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Author Topic: LA Times story about a Texas drive-in
Paul Mayer
Oh get out of it Melvin, before it pulls you under!

Posts: 3835
From: Albuquerque, NM
Registered: Feb 2000


 - posted 08-29-2005 12:29 AM      Profile for Paul Mayer   Author's Homepage   Email Paul Mayer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Thought you guys would like this one.

quote:
August 28, 2005

MOVIES
Going Out to a Movie
  • Watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster from the comfort of your vehicle may be a fading memory for most Californians, but the drive-in is alive in Texas.
By Dana Calvo, Special to The Times
Rosy smudges of sunset warm the sky as a dry, gentle wind tickles more than six acres of grassy farmland that everyone around here just calls "the drive-in."

Officially, it's called Crossroads Drive-in, not because it lies in the middle of a large intersection (it doesn't) but because owner Steve Rodman was at a personal crossroads when he laid down $20,000 for the 6-acre lot.

He was tired of life on the road as a service technician for projection equipment and didn't want to miss his family anymore. People thought he was crazy to open a theater in the country 125 miles west of Houston where Brangus cattle outnumber people, but he proved them wrong.

"This is our best year yet," Rodman says as a smile sends the sunburned skin around his lime-green eyes into small crinkles. "I think it's an enjoyable experience. You're not sitting 6 inches away from someone you don't know. Your kids can run around in little packs."

At a time when Hollywood is struggling to get viewers to leave their Netflix and Blockbuster films at home for a cinematic outing, the Lone Star State is experiencing a boom in drive-in theaters.

Seven such theaters have been reopened or built in Texas since 2000, including the Crossroads Drive-in. The down-home environment is a far cry from the overstimulating, purple-carpeted cineplex where attendance this summer has been off by 10% over last year, causing studio executives to watch each release with increasing anxiety.

"We're going through a retro phase," says Linda Voorhees, professor at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. "You can enjoy a movie as a family, be in your self-contained pod, make all the noise you want, eat the food you want and be festive. Or, if you have children who are a little older, you can let them run around and not feel like they're endangered."

The National Assn. of Theater Owners does not collect data on drive-in theaters, but fans of the outdoor format say statistics wouldn't be able to quantify their affection for an outdoor movie experience.

"People get sick of being indoors," says Beverly Ward, 73, as she works a toothpick in her mouth. "This is wide-open spaces out here. There's natural air conditioning with the breeze."

No alcohol is allowed, although a few viewers discretely cradle beers in plastic foam cozies. And while cuddling seems to be the objective for many viewers, Rodman abdicates any role in monitoring more serious sexual endeavors at Crossroads. "I don't go looking in people's cars," he said, visibly embarrassed. "I don't want to see that."

Rodman charges adults $5 for a double feature ($4 for kids and retirees), and he sells about 400 tickets a week. He doesn't accept credit cards, though, just cash or personal check. The concession stand offers free refills on soda and popcorn, and a small crock pot keeps cheese in a warm goo state for chili dogs.

"Every night's not a blockbuster. If just these two ladies show up," Rodman says pointing at Ward and her friend Karen Schreiber, "then we play a movie for these nice ladies."

But this Wednesday night ends up being fairly typical, with about a dozen cars pulling into the lot and unloading about 50 viewers who set up portable chairs, futon mattresses and blankets in the back of their flatbed trucks.

On weekend nights, Rodman usually draws more than 50 cars.

"I went to a cineplex the other day, but it was boring and so, so, so cold," says Tiffany Patek, 17. "And everyone was all smushed together."

The Patek family meets at Crossroads once a week, and since most of the kids can now drive, they all come in separate cars. "But we meet here," says the matriarch, Marsha Patek, 46, as she spread a futon mattress out in the back of her white-and-aqua Dodge pickup. "It's a great thing to do as a family."

Success with family fare

Rodman shows only one or two R-rated features a year, and this summer has lured viewers with movies like "Herbie: Fully Loaded" and "Madagascar."

"Any cartoon that's rated G or PG we'll run," he says. "We can't get enough. I think their problem in Hollywood is that they need to put out more family fare. It's my bread and butter."

Rodman sprays repellent on the grass to keep the mosquitoes down, but he also sells many boxes of OFF! single-use towelettes. The summer night sky is beautiful, especially in a rural area like Shiner, where there are few two-story buildings. One glance at the sky, and the Milky Way arm is visible along with, it seems, every star.

Rodman is so confident that viewers want an alternative to the big movie theater experience that by the end of the year, he and his family will relocate to Porter, Texas, just outside Houston, where he'll open Starlite Drive-in. He's learned a bit about upkeep by running Crossroads, and he intends to leave Starlite's gravel and asphalt surface just as it is.

"Grass is hard to maintain," he says.

