to do that in slow motion.'"

Everyone loves them. "We get stopped a lot in Thame," Gruchy said. "You get a lot of older people saying, 'My son loves you, he'll be so jealous I've met you.'" Free said his dad recently had the police round after he'd been robbed, and the officers were stunned to see his picture sitting on the mantelpiece.

YouTube is currently running a huge poster campaign featuring the pair, which they find simultaneously awesome and – being British – deeply embarrassing. "It's so surreal at the moment," said Free. "I'm only back for a few days [he lives in Texas], so we went down to the underground to look at the giant poster of us. We knew what to expect because someone had tweeted us, but when I saw it in person, I was like, 'Oh, god' – I wanted to hide."

So how did it all begin?

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"I was a slow-motion camera operator in the film industry here, I did that for about seven years," said Free. "The guy who owned the cameras ended up trusting me enough to just borrow them whenever I wanted."

"And then we just made a couple of videos and put them on Facebook," said Gruchy.

"There was a company in the US called Rooster Teeth who wanted to hire me, but I didn't have a degree," said Free. "I was struggling at the time to get a visa. I thought maybe if this gets big I have something that only I can do. It was on TV, it was written about in newspapers and stuff, and I suddenly met all the requirements. Probably took me about a year."

"And then when Gav was back in Britain we'd do videos whenever there was good weather," said Gruchy.

"Then we got a couple of cameras in Texas," said Free. "The weather is way better over there for slow mo filming."

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Would it be fair to say that Dan gets hurt a lot more than Gav?

"Yes, this is definitely true", said Gruchy. "Mainly I'd say it's because Gav's the camera expert and the director of things. I'd say I'm more like special effects, stunts. and production."

"It started because I had high-speed camera skills," said Free. "If you gave the Phantom camera to someone in the street they wouldn't be able to figure out how to use it. A lot of technical stuff is camera-specific – you need to know about the way light works and that sort of stuff."

"Plus he's an absolute wuss," said Gruchy.

"Yeah, you can put that in there," Free said. "I couldn't argue with that. Dan has skills I didn't know existed. He can hit anything dead on with an axe. I don't know anyone who can do that. I try and it'll just be embedded in the ground next to it.

"We did start off more even in the early videos. We'd have challenges, and stuff would happen to the loser. It just so happened that Dan lost the first challenge. The penalty was getting hit in the face with a football. It got 15 million views, and ever since then..."

So what's caused the most pain?

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"The paintball was painful," said Free. "I had a scar on my arsecheek for four months. But it was either the burning oil or the sugar glass."

Gruchy said: "We thought it'd be a good idea to do a slow-motion bar fight, you know, like in the movies [with fake glass bottles]. I was just stood there, and Gav just picks up a bottle and goes 'right, test 1', smacks me round the face with it, nearly knocks me out, and cuts my ear open."

"His ear was detached at the top," said Free.

"And I was bleeding, I was like, 'Aargh! God!'" said Gruchy. "And I'm looking at all this glass wondering how this happened. Turned out one of them had got really thick – they'd put a whole load extra in the mould so it was [a couple of inches] thick – most of them would break when you squeezed them, but that one was just meaty."

Slow Mo Guys / Via youtube.com

"Some stuff doesn't look good when you actually get hurt," said Free. "We did a trailer video for a thing we called Sledgehammer Week, and he bumped me in the back of the head with a sledgehammer handle, and in slow motion it just went 'thump', but it really bloody hurt. Then there are other things like the mousetraps which are visually very impressive but not that painful."

Do they ever put themselves in real danger?

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So far the injuries have been pretty minor. As you see above, the mousetraps got Gruchy on the finger (but didn't hurt him), and he's also managed to burn his hand with oil.

Free said: "There are some videos where we put 'don't try this at home', even though we are trying it at home."

"But we've got lab coats, so it's all right," said Gruchy.

Was their infamous grenade video the most dangerous? "Probably not," Free said. "That was actually a shoot with a full special FX team. They gave us the safe distances and all that, so that was probably quite low down on the danger list, despite being the biggest explosions."

