If you build it, someone may shut you down

IronCity_FacebookWe’ll get back to Project Drive-In stories soon, but now here’s something completely different. According to an Associated Press story in the Omaha World-Herald, a farmer near Schuyler NE built his own little drive-in for fun. Think Field of Dreams, except ozoner. Although it sounds like it might have belonged in the things that are not drive-ins category, this was Seth Mares’ third season running the Iron City Drive-In, which included a lighted marquee and a Facebook page, so it might have made the cut.

As you can tell by the past-tense verbs, Mares has shut down the Iron City, making it a moot question whether it was a real drive-in by our standards. According to a post this morning on that Facebook page, “Iron City drive-in will step back into obscurity. … (I)t and my family has gotten too much attention.”

Why shut down? I don’t know, and I don’t see any good way to contact Mares, but the AP story provides some clues. Mares caught the drive-in bug a few years ago after visiting the what was then the Starlite, now the TK Drive-In, in neighboring Neligh. Mares bought a projector from an eBay seller and started with a canvas screen. He no doubt invited his friends to join him whenever he wanted to show a movie.

From those humble beginnings, the Iron City grew. Mares used original drive-in speakers, a full outdoor sound system, and even an FM transmitter. He added a lighted sign board with movable letters, and as you can see from the Facebook photo above, he painted the side of his barn to enlarge the screen. Through it all, Mares never charged admission, never sold concessions, and never had a bathroom. (I hate when that happens.) But this one sentence from the AP story suggests the seeds of his downfall. “The original projector has been upgraded, and a wireless Internet connection allows Mares to play films using a laptop computer, smartphone or DVDs.”

If you ever read the fine print somewhere on that DVD case, you might read something about that it’s only for private use. If you watch it at home or with a few friends, no problem. Otherwise, as the Motion Picture Association of America puts it, suppose you took that DVD “and showed it to patrons at a club or bar that you happen to manage. In that case, you have infringed the copyright in the video work. Simply put, movies or TV shows obtained through a brick-and-mortar or online store are licensed for your private use; they are not licensed for exhibition to the public.”

Since the Omaha World-Herald ran this AP story today, it’s likely that another paper ran it over the past weekend. (Update: Aha! The original story appeared Aug. 14 in the Columbus Telegram.) When someone at a studio, or at the MPAA itself, read that the Iron City was going to have a Star Wars night and a later American Graffiti weekend, that might have prompted some pointed questions. Even when you don’t charge admission, you just can’t show movies that way without renting the public performance rights.

So Nebraska is back down to two active drive-ins; the other is the Sandhills in Alliance. The Iron City might have been a third, but now we’ll never know.