Two NY drive-ins face uncertain off-season

photo by arwcheek, used by permission

photo by arwcheek, used by permission

The Daily Mail of Hudson NY recently ran a lengthy, thoughtful article profiling its two nearby drive-in theaters. The Hi-Way (Coxsackie) and Greenville (Greenville) were candidates in Honda’s Project Drive-In, and they were among the over 100 drive-ins that failed to win a free digital projector. Both owners sound ambivalently positive about their prospects for reopening next spring.

Roger Babcock, owner of the Hi-Way, is looking at spending $300,000 to convert his four-screen drive-in to digital. He told The Daily Mail that his bank has approved a loan for that amount, but he hasn’t decided whether to go through with it. Part of the question is when film will no longer be available, really. Babcock said that Fox once announced it wouldn’t produce 35mm copies of its films after September 2012. “And yet I played an awful lot of Fox films this year in 35mm,” he said. “So even though they’re giving us deadlines, they’re not holding to them. A lot of drive-ins are going to hold right out to the absolute end.”

Ed Spannagel, operator of the Greenville, only has one screen and hopes to raise $80,000 for conversion. He’s got also got a Plan B that matches an idea I had – stay with film. “The good news is those 35mm films are still there,” Spannagel said. “So as long as we’re still able to get access to them, technically speaking, we could still run older films next year once 35 is done being produced.”

But a different drive-in operator once told me that this idea of Spannagel’s and mine won’t necessarily work. There aren’t that many film copies of older movies, and the studios aren’t going to make new prints. Each showing of a film is a slightly destructive process, which I used to appreciate when I’d see the accumulated dirt and scratches on a months-old print at a second-run theater. Finally, there’s a question whether the studios are going to be willing to set a fair price on the license to show that movie. So I hope that Spannagel is right, but I’m no longer so optimistic about that particular Plan B.

Anyway, there’s a whole lot more detail and interesting quotes in The Daily Mail’s article, so you really ought to go read it!