How did videos of Old Firearms Became A Hit YouTube Channel, we find out. With more than a million and half subscribers, Forgotten Weapons has become one of the most popular firearms-related channels on YouTube, and part of the success is that its creator has largely been apolitical when it comes to gun-related issues. For Ian McCollum instead of pushing an agenda he’s a social media influencer that is all about sharing the history of small arms – one video at a time.
McCollum didn’t expect that he’d make a career out of producing historic firearms videos, but like many others who found a particular niche on YouTube it was a matter of being there at just the right time.
“Honestly, I never thought about it,” he admitted. “When I started posting videos it wasn’t because I wanted to build an audience. I started out with a blog – so I’m quick to admit I’m an old man on the Internet who remembers a time when blogs were the big thing for these small topics. I was writing text articles and trying to explain how the strange firearms actions work, so I found it was easier to film it and show people.”
The problem was that even in the Web 2.0 era video wasn’t easy to post and then there was the issue of bandwidth.
“Back when you had to pay for the traffic that came to your site, having videos could bankrupt me, but then YouTube seemed to be the solution,” McCollum added. “I could embed it in a WordPress site and post it with what I wrote.”
After a couple of years it was more video, less blogging. That was also when it became a real job.
“I didn’t expect it to be my career,” he said candidly. “I wanted it to be a full time gig, so when it happened that was an amazing and fantastic transition.”
Dealing With A Controversial Topic
While hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of people now make their living by posting videos on YouTube, the topic of Forgotten Weapons isn’t without issue. Social media platforms have strict rules on how firearms are presented – guns can’t be advertized for one thing.
“YouTube is rather opaque about regulations and there is a tremendous amount of latitude from the rules they do post,” explained McCollum. “However when there is a problem YouTube doesn’t make it easy to speak to someone at YouTube. If you are ‘demonetized’ they won’t really tell you why.”
McCollum isn’t the only one to suggest that platforms such as YouTube keep the rules specifically vague – not to punish creators but more as a way to keep content creators from sneaking around the rules. If the rules are grayer than black and white YouTube can address issues as it sees fit on a case-by-case basis.
While he tries not to cross the line, this lifelong firearms enthusiast who has also branched out into other mediums including books – most recently publishing Chassepot to FAMAS: French Military Rifles, 1866-2016 – isn’t about being an evangelist for the firearms industry or even the Second Amendment. Instead, as he explains, it is about sharing knowledge.
This could be why his videos attract an audience that limits the debate to the objects being discussed and not the politics surrounding it.
“A large segment of my audience is very happy that I’m not talking about politics,” McCollum explained. “As a result a lot of the audience – based on the comments I’ve read – are those who don’t fit the typical gun owner mold.”
He added that he has seen comments where people admit to simply being fascinated in the history, while some have said they’ve become gun owners because of the history he shares.
Remarkably only 45% of his audience is even in the United States, so while there may be an ongoing debate in America about guns, the videos about firearms history clearly is transcending borders.
Technical Challenges Abound
Beyond worry about being political, anyone posting videos related to firearms today will likely understand the other significant challenge that comes from the fact that the guns are loud while safety is always a concern. As a one-man operation McCollum has overcome the challenges by largely avoiding crowded shooting ranges and heading to the open desert of Arizona, where there are many places to legally shoot away from people.
Here is where managing audience expectations is necessary, something this firearms historian has addressed from the beginning.
“I’ve trained my audience not to expect documentary film levels,” he is quick to note. “If I do live fire I will have someone helping me by holding a camera. By avoiding the public shooting ranges I can be away from the sounds and other distractions.”
Unlike many shooting-related videos that are on YouTube it is also important to note that Forgotten Weapons isn’t really about the shooting. It is still about the history of firearms and other weapons that even many firearm enthusiasts and collectors may not know.
“Shooting is just a nice way to spice up the videos,” said McCollum. “That said, a substantial portion of my videos don’t involve any shooting. I shoot the guns to tell part of the story, and there are aspects of firearms design you can only appreciate by shooting a gun. This has parallels to motorsports.”
In the shooting sequences Forgotten Weapons employs a high-speed camera that can demonstrates things that users may find surprising. This can include the way many gun barrels wobble – something you’re unlikely to see except in a high-speed video.
“Honestly, the bar for good production today is very low,” McCollum added. “This is one of the things I love about the state of the Internet. It has gotten rid of gatekeeper for projects such as this. Had I wanted to do this 20 years ago it would have been impossible. To do it would have involved pitching a network and convincing a producer I was the right person to do this show.”
There are of course plenty of gun-related videos on YouTube that aren’t as polished and some that even present bad information, not to mention disturbingly irresponsible content. But McCollum said it is up to the audience to determine what succeeds and what doesn’t. As he sees it, the good stuff will thrive and the bad stuff will be filtered out.
Where McCollum is most critical is in his handling of audio – something he wishes he could do a better job of tackling. However, he uses a seven year old digital camera with wireless microphones, but he admits the video could be as easily shot on an iPhone today.
“I’m not an audio engineer and I prefer to produce more good content than trying to make the audio better,” he suggested. “Simply put, perfect isn’t required on YouTube.”
Then there is the issue of what makes anyone want to watch a video of other people shooting guns. In the case of Forgotten Weapons the videos are popular because of the history, not because it is people at the firing line.
“People like to have vicarious experiences of what they can’t do, and obviously this is a fascinating subject,” said McCollum. “I’m not into activism, and I’m not about converting people or changing minds. I just hate to see the history left behind. I want to present this as important history.”