At the end of this year, America’s most embattled corner of the film exhibition biz faces its toughest test since the rise of the suburban shopping mall. Back then, and for decades, the biggest pressure on drive-in cinemas has been the demand for the land.
But at the end of 2013, celluloid distribution of movies will end in the US. And drive-ins, a marginal business in most places, face the prospect of a ruinously expensive conversion to digital projection, something that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in indoor theaters. And drive-ins demand much longer booth-to-screen luminosity. Some will be able to afford that, most will not.
Honda has set up Project Drive-In to get film fans to pick five cinemas, nationwide, that Honda will pay to convert to digital.
Having written that “last drive-in” story in cities where I’ve worked, from Virginia and Tennessee, North Dakota to North Carolina, and having visited every drive in remaining in Florida, I’m hoping people vote for the Silver Moon in Lakeland to make that cut. But I hear they’re already digitized, and they’re pretty successful, so they could afford the switch, apparently.
But the Ocala Drive-in is treating this as a matter of life and death.