Rory Kramer
Dance

'Dare to Live' Star Rory Kramer Tells How Videos of The Chainsmokers and Justin Bieber Saved His Life

Living is a lot easier said than done. Rory Kramer always dreamed of doing big things, but as he neared 30, he found himself locked in a dead-end job. He smuggled vodka into work in water bottles and came home to depression. He'd stopped trying to make things better, and started talking himself into a humdrum fate. It wasn't great, but it was just comfortable enough to count as survival.

Three years later, he's toured the world as a professional videographer for Martin Garrix, The Chainsmokers, Justin Bieber, and more. He counts music icons among his friends, rewrites his limits, smashes his goals, and even got his own show on MTV -- all because he took a chance and dared to live.

“It feels like something that I've wanted since I was in high school,” Kramer says. “Having what seems like an unattainable dream when you're that young, to see it actually happen is such a surreal feeling.”

Dare to Live is the name of Kramer's show, itself a sort-of juiced-up extension of clips he's been posting to YouTube and social media for years. He's an adrenaline junkie with access to some of MTV's favorites. Why wouldn't the channel follow him around and help concoct perfect content situations?

Each episode sees Kramer paired with another music star, and each adventure makes them face a different fear. The first episode features Rae Sremmurd and alligators. Later comes cliff diving with Krewella and sumo wrestling with Shawn Mendes. Some of the artists he's known for a while -- like The Chainsmokers who took him on tour -- and some of them he meets for the first time, like Iggy Azalea or Khalid. The characters aren't tied together by genre or association to the host. The show succeeds for the same reason Kramer's videography work hits home. It's about stepping our of the comfort zone, pulling back the glittery curtain, and telling real stories.

“Not only am I doing the show, I'm also learning, just as the viewer is,” Kramer says. “I wanna have these cool entertaining stunts, but I also want to have a very important message. A lot of shows are missing that stuff. It's like, yeah, there's great shows out there, and then there's great information. Why can't you have both? These kids already love your music and are inspired by it. Why not give them access to the knowledge of who you are?”

So how does a guy with nothing going for him end up with a show on MTV?

It starts when he first picked up a camera. Film was a teenage hobby. He was a well-liked kid from a small Indiana town. Like most 15 year olds, he watched MTV, and like most 15-year-old boys, his favorite program was Jackass! He also enjoyed skateboarding and jumping off of things. Filming his wild ways just seemed natural.

“Whatever it said not to try at home, that was the first thing we did,” he laughs. Some of his old videos make it into the show, like when Krewella's Jahan Yousaf asks him what he'd be doing if he wasn't a videographer. “I was like, 'I'd love to be in a band,' and it cuts to this old, terrible video clip I have of me singing (in an emo band). That stuff, you can't hide it. You've got to be able to laugh at yourself.”

His big dreams were fueled by his supportive parents. They're fun. They often make appearances in his clips and in Dare to Live. His father started a business when he was 25, and though he never pushed his son to follow in his footsteps, Kramer always expected that he might.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to do something bigger,” he says. “I think coming from a small town, I just felt trapped in the sense of 'I'm never gonna get out of here.'”

The friends that came so easy in grade school went their separate ways come college. Kramer turned inward, became bitter. The girls he liked didn't like him, and when one finally did, she left him because of his constant complaints for a better life. At 25, he had a degree worth nothing and a room in his parents' basement.

Lost and freshly dumped, Kramer went where the aimless love to roam. His dad drove him nearly 3,000 miles to California. He came with a few thousand bucks and a half-baked plan to get into acting, and he never looked back.

Turns out California is expensive and acting is a hard game. His money dried up fast, and he got an easy job as a content quality controller for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

“I literally got paid to watch movies,” he says. “It's not like it was terrible job, but it was an unfulfilling job.” What was once a quick fix became a four-and-a-half year career. He slid into mediocrity, started drinking on the job, started settling in. The only bright side was California's lush outdoors.

He found a new girlfriend, and she inspired him to at least have fun making videos again. Whenever he'd go on vacation or take a hike, he'd make a little video and upload it to YouTube. It was a video diary of sorts. He'd be open about his life, his ups and downs, as well as his experiences. Then a friend asked Kramer to make him a vacation recap video, and that friend happened to be friends with a guy who managed an up-and-coming DJ and producer named 3LAU.

“He went through my YouTube and he was like, 'yo, this stuff you're making for yourself, I would pay you to go on tour with this DJ,'” Kramer remembers. '”We'll pay you $250 a day,' and I'm like '$250 a day? I don't even know what that looks like,' but I literally almost didn't go. I was so in my comfort zone back then. I didn't like people in my space, and I just didn't know if I could do it. A lot of it was just in my head, and I think a lot of that's what fear is. It's just preventing you from doing what you wanna do, when all you have to do is just do it.”

It snowballed from there. Videos with 3LAU turned into a music video for Avicii. He got a tour with Martin Garrix, which led him to Justin Bieber. Kramer excelled because of his hunger and a down-to-earth attitude; he isn't interested in taking the same glamour shot at every show – although he certainly can. The crux of his work is in finding the human behind the star, and exploring the reality of life in front of a camera.

“You see them at their best, see them at their worst, and have access to their information at any time,” he says. “You can develop these new stories. You can take concert footage ... but you can give it a new perspective.”

Kramer's favorite episode of Dare to Live stars Steve Aoki, precisely because of its truth. The two met on the road and often talked about one day going cliff diving. The show gave Kramer the perfect excuse to make good, but it also gave him the chance to speak about the fear of losing his father. Aoki had once opened up about losing his own dad to pneumonia in 2008, and Kramer's father was recently diagnosed with cancer.

“He and I talked about the importance of balance,” Kramer says. “When you're with people that you wanna have quality time with, you've got to have the quality time. You can't be hanging out on your phone. You've got to be fully present, and that's really helped change my perspective on a lot of things, and how I view my relationships.”

All that real talk came between bouts of swimming with sharks, rip-tide surfing, and cliff jumping, with Aoki all the time one-upping the stunt-prone philosopher. It was the episode in which Kramer pushed himself the most, physically and emotionally.

Kramer's dad recently visited him in his California home. It marked the first time his pops came to the Golden State since he dropped Rory off years ago. His father saw his progress, the platinum plaques on the wall gifted him by The Chainsmokers for hard work on tour. He saw the framed Bieber magazine covers graced by Rory's shots. He saw the man his son has become.

“He said 'it's really cool to see what you've accomplished,' and to hear that from your dad,” Kramer says, “I was saying I wanna live up to what he's accomplished, and to hear him say that was such a fulfilling moment.”

Life still isn't a fairy tale. As he talks about the show, Kramer sits stuck in his California home, nursing a torn ACL after a stage-dive gone wrong. He's stressed out because hospital trips are expensive, and his lease is up in November. He can't stay in this house with it's 80-stair walk up and a bum leg. He's got problems to solve, because that's what life is, a series of solutions.

“That grounds me again to not let things go to my head,” he says. “Maybe that's my next inspiration, something to draw from. You've got to always be able to look at the negative things as a positive. How can you turn those into something bigger than yourself? I wanted to accomplish something, and I did, and it was just about stepping out of my comfort zone. I didn't want people to experience what I've gone through. Ive gone through it, and I can relate to people, so that's why I'm open to talk about the stuff I struggle with. I still struggle. I'm a human being, and I think that's what my calling is; to just expose people to the real parts of life.”

Dare to Live is available to stream on MTV.com.