The drive-in movie theater has been an American icon since it was first invented by Richard Hollingshead in Camden New Jersey way back in 1933. Being a life long resident of Southern California I can remember a time where drive-ins were everywhere. Just like today’s multiplexes that dot the landscape drive-ins were both near and far. Finding one near you was never an issue.
Today we are not so lucky. Over the last 30 years we have seen the drive-in industry die off in droves with both big cities and small rural communities losing their beloved drive-ins. However over the last 10 years there had been a resurgence of sorts. Drive-ins that had been long shuttered were being reopened by baby boomers and their families who felt the time was right to bring back a long lost tradition. And drive-in owners who were still in business also saw their box office ticket sales begin to climb as more and more families went looking for a more affordable family experience. The resulting good fortune allowed many theater owners to reinvest in their operations. New screens were replacing aged ones, new technology like TECHNALIGHT were allowing for more bright and pristine picture presentations. And FM stereo transmissions allowed for a more immersible movie going experience,
Still, recently a dark cloud arose on the drive-in theater horizon in the form of the “Digital Conversion Mandate”, an agreement signed between most of the major film studio conglomerates. Essentially the mandate is an order to all movie exhibitors that beginning in mid year 2013 the studios will no longer supply film prints to the exhibitors for all the major new releases. Dictating to theater owners the need to convert to digital was essentially a do or die order to the owners. To most indoor theater exhibitors this was not an issue since most of the big block owners like Regal, AMC and the like had already converted to digital projectors. The news wasn’t so good for the small independent theater operators who have resorted to asking their patrons to help cover the cost ($75K per screen) through fundraising on sites like KICKSTARTER.
Unfortunately drive-ins will fare much worse. Most are seasonal venues based on the time of year they can operate. The costs to convert might be too prohibitive for them to stay in business. Here in Southern California we are some of the fortunate ozoners as owners like DeAnza Land & Leisure, who own drive-ins in Montclair and San Diego will take the plunge and convert ALL their theaters to digital. The Mission Tiki Drive-in in Montclair will have a Grand Reopening on Friday May 10th as an all digital theater with improved digital sound.
Closer to Los Angeles is the Vineland Drive-in located in the City of Industry. No official word yet from Pacific Theaters on if and when they will convert to digital however if they choose not to convert the potential loss of the Vineland will have a large impact on their loyal patrons. Join me in keeping your fingers crossed that Pacific Theaters, who once owned the majority of drive-ins in all of California will make the investment into the Vineland so the last drive-in theater in L.A. & Orange Counties will stay in business and provide the drive-in movie experience for generations to come.
Support your local drive-in theater while you can. The experience is priceless. See you at the movies.