In the 50's and 60's, America's love affair with the automobile was in full swing. This social movement gave way to the creation of the Drive In – a novel way of watching theatrical releases without having to file into a stuffy, restricting theater. By time the 70's and 80's rolled around, the theatrical experience had won out for the most part. Be it the advances in sound systems or the gas shortage, there were plenty of reasons for people to go to a multiplex instead of a drive in. Slowly, drive in venues started to die out to the level they're at today, and more stand to be lost thanks to the latest evolution of cinema: digital projection.
Yahoo caught up with a couple of the last remaining drive-ins in the United States to get a feel for how digital projection was affecting the venues that made their name with 35mm negatives. Out of the 348 remaining drive-in locations, Yahoo says that "more than 200" have already converted to digital projecting systems. Everything from arrangements with financing companies and leasing out the space to flea markets during the daytime are being employed to help preserve these storied memorials to the past. Sadly, not everyone's story is one of success.
While the Saco Drive-In in Saco, Maine was the recipient of one of Honda's Project Drive-In grants, the Pride's Corner Drive – located 15 miles away in Westbrook - is struggling to direct funds to their crowd sourcing campaign that would allow them to make some technology upgrades. With only a limited number of drive-ins still operating in the United States, it's sad to see locations being forced out due to the coming format change. It doesn't have to be like that though.
With audiences increasingly getting fed up with the theatrical experience at the multiplex, perhaps now is as good a time as any to not only preserve, but also to create new Drive-In venues for audiences to enjoy. After all, where else but a drive-in can you sit in a seat you already know fits, not pay an arm and a leg for concessions, and enjoy a movie with minimal crowd "interaction?" Cell phones aren't as much of a problem at a drive-in either, because the sound dissipates in an open air environment, and so does the light. The only audience you need to police at a drive-in theater is the one that's residing in your car. Drive-in movie theaters can market themselves as old fashioned throwbacks that don't need 3D, don't need to hound the audience to behave , and don't need to dangle recliner seats in front of their audiences to keep them coming back.
Drive-In theaters will never be at the levels of prominence they once were, which is why we should work to preserve the ones that are still around. There is a niche market to be had in Drive-in theaters, especially considering the resurgence of Grindhouse films and the niche market of independent films that could use as many release platforms as they can get their hands on. Imagine Snowpiercer being on more than a handful of extra screens its opening weekend due to drive-in theaters picking up on the underground fan buzz and making a special deal to screen a film a studio doesn't think will sell? Theaters like the Saco Drive-In and the Pride's Corner Drive-In are a part of film history, and much like the films we preserve in the Library Of Congress, these venues should be preserved for the future enjoyment of movie buffs past, present, and future.
If you'd like to donate to the Pride's Corner Drive-In campaign, you can donate here courtesy of Go Fund Me.