Starlite will be equipped with an 80-foot-wide screen and will bring the state's drive-in number to 19. Rodman is already looking beyond the five-year lease he signed on the land.

The outside experience

But many customers say the movie isn't as important as the outing. For David and Amy Machicek, nearby ranchers who dropped their children off with a grandparent for the evening, Crossroads is a perfect romantic evening.

"I don't even know what they're playing tonight. What are we seeing?" he asks her as he tips back playfully in his portable chair. She starts to answer, but he shrugs. "Ah, who cares?"

On this evening, viewers get "War of the Worlds," followed by the rare R-rated film "The Wedding Crashers." As a courtesy to parents, Rodman always plays the lowest-rated film first.

This week, he'll premiere "The Dukes of Hazzard," just out in all the major indoor theaters.

The only movies Rodman refuses to show are those with an NC-17 rating. Some PG-13-rated films, like last summer's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" starring Will Ferrell, he found "pretty raunchy."

And foreign films that require subtitles are not feasible, he says, because most of his customers are not close enough to the screen to read them.

In the 1950s, when Texas sported hundreds of drive-ins, the film's sound was beamed out of speakers attached to vertical poles that drivers parked next to. Now, the soundtracks emanate from large speakers in front of the projection booth as well as on 95.3-FM, a low-power radio station run by Rodman that viewers tune to in their cars for crystal-clear reception.

For Shiner-area teens who duck out early to make curfew, 95.3-FM offers some lingering magic as they head home along winding farm roads.

For nearly a mile they can still listen to the Hollywood dialogue before it starts to crackle and, finally, fade to black.

 -
Coming attractions
Jill Foster gets her seat in the back of the pickup truck ready at the Crossroads Drive-in in Shiner, Texas.
(Michael Stravato / For The Times)

 -
Clear view
Weeknight business can be slow, but on weekends the drive-in averages 50 cars.
(Michael Stravato / For The Times)

 -
Keeping things rolling
Owner Steve Rodman is opening a second drive-in.
(Michael Stravato / For The Times)


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Daryl C. W. O'Shea
Film God

Posts: 3977
From: Midland Ontario Canada (where Panavision & IMAX lenses come from)
Registered: Jun 2002


 - posted 08-29-2005 12:44 AM      Profile for Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Author's Homepage   Email Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote:
Weeknight business can be slow, but on weekends the drive-in averages 50 cars.
Ouch! Going to the bank on Monday must be depressing. Although I guess there wouldn't be much need to go to the bank.

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Phil Hill
I love my cootie bug

Posts: 7595
From: Hollywood, CA USA
Registered: Mar 2000


 - posted 08-29-2005 10:13 PM      Profile for Phil Hill   Email Phil Hill       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: The Article
...on weekends the drive-in averages 50 cars
Gosh! That is really sad. I get that many cars at one of the parties at my house...

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Mark Gulbrandsen
Resident Trollmaster

Posts: 16227
From: Bountiful, Utah
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 08-29-2005 10:32 PM      Profile for Mark Gulbrandsen   Email Mark Gulbrandsen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote:
Owner Steve Rodman is opening a second drive-in.

Double ouch!

Brad, do you do this guys work... better get the $$ up front!!

The few Drive Ins still operating here in Utah generally do very well and pack em in on weekends.

Mark

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Daryl C. W. O'Shea
Film God

Posts: 3977
From: Midland Ontario Canada (where Panavision & IMAX lenses come from)
Registered: Jun 2002


 - posted 08-29-2005 10:35 PM      Profile for Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Author's Homepage   Email Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I'm assuming he does his own work.

quote:
He was tired of life on the road as a service technician for projection equipment and didn't want to miss his family anymore.

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Mike Blakesley
Film God

Posts: 12451
From: Forsyth, Montana
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 08-30-2005 01:20 AM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
That picture looking toward the booth is awesome.

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Daryl C. W. O'Shea
Film God

Posts: 3977
From: Midland Ontario Canada (where Panavision & IMAX lenses come from)
Registered: Jun 2002


 - posted 08-30-2005 02:55 AM      Profile for Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Author's Homepage   Email Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
That is a cool picture. It reminds me that I want to broadcast on a second frequency with the (stereo) channels swapped though. Anybody got a dozen transmitters sitting around? [Smile]

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Monte L Fullmer
Film God

Posts: 8318
From: Nampa, Idaho, USA
Registered: Nov 2004


 - posted 08-30-2005 03:30 AM      Profile for Monte L Fullmer   Email Monte L Fullmer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I did a little "moonlighting"one night:

As I'm servicing this drive-in, I'm "filling" in for the regular operator that night. Shoot, I haven't ran a Drive-In since 1984, yet this is where I began all of this, 35yrs ago.

Here are some snaps that I took during the summer. This drive-in named the Terrace Dr-In, and this place actually has three screens-left (south) and right (north) of the center screen, but the wing screens now aren't being used do to a huge fire upstairs, that happened in the late 80's, in the booth which took out the machines.

