Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments of YouTube Millionaires here.
Every day, old buildings and sites are demolished to make way for new development. Weathered barns are razed and replaced with condos, Industrial Revolution-era warehouses are traded for shiny shopping centers, and abandoned attractions are scrubbed away to make room for parking lots, or duplexes, or baseball fields.
Urban explorer duo Bryan and Michael can’t stop the historic sites they love from being demolished.
What they can do, though, is preserve those sites on film.
In the years since they–longtime friends who collectively go by The Proper People–joined YouTube, that’s become their mission. They originally intended to use YouTube to casually document explorations of abandoned sites in their home state of Florida. As the their adventures took them to more locations around the U.S. and eventually the world, they began to feel not just awed by but protective of buildings they visited. Nowadays, they view their videos as a kind of digital preservation, a way to keep sites alive after they’re gone.
YouTube is their full-time job, and a way for them to instantly share what they enjoy with viewers. But as their channel has grown–now to more than one million subscribers–being on the platform hasn’t always been a bright experience. Once, in 2016, they explored an abandoned nuclear power plant. After they uploaded their video about it, the site was broken into and vandalized; now its security is so thick no one can visit it. That incident is one of the reasons why Bryan and Michael sometimes visit sites and take footage only they will ever watch. Some places are too vulnerable to share.
That doesn’t mean their videos are sparse. The Proper People put out at least one video per month. Among the dozens of sites they’ve documented for viewers are abandoned movie theaters, a Chinese “ghost city” left to rot after its developer ducked out, asylums, factories, mines, a boxing arena, and a Disneyland knockoff.
Not all sites Bryan and Michael visit are endangered. Some may even outlast us. But for those that are lost, The Proper People’s channel is a living memorial of the majesty that once was.
Tubefilter: How does it feel to hit one million subscribers? What do you have to say to your fans?
The Proper People: Reaching one million subscribers has always been something that seemed impossible or so far away. Our videos require a lot of travel and production effort, and many of the places we were able to document would not have been possible without our viewers. It’s been a long journey, and we want to thank our viewers and supporters for making this all possible.
Tubefilter: Tell us a little about you! What did you do in ye olde days before YouTube? How did you meet?
Bryan: Michael and I met in grade school. We grew up in the same town, just down the street from each other. We started the YouTube channel pretty early in our freshman year of college, just as something fun to do. We were both engineering majors, so we had a lot of schoolwork, and the YouTube channel was put on the back burner for a while. I also had a part-time job repairing cell phones. Once the channel began to gain traction, we soon realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We switched our majors at school to film, and began using what we learned there and our added free time to really bring the YouTube videos to a whole new level.
Tubefilter: Where did your channel name come from?
TPP: One day we saw a sign on a building we wanted to explore that said “ACCESS PROHIBITED EXCEPT BY THE PROPER PEOPLE”–and ever since then, we decided to call ourselves The Proper People…Actually, though, that’s just an explanation for the name we came up with retroactively. The truth is, we came up with the name before we even knew what we were going to post on our YouTube channel. We just wanted something that would be catchy and memorable. Originally, it was just going to be a variety channel with a focus on photography, but we very quickly found a niche with abandoned places.
Tubefilter: Looking back at some of your older videos, it’s clear you came onto YouTube knowing you wanted your channel to be about abandoned sites. How did you get involved in exploring abandoned areas? What made you decide to launch a YouTube channel?
Michael: My interest in abandoned places goes back to my childhood, when I would visit my dad’s side of the family, who lived in the rust belt. I would see all these old buildings and huge decaying factories and be captivated by them, because it was so different from any of the scenery I had growing up in Florida. Right around when I was graduating high school, I discovered that there was an actual community around exploring abandoned buildings, and that there was even a name for the hobby: urban exploration. Bryan and I soon discovered a website called abandonedfl.com (the owner of which we’re now good friends with), and we spent our first semester of college going to pretty much every place listed on this website we could. We were hooked pretty quickly.
