Save the Drive-In!

8.14.2013

Been a while since I posted, but if you've read any of my blog posts, you know I tend to write when I feel passionately about something.  Well, today I saw something that stirred my soul and ignited a little passion flame that has fired me up enough get my lazy fingers on the keyboard.  As is typical with my vociferous rants on this blog, you'll probably be disappointed by my honorable cause, but I don't care.  It's important to me.

This is pretty simple...I love to go to the drive-in movie theater. I've been doing drive-in movies since I first saw the original Star Wars as a little boy in the drive-in movie theater in Pocatello, Idaho. This was the old one that used to sit on a huge gravel lot that is now occupied by the Pine Ridge Mall.  I still remember laying on a blanket that had been spread on top of our old Chevy station wagon (light blue with the wood panel stickers on the sides) and listening to that incredible movie that sounded like it was happening in a soup can over the tiny speaker hooked onto the luggage rack beside me.  I have so many other good memories with friends and family at the drive-in (Dad will never let me forget the Pocatello Drive-In riots of '91...that was very exciting...anyone else remember that?).  I'm convinced that the world will not be as happy a place if drive-ins go away. Someday (hopefully in a long time) I want my grand kids to be able to go to the drive-in and have that same experience of spending a Summer evening in the dusty gravel lot, watching the cars drive around and around looking for the perfect spot. There's nothing like the experience of running up to the giant wooden screen while you're waiting for the sky to get just a little darker so they'll start the movie.  It's so American and so middle class and such a part of my happy childhood memories.  I think it's even more important today as a part of our culture because my kids (and most other kids) don't get out much like I used to.  They spend so much of their life online with all their entertainment on demand, ready to stream, that they totally miss the idea of going somewhere for entertainment and getting there early to get a good spot.  They rarely have to deal with other humans and be kind and courteous.  And there is no other place on earth that can create a small, greasy, overpriced hamburger that tastes so good.

You probably already know that there aren't very many drive-in theaters still operating today and we're lucky enough to have 3 just in Idaho Falls/Pocatello.  I think that's because we're a family-friendly, good, clean fun kind of people and...well...there ain't much else to do around here.  What you may not know is that there is a very good chance that most, if not all, of our drive-ins will be gone very soon.  The movie studios decided long ago (and rightfully so) that printing movies on giant reels of film and mailing them all over the country is a very expensive, sloppy, problematic way of doing business and can be replaced, like everything else we used to buy on film/tape/vinyl/disc/etc, by digital distribution.  It's why we have iTunes and Amazon Kindle and Google Play and it's why movie theaters will soon have to have all digital projection equipment or have to close the gates and walk away.  The last days of popping, crackling, weird visual artifact filled reel-to-reel movies are upon us.

The problem for many of the drive-in theaters is that digital projection equipment is very expensive and drive-in movie theaters don't have the huge profits of a big 12 theater multiplex.  For one, a drive-in found almost anyplace not called California can really only stay open for a few months each year.  Nobody wants to sit in 4 inches of snow to watch a movie and 27 degrees with a breeze in your face will ruin any movie.  They also don't make as much money on concessions as the local indoor theater.  That's partly my fault since I knowingly break the rules and sneak in my own popcorn and Twizzlers...and I don't think I'm alone.  It's not that I don't want to support them...it's that I can't afford it.  It's why I don't take my kids to the "real" theater. So basically, nobody who runs a drive-in in 2013 is doing so to get rich and they probably don't have $80,000 to $100,000 to buy new projection equipment.  And so, the most likely outcome is that the end of movies printed on film will probably mean the end of the drive-in movie theater.  So boo hoo, another relic of my magical, carefree childhood is going away (like record stores and VHS movie rental stores)...so why the long, nostalgic blog entry?

Apparently, I'm not the only one who cares that this institution of American family life is disappearing.  And it's not just some local, activist yahoo who's speaking up.  It's Honda.  Yes, Honda, the car company.  They have decided they want to save the drive-in movie theaters of America.  They're actually going to give new digital projection equipment to 5 theaters (to be decided by vote) and they've started a crowd-source funding project to help save others.  What's crazy is a few months ago I was driving past our local drive-in and saw a "For Sale" sign and my first thought was "Oh no, this is the end of the drive-in in Idaho Falls" and I thought that it would be awesome if somebody did a Kickstarter fund to try and save the drive-in.  And now it's really going to happen...at least for some drive-ins.

Sadly, they don't seem to know about any of the theaters in our area, so I can't vote for ours, but I'm going to see if I can change that.  And I'm going to donate money to this cause whether it goes to theaters in Southeast Idaho or not.  I just love drive-in movie theaters and I don't want them to go away.  And if you feel the same way, have the same great memories from the back of a pickup truck with your friends or lawn chairs or an old couch on a summer night at the drive-in, you should do the same.

Go visit Project Drive-In now or watch the video below:

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