There is some talk that the owner may want to get the right (north) screen back running. But the left screen is next to some housing development, making it impossible to show on that screen again.
............................................................
Picture of the yard right after boxoffice opening (this is a Sunday night-45min before screentime). 350 cars can be placed in this yard to capacity.

 -

Yours truly on the grill, getting it hot for cookout food. Operators do triple duty: project, cook, and do marquee on Sun nights (Scheduling is for Thurs to Sun only).

 -

The "toys" I play with when they need to be looked at. Good ol Century "SA", Xenex 3k lamphouse with Kneisley rectifier (wooo..glass reflector in this unit..), Balco (pre-Strong) platters, FM/AM transmitters...(and at the left edge of the pict behind the lamphouse, one can barely see the port window for the south screen and the booth entrance is right there, off picture).

Luckilly, I installed a wrap detector on the Balco right soon afterwards, for this place would, once in a while, have a bad case of the "wraps" due to those ancient brains and goofy microswitch setup that these early Balcos would use.

 -

..and me busting down a film towards the end of the night. That window behind me is the port window for the north screen.

 -

This drive-in opened up in this town back in 1954. The original building was torn down and a much larger one was constructed for the additional two screens. The booth is located on the second level of the building-why the machine is almost level due to the building is actually on a hill shooting almost level to the screen. Thus, why the place is called the Terrace Dr-in. The way the ground looks like for the cars to park-a terrace.

This is one of the only two drive-ins located in this western part of the state.

Boise area used to have 4 drive-ins. All are gone now.

Idaho, mainly in the lower half of the state, is fortunate to have most of it's drive-ins still in operation, and some still running full time with first run movies.

-Monte

[ 08-30-2005, 04:35 AM: Message edited by: Monte L Fullmer ]

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Robert Throop
Master Film Handler

Posts: 412
From: Vernon, NY USA
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 09-03-2005 10:19 AM      Profile for Robert Throop   Email Robert Throop   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Monte,
How big is the screen in that place?
Bob

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Monte L Fullmer
Film God

Posts: 8318
From: Nampa, Idaho, USA
Registered: Nov 2004


 - posted 09-04-2005 02:07 AM      Profile for Monte L Fullmer   Email Monte L Fullmer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Hi Bob - unfortunately, I don't know the exact measurements, but I would guess a good 60 x 85 ft screen, approximately. And I would guess the throw is a good 150 plus feet at least for sure.

Definitely have some LONG rear elements for both lenses.

-Monte

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Daryl C. W. O'Shea
Film God

Posts: 3977
From: Midland Ontario Canada (where Panavision & IMAX lenses come from)
Registered: Jun 2002


 - posted 09-04-2005 03:23 AM      Profile for Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Author's Homepage   Email Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
You want long, try an 800-900' throw. [Smile]

Now if I could only see that far to focus the damn things.

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Paul Mayer
Oh get out of it Melvin, before it pulls you under!

Posts: 3835
From: Albuquerque, NM
Registered: Feb 2000


 - posted 09-04-2005 11:21 AM      Profile for Paul Mayer   Author's Homepage   Email Paul Mayer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I used to use binoculars when covering the occasional drive-in shift. Still have that big pair of Bushnells around here somewhere.

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Monte L Fullmer
Film God

Posts: 8318
From: Nampa, Idaho, USA
Registered: Nov 2004


 - posted 09-04-2005 04:43 PM      Profile for Monte L Fullmer   Email Monte L Fullmer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I've should have added that with the throw to that screen from the booth using those long lenses due to the small size of the screen. Maybe, the throw then is a good 250 ft plus, instead of 150 feet previously.

I also used to work at another drive-in in my home town that also had a 150 ft throw,but the screen size was a good 80 x 135ft. Thus, when using carbons, they had the Futura II's with the 13.6mm positives. Later on, out came the carbons and in went the Strong 60's with a 4k bulb.

As for the binocular usage, I witnessed this in an indoor house in SLC. It was the Capitol Theatre, booth was above two balconies and 185ft throw to the screen. Screen was laid back about 10 degrees to compensate for keystone. Machinery had a good 25 degree tiltdown, and seeing the cues was like looking for the circle or dot on a postage stamp cut in half. Booth had television monitor to see the screen during operation and had binoculars to check focus after every changeover.

Scope lenses, if I remember, had 9inch backups, and the flat were 6 or 7inch backups. - pretty long for an indoor house.

They had a small dumbwaiter elevator system to haul film up to the booth, which in itself was quite roomey and very comfortable to be in - all deck out with nice furniture, kitchenette and bathroom.

Definitely, home away from home there.

Now, the theatre is home for Ballet West after a complete restoration was done and was placed on the Historical Registery.

-Monte

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