Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 19th 2013 Contents B22
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, August 19, 2013
OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER
OF THE REPUBLIC OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Through 80 summers or so, drive-in theatres
have managed to remain a part of the American
fabric, surviving technological advances and chang-
ing tastes that put thousands out of business. Now
the industry says a good chunk of the 350 or so left
could be forced to turn out the lights because they
can t afford to adapt to the digital age.
Movie studios are phasing out 35 mm film prints,
and the switch to an eventually all-digital distribution
system is pushing the outdoor theatrEs with huge
screens to make the expensive change to digital pro-
The US$70,000-plus investment required per
screen is significant, especially for what is in most
places a summertime business kept alive by mom-
and-pop operators. Paying for the switch would suck
up most owners profits for years to come.
The digital transformation has been underway in
the film industry for more than a decade because of
the better picture and sound quality and the ease of
delivery --- no more huge reels of film. The time frame
isn t clear, but production companies are already
phasing out traditional 35 mm film, and it s expected
to disappear completely over the next few years.
"We know fewer and fewer prints are being struck,"
says D. Edward Vogel, who runs the historic Bengies
Drive-In in Baltimore and is spokesman for the United
Drive-In Theatre Owners Association.
The United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association
figures 50 to 60 theatres have already converted. At
least one operator decided to close instead of switch,
but it s not clear how many more might bite the dust.
"Everyone knows eventually that you ll be digital
or you ll close your doors," says Walt Effinger, whose
Skyvue Drive-In in the Ohio town of Lancaster has
been showing movies on an 80-foot (24-metre) screen
since 1948. "Some will. If you re not doing enough
business to justify the expense, you re just going to
have to close up."
Effinger worked at the Skyvue off and on for 30
years before he and his wife, Cathie, bought it two
decades ago. They converted to digital last year, the
first of Ohio s 29 drive-ins to do so. Because the films
now come on a device the size of a portable hard
drive and are downloaded to his projector, it s less
hassle for him on movie nights and gives viewers a
stunningly brighter, clearer image.
An industry incentive programme will reimburse
theatre owners 80 per cent of the cost of conversion
over time, Vogel says, but because most drive-ins are
small, family-run businesses, it s hard for many to
find the money, period. And the reimbursement
doesn t cover the tens of thousands of dollars more
that many will have to spend renovating projection
rooms to create the climate-controlled conditions
needed for the high-tech equipment.
It s a dilemma also faced by America s small inde-
pendent theatres, many of them struggling to pay
for conversion to digital years after corporate-owned
multiplexes already did it.
Darci and Bill Wemple, owners of two drive-ins in
upstate New York, hope an online competition will
help them with the US$225,000 to US$250,000 they
figure it will cost to switch their three screens. The
American Honda Motor Co. is compiling online votes
for the nation s favourite drive-ins and is going to
pay the digital conversion costs for the top five vote-
getters. The Wemples say that if they don t get help,
they ll have to consider closing up.
"To make this kind of conversion with three screens
is like trying to buy another drive-in all over again,"
says Darci Wemple, whose El Rancho theatre in Pala-
tine Bridge is among dozens of drive-ins featured in
the Honda ad promotion.
The number of drive-ins peaked at more than
4,000 in the late 1950s. Now there are 357.
Maddie Essig, left, age ten, watches a movie with her sister, Claire, age six, from
the tailgate of their parents' car at Bengies Drive-In Theatre in Middle River, Md,
last month. AP PHOTO
Digital era threatens
future of drive-ins
Robyn Deal and Dave Foraker have been going to
the Skyvue in Lancaster since they were both in
school in the 1960s and early 70s. On a recent week-
end night, they sat together in folding chairs outside
their car, blankets on their laps and their 12-year-
old dachshund, Wilson, getting lots of attention just
before a double feature of Turbo and The Wolverine."
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