Aug. 24--GRANDVIEW -- As movie studios phase out 35mm film prints in favor of digital distribution, the Grand View Drive-In Theater faces a crisis of evolution that could impact local pocketbooks.
If theater owners Kelly and Shawn Daniels have to pony up the cash to buy a digital projector, they'll have no choice but to raise ticket prices.
"We can either close, or we switch. It's something that we have to get done," Kelly Daniels said.
Daniels bristles at the idea of raising ticket prices, and she's hoping a contest sponsored by the American Honda Motor Co. will keep prices right where they are. The company has started a contest to help five drive-in theaters make the switch for free by giving them state-of-the-art digital projectors.
The winning theaters will be those with the most votes, which is why Kelly is doing what she can to spread the word about the Project Drive-In contest. Though there are about 350 drive-in theaters left in the country, only 100 have entered the contest. Those are the kind of odds Kelly can manage.
"We have a 1 in 20 chance," she said. "I just have to get people to vote. If we win, we'll have a free weekend for everyone."
Though Fox is the only movie studio switching to all digital movies by the end of the year, the others will follow soon. The world's theater industry will be all digital within the next four years, according to Texas Instruments, which makes the chips that power many all-digital projectors.
The digital equipment needed for the conversion could cost anywhere from $20,000 to $75,000, depending on how new the projector and other equipment is.
Daniels has had to drive more than four hours to get film prints, but she's never had to close down for a weekend due to lack of film. A bulky box that holds one 35 mm film print weighs about 50 pounds, but the film for a digital projector consists of nothing more than a DVD-sized disc.
"We always open the new movies," Daniels said. "It's trying to find those prints that are already in circulation that have been hard."
The drive-in movie industry peaked in 1958, with more than 4,000 screens across the country, then started to decline over the next 20 years. The ones that remain are a novelty, but that's not such a bad thing. People always are looking for different experiences, and the Grand View Drive-In doesn't have any local competition. Customers drive from as far away as Missouri and Illinois to take in the movies, and on a good night, the theater draws as many as 700 people.
The Daniels built the theater in 2007 as an attraction for families, though the screen hosts everything from the latest action movies to horror flicks. All are presented as a double feature, of course.
"We're from Muscatine, and there's nothing for children to do here. We have a piece of ground that belongs to us, and that was a good starting point," Kelly Daniels said.
"White House Down" and "Red 2" are playing this weekend, and the drive-in season will continue through the first weekend in October, when the theater hosts its annual horror fest.
There are two ways to vote, though there is a limit of one vote per voting method per person per day. Patrons either can text the number "108" to the number of "444999", or they can visit www.projectdrivein.com.
(c)2013 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)
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