"Stuff with flames is probably the most dangerous," Gruchy said. "Or anything involving a build-up of pressure, a can of some sort – you never know where it's going to go."

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But then they're doing things that have never been done before.

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It's not like anyone's had 1,500 water balloons thrown at them before. So how can anyone know how it'll go?

"That actually really hurt, I forgot that," said Gruchy. "I got one, I don't know who lobbed it... One of them came from absolutely miles away, and I turned to the side and it hit me directly in the earhole and put loads of pressure in my ear, and I couldn't hear for like, a week. Low sounds like a van going past would actually hurt my ear."

"I love the fact that someone in that crowd of 1,500 people just managed to get you in the most painful place possible," said Free. "They hit you in the eardrum. That was one of my favourite videos – seeing those balloons blot out the sun, 300-style, and land in our faces. It was great.

"I'd love to see what a health and safety assessment for our videos would look like. This has never been done before, what do we do? That's why we rarely use a crew. I'd say 90% of our videos, it's us and two unmanned cameras. We can then just do whatever we want. We're not going to sue each other."

"Well, you'd better not," said Gruchy.

So what's the weirdest request they've ever got?

"It's amazing how many people don't get it," Free said. "People have seen timelapse footage of clouds and they say, 'Hey, you should do clouds,' and I'm like, 'What? Do you realise how slowly clouds move?'"

"We obviously get a lot of filthy requests," said Gruchy. "Some porn producer wanted bouncing boobs in a bra. If we did that we would definitely have to do a guy in a mankini too. We'd probably put that at the start."

And what do they make of the growth of YouTube as a media outlet?

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"Since my early days of doing high speed I'd put out the occasional video," Free said. "One of my friends sent it around to his friends, it ended up on the front page of break.com. Which was bigboys.com at the time. I knew there was audience for it: It's always stuff that people haven't seen before. ... So I always kind of hoped it would be a huge thing on YouTube."

Gruchy said: "It wasn't like it was unplanned – the conversation was more like, 'People are putting these videos up on YouTube, but we can too.'"

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They think YouTube is changing the shape of media.

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Gruchy said: "If you think terrestrial TV's on the way out and YouTube's on the way in, it's because the younger generation want to watch stuff on demand, the internet's so available now. They love to have that interaction with the people they watch. You can't exactly watch Eastenders and then send a message to Phil Mitchell. People have a lot of interaction with us, they can request things in the comments – and we definitely read them to see what they respond to best."

"Originally we wanted every video to be informative [...] but then people really liked the cinnamon challenge or the condom on the head, which don't really show much, they're just really funny videos," said Free.

The Slow Mo Guys

The pair mainly interact with their fans through Twitter and by reading YouTube comments. Gruchy said: "It's good to know your audience and have that direct interaction. We've always had a good mix – some of them are quite scientific, some are just ridiculously stupid, and sometimes you point the camera at nature ... and that looks good too."

"One of the great things is getting tweeted by people who say 'our teacher played your video in class today' – that happens a lot," Free said. "I've had over 100 pictures sent to me with the back of people's heads in a classroom watching our videos. It's always the same video – the tuning fork, or the ball hitting Dan in the head. It's a funny video, his face goes all over the place, but it's also a great example of momentum in action."

And they've got a whole bunch of cool stuff lined up for the future.

Free said: "We've got like, 10 good ones filmed that haven't gone out yet. Because we live in different countries, we film two or three times a year and do a lot. I'm quite picky about what we put out – they don't all work."

"Our quality control is ridiculous," said Gruchy. "We make films, and we think they're cool, but they have to be amazing to go out."

Coming soon, there'll be bugs on a bug zapper, ink in water, a slow-motion kitten... And not only that, but they've got a brand-new camera. "We've got a 4k version of the Phantom," said Free. "That will be pretty awesome: 1,000 frames per second."

So even if their lives seem to be happening in fast-forward, the Slow Mo Guys are about to get even slower.