Danny MacAskill’s guide to making a viral video

The trials legend gives us his six tips on how to make videos become insanely popular online.
Danny MacAskill's Wee Day Out
Checking the shots © Fred Murray
By Tom East

There isn't a more famous trials rider than Danny MacAskill, but it was through his YouTube videos rather than competition victories that the Scottish biker gained his worldwide recognition.

From 2009's Inspired Bicycles to 2016's Wee Day Out, his skills have captivated hundreds of millions of viewers, who are not only amazed by his incredible skills, but love the locations he rides in and his sense of fun – it's not every day you see someone ride on a hay bale.

So, what's his secret? Here's Danny's guide to making a viral bike video.

1. Be original

"For Inspired Bicycles, we [me and my flatmate at the time] went out and I did the best ride that I could around Edinburgh. We worked very hard on it, but we made it for ourselves – it had different riding that people hadn’t necessarily seen.

"If you go out and do riding that’s never been done before that’s at a level that people are amazed and shocked by, you could film that on a six-year old camera phone and that’s a viral. It has to be genuinely different."

2. Don't repeat yourself

© Fred Murray

Myself and my friends work as hard as we can in the time we can to make it the best. I don’t want to look back and be disappointed. I set myself that challenge and then I also try to make the videos so that they don’t compare to one another. That’s an easier way – rather than raising the bar each time, I shift the goalposts to a different place.

"Wee Day Out doesn’t compare to The Ridge, it does have some scenery, but The Ridge was slow and epic – it was easy riding for me actually, just riding along the top of this ridge line, but it was more about adventure and being out on top of these exposed mountains, whereas Wee Day Out is more focused on the riding, having a bit of fun and making hard stuff look easy.

"That’s how I approach things. I try to come up with a different way of using the skills that I have and try to come up with something original each time. It’s not easy."

3. Think of ideas that reach beyond your normal audience

Danny MacAskill poses for a portrait on the Harry Potter train in Scotland, United Kingdom on August 16, 2016.
Danny on the 'Harry Potter train' © Fred Murray/Red Bull Content Pool

"I quite enjoy coming up with ideas that have a wider reach. That’s usually an environment or a theme that makes them more watchable. The riding plays a big part, but it’s part of a broader picture.

"The Harry Potter train in Wee Day Out? Things like that go in to give it a beginning and an end and a feel – people can relate to it."

4. Get the location right

"The location is a massive part of these riding videos. How long do we spend researching the location? It depends on the concept.

"When I first saw Epecuen, I knew that would make a good backdrop for a film. For Wee Day Out, we spent five or six weeks scouting in Scotland, trying to find things that I had specific ideas for tricks, but in the wilderness – it was like a needle in a haystack. There are hundreds of miles between the locations and the video is only as good as what you find to do your stuff on."

5. Get inspiration from elsewhere

Danny MacAskill's Wee Day Out
The only way to keep up with Danny © Dave Mackison

"I take inspiration from lots of different things. You can look at BMX, which has been progressing for the last 30-odd years. That’s a good place to look for trick ideas. Skateboarding is a good place to look for video ideas – they’ve got very creative filmers. MTB as well. Nowadays we’ve got so much content.

"I quite like using music as a tool for looking inwards rather than looking at what other people are doing. I think: what do I want to do next? I try to use new music to come up with lots of random ideas and scour through them when I’m travelling."

6. Don't worry about the views

"In the beginning we never considered making a video with the intention of lots of people seeing it. The very first video we made, which we filmed in 2005 around Aviemore, I just bought a video camera and my friend came and filmed me doing the stuff I do day to day.

"Because we’re trying to do something different each time, you never know if it's going to go viral, and to be honest, I don’t really care. As long as we’ve made something that we set out to make, it doesn’t really matter. It’s cool that people like it, but as soon as it's on there, it's on to the next one."

Watch Danny MacAskill in Kings of Content – a documentary about the internet's most creative people – on Red Bull TV, from April 10.

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