October 19th, 2020

Drive-in theatre just not practical today


By Submitted Article on April 23, 2020.

A little more than a month has passed since our doors, along with many others, were shuttered due to the current crisis. It seems almost surreal that life as we had been accustomed to literally stopped on a dime overnight. I am optimistic that we are making progress, and anxiously look forward to welcoming many of you back to the cinema – when the time is right.

We have been keeping busy with weekly curbside pickup of our renowned popcorn. This has taken us by surprise at the response of our community – resulting in regular sellouts each week. This has aided in keeping some of our staff employed and is assisting in offsetting some of the monthly expenses that continue to roll in – with or without regular business operations. Everything is done with minimum contact – from the pre-order and payment on our online store, to the delivery to your vehicle on the designated date. Our cleaning and sanitation continue to be our primary focus, as is ensuring the staff are feeling well, are isolating properly, and are continually washing hands and sanitizing through the process. Thank you, Lethbridge and area, for your generous support and kind words. I think I can confidently say that we will make it through this challenge – together. For further details, please check our website and our social media posts.

I have been inundated with comments, suggestions and requests to set up a drive-in movie theatre. A day does not go by without someone forwarding this suggestion. My answer has always been the same – sorry, but the economic realities simply do not warrant it.

I remember fondly the Green Acres Drive-In situated where the McDonald’s, Taco Time and Safeway are currently located on the south end of town. I remember, as a youth, trying to catch a glimpse of a free movie from across the highway (where Rona now sits) or bravely approaching the rear fence – hoping that Mr. Shackleford did not spot my friends and I! I remember the awful sound coming from the heavy wired speaker unit that would hook on the inside of your vehicle window. I recall the amazing leap in technology to FM radio broadcast directly to the vehicle – that was an improvement. Double features were the norm and the lot was often filled to capacity. And who can forget Mr. Shackleford over the loudspeaker during intermission reminding you of the delicious food items available at the snack bar. These were special times.

Alas, in today’s world, drive-in theatres are all but extinct. They do exist in odd locations and are currently a novelty with the current crisis. However, land costs, equipment costs, unpredictable weather, short viewing seasons and, perhaps most importantly, the advent of fast-food and convenience stores open at all hours (seriously impacting the sale of overpriced movie theatre snacks!) have made the model all but impossible to support.

Currently, aside from few new films being available, the cost to license films has become prohibitive to our industry, with some films returning upwards of 90 per cent of each ticket back to the film company. This leaves almost nothing to cover any expenses, so it is critical for any movie operation to survive with the sale of food and beverage. I wish the reality could be different.

Please take care and be safe in all that you do.

See you at the movie theatre – soon!?

Leonard Binning operates the Movie Mill and is a past president of the Motion Picture Theatre Association of Alberta. His column appears Thursdays.

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