Rhode Island – and all of New England – has a ton of history. Our present-day civilization around these parts is hundreds of years old, and throughout that time there have been countless stories to be told. In many places, stories have gone lost for decades — or even centuries. Woonsocket native and University of Rhode Island graduate Jason Allard has been rediscovering these places and unearthing these stories through his “Abandoned From Above” web series on his YouTube channel. The series is done out of Allard’s full-service multimedia studio, Uncommon Sense Media, that he started back in 2007.
We recently had a talk about how he started filming abandoned places, his URI degree, a certain bridge he adores and how he’s always ready for a new project.
Rob Duguay: How did you get the idea to start filming abandoned bank vaults, military bases, mansions and other places? Were you one of those kids growing up who enjoyed getting lost in the woods and discovering places, and this filled a nostalgic need for that, or did the idea come from something else?
Jason Allard: It’s always been a combination of being interested in the history of these places and why they were abandoned in the first place. There’s always something fascinating to me about abandoned places, just knowing that they served a purpose at one point and then people just left. A lot of times, these places are left as they were during the last day they were in operation. The first place that really stuck out to me, I must have been in middle school or high school, was Pripyat, which is the ghost town outside of Chernobyl. After the nuclear meltdown, a city of about 40,000 people all decided to leave.
I remember looking at the pictures and thinking about the history and the families that once lived there, and they were just gone. I then took that as kind of an inspiration to find places locally that were like that, because there are a lot of interesting stories to tell. That’s always been in the back of my mind. Whenever I go out driving around and I see an abandoned building on the side of the road, I’ll make a mental note of it to go back and do some research to see if it’s worth visiting afterwards.
RD: Do you always have to call the authorities to get proper clearance to check these abandoned spots out, or do you just go there on your own volition and take the risk?
JA: There’s a fine line. A lot of times I’ll try to get permission to access these places, but sometimes it’s just easier to go in and capture it. Anytime I visit these places I’m always extremely respectful of the history and what I’m trying to capture there. The most important part to me is telling the story in a respectful way.
RD: You graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in psychology, so how did you go from that field into film-making? Do you feel like there’s a relationship between both of them?
JA: I’ve always had an interest in video production. I got my first camera when I was 13; it was an old digital one that my parents got me. I always went around making little videos, but it wasn’t until I got to college where it started becoming something more serious. I went to school originally for psychology with a focus in child psychology, and at one point I had an internship at a child psychologist’s office. They focused on video games and how they affect early childhood development.
RD: Very cool.
JA: Yeah, part of my position there was to create videos and educate parents on exactly what video games work well for their children. I saw that I could reach people in a much different way and in a nice, concise way. They listened and they paid attention to it and it was very informational, so there definitely was a crossover there. It ties into abandoned places with a connection where I can tell these stories in a creative way and reach a lot of people and educate them about what’s going on.
RD: What’s your favorite abandoned place you’ve filmed so far, and why is it your favorite?
JA: Rhode Island has a lot of interesting abandoned places, and I would say most recently it was the Crook Point Bridge. That’s probably one of my favorite places because of how iconic it is in the state. Everyone sees that when they’re driving on I-195 but not everyone knows the story behind it. I didn’t even know there was an abandoned tunnel going underneath the east side of Providence until I looked more into it. I always just focused on the bridge until I followed the tracks leading away from the Seekonk River about 100 yards up and there’s this huge opening which is sealed up now. It goes for a mile under the city, and that’s an amazing thing that sort of left there.
RD: It is pretty amazing. I didn’t find out about it until I read about the RISD riot a few years ago, which is the reason why it’s all closed up. It’s a very interesting story. What can we expect from you this year? Do you have any plans to expand Uncommon Sense Media to create other content to put on YouTube or other platforms, or do you just plan on sticking with “Abandoned From Above” for now?
JA: I am always open to new, exciting projects. I don’t want to be pigeonholed and just focus on abandoned places, because there are a lot of things that I find interesting. My full-time job is working for a market research company in Boston that focuses on emerging technologies, so I have a lot of interest in that. Outside of that is when I get to focus on “Abandoned From Above.” I also produce music videos, commercials and promotional videos, so if opportunities arise from that then I’ll definitely pursue those.
My father and I have been rebuilding a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am for the past 10 years now, so I’ve been working on a mini documentary about that for a while.
RD: That’s badass.
JA: It’s sick, I’ve been capturing it for 10 years and the documentary has been evolving along with this project of rebuilding the car. That’s always something that I’m working, on along with going to car shows and things like that. It’s obviously been on hold for the past year, but I’m hoping to make some progress on it and hopefully release it soon.