The decision to film these places came out of the fact that we already wanted to make a YouTube channel together of some kind, and we knew there would probably be some interest for this type of content because people like AdamTheWoo and The Unknown Cameraman were already doing something similar. From the beginning, though, the idea behind our videos was always about sharing and being part of the community rather than making money. Eventually, we wanted to travel to the rust belt and the northeast region, since that was where all the most interesting abandoned places in the country were located, so we set our goal at making enough money to fund those trips. We never imagined we’d get to the point where we’d be making our entire living off exploring abandoned buildings!
Bryan: Back when I was six years old, during a family get together, my dad took me to his college campus in Buffalo, N.Y. Right across the street is a massive Kirkbride-style mental hospital that was built in 1870, and the majority of it has been disused since the 1970s. Once I saw that building, the imposing architecture style was ingrained in my memories. Growing up in Florida, there was nothing even remotely similar to this massive, over a century old, scary-looking building, and I soon realized buildings like that are becoming more rare as architecture evolves. This fascination with historic, disused buildings never faded, and is one of the reasons why once I was in college myself, I started to go out and document them. Originally, our videos weren’t great and were not really cinematic at all. However, over time, we developed our style and skill.
Tubefilter: It’s also clear you wanted to make your content stand out from other exploration channels’. How have you done that?
M: We really didn’t have much of a plan to stand out, it just sort of happened, because there were hardly any people in this space on YouTube at the time. I think if we were just starting out now with the level of quality we had back then, we would go absolutely nowhere, because the niche has become really saturated with content. As more channels doing this sprung up, though, we did decide to focus on taking a more cinematic, documentarian approach rather than a vlog style. We knew it probably wasn’t the best way to chase views, but we always cared more about being part of the urban exploration community than our YouTube stats. This means avoiding exaggerated or fake titles and thumbnails, and keeping some of the best places we’ve been to off the internet in order to protect them from vandals.
B: When we first started our YouTube channel, we weren’t even sure our focus was going to be abandoned places. We didn’t have a clear plan at all. We just started making videos about abandoned buildings, as it was something we were interested in, and it just caught on. Our original videos were extremely poor quality compared to what we’re currently making. There wasn’t much story or historical info, just two 18-year-olds having fun in abandoned buildings.
YouTube in 2014 was very different from YouTube today, especially in the exploration category. There weren’t many abandoned videos uploaded then, and the ones that were had almost no personality, as the person behind the camera was hiding their face and voice. AdamTheWoo was one of the few creators who filmed abandoned places around their personality, and we felt that was a much better approach. Of course, as two young college kids, our original videos were of us just having fun, but as we matured and our videos evolved, the mission became a documentary approach.
I soon realized that documenting these historic structures was extremely important. Every year, more and more are demolished, and most people will never get to see what was behind the exterior walls. Our videos preserve these buildings and allow the world to see what once was a magnificent structure. We still have fun exploring and experiencing these amazing places, but the mission evolved into a way to preserve them through video, rather than just filming us making bad jokes. However, we still include reactions and dialogue between Michael and me so we don’t lose that personality that helped differentiate our videos in the beginning.
Tubefilter: What location was your favorite to explore? How do you decide what new locations to visit? Do you ever take suggestions from viewers?
M: My favorite location we’ve ever explored–that I can talk about, at least–was a decommissioned nuclear power plant. It was completely decontaminated so it was safe to explore–we even had a Geiger counter with us to confirm that. We were able to see absolutely everything, including the inside of the reactor, the turbine hall, and of course the control room. Having an entire nuclear power plant to ourselves was definitely one of the most surreal experiences of my life. When we went, it was extremely easy to get inside, but it soon became vandalized, and now it’s under very heavy security. This was probably as a result of the several YouTube videos that surfaced of people like us going inside, which goes back to what I was saying earlier about us having to be thoughtful about what we post now that we have such a large audience.
B: One of my favorite places to explore was the abandoned mental hospital I mentioned previously. Hearing the stories my father told me growing up about going inside as a college student himself, to seeing the building as a young kid and remembering looking up at the massive, imposing spires had me always wondering what was inside. Inside was just as impressive, with extremely tall ceilings with pressed tin, floor-to-ceiling windows down the halls to let natural light in, and old items left behind from when it was still used as a hospital. Also one of my favorites, probably the most beautiful abandoned place we’ve ever explored, was the connected Majestic and Palace theaters. Two beautifully ornate 1920s era theaters left abandoned yet preserved for decades. The lobby, seats, stage, ceiling, projectors–literally everything was ornate and extremely old. It certainly was an amazing experience.
TPP: As far as deciding which locations to visit, sometimes pictures we see online grab our interest, and other times we’re just able to tell a place will be interesting from looking at satellite imagery, finding out the year it was built, and doing other research like that. We do often get suggestions from viewers, but to be honest, the vast majority of the time, they are places we already know about, or they’re something that just isn’t that interesting to us. Every now and then, though, we do get some gems suggested to us.
Tubefilter: Do you have any bucket list locations you’d like to film?
TPP: We’re definitely overdue for a visit to Chernobyl. Right now, we’re just deciding if we want to do the legal tour, or do it in true urbex fashion. It’s also by far the most requested location by viewers.
Tubefilter: Have any locations been particularly dangerous? Are there any steps you take to protect yourselves from potential building hazards, wildlife, and so on? Have you had to get special permission to visit any places?
M: Yeah, these places are always full of hazards, and that’s often why getting permission is impossible. It’s just too much of a liability. Aside from the obvious of floors collapsing below you or things falling on your head, the vast majority of these buildings are going to contain asbestos and mold. We do try to wear breathing protection where it’s really bad, but it’s not as simple as people think it is to truly protect your lungs.
First off, a simple surgical mask or even dust mask isn’t going to help you much. You need a respirator with a P100/organic vapor filter to fully protect yourself in these places. Secondly, it needs to make a perfect seal with your face, which means you’re not supposed to use it with facial hair. It also gets really uncomfortable being in them for hours, and it reduces the quality of our videos because you can’t hear what we’re saying as clearly and the heavier breathing can be distracting. Really, though, we should be wearing them more.
B: Locations we visit always have hazards that we must be mindful of. As Michael mentioned, asbestos and mold are the most common; however, we have come across buildings with collapsing floors, missing or loose steps, and even ran into other people who weren’t very friendly. We take things step-by-step, and first assess if something is too risky to even attempt. We try to find a way around the collapsed floor–and if not, we just steer clear. We try to avoid other people in abandonments, and so far, most mind their own business. Once, though, we were in an abandoned power plant where a scrapper was above us and throwing large metal objects down the rafters. It was just making a lot of noise, but nothing actually fell down near us, but that was enough for us to call it quits and get out of there as soon as possible.
Tubefilter: Is YouTube a full-time job for both/either of you? What else do you get up to in your day-to-day lives?
TPP: As of last year, it’s our full-time job. Since it’s just the two of us running the ship, it takes up the vast majority of our time. Outside of urbex, though, cars are probably our biggest interest.
Tubefilter: What’s your favorite part of making content on YouTube?
M: Definitely the moment when you get to hit publish on a video you’re really proud of.
B: Being able to tell a story, provide hundreds of thousands of people with entertaining content, and get feedback almost immediately is what makes YouTube so special and why it’s a platform I love using.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel?
TPP: We were looking to do another trip in Europe this summer, but we’ve had to delay that due to the coronavirus. We don’t expect to make major changes to our content anytime soon, but we are thinking of ways to keep things fresh down the line.
You can add yourself to the ranks of Bryan and Michael’s more-than-a-million YouTube subscribers at their channel YouTube.com/TheProperPeople.