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‘Conversion to digital key to survival’ Drive-ins use creativity to afford switch

SACO, Maine, July 13, (Agencies): Many in the movie industry feared the need to convert to digital could be the death knell for drive-ins, but drive-in operators are finding creative ways to afford the switch.

Drive-in movie theater operators say more than 200 of the remaining 348 drive-ins in the U.S. have made the expensive conversion from film to digital, which typically costs more than $70,000. Theater owners say conversions escalated quickly in 2013 and will help keep the drive-ins in business for now, promising news for an industry that peaked in the 1950s and ’60s, then with more than 4,000 drive-in theaters nationwide.

Some drive-ins are raising money using crowd-funding platforms such as Kickstarter while others are taking advantage of financing programs or renting out their theaters as flea markets during off-hours.

Ry Russell, general manager of Saco Drive-In, launched a social-media campaign to win an $80,000 digital projection system in a contest sponsored by Honda. His drive-in theater in Saco, Maine, is celebrating its 75th anniversary by welcoming hundreds of cars to its giant roadside screen to watch the latest films on a new digital projection system.

“We’re just seeing Darwinism kind of take over,” Russell said. “The ones that survive will prosper.”

It’s a story that’s playing out at drive-ins all over the US, where conversion to digital is the key to survival, said John Vincent Jr., president of the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. Studios are phasing out 35mm film prints as Hollywood moves toward all-digital distribution. Even older movies are difficult to obtain on film because many repertory companies have gone digital, said Vincent, noting that people in the industry expect this season to be “the last summer of film.”

In Westbrook, 15 miles (24 kilometers) up the road from Saco, the owners of the 62-year-old Pride’s Corner Drive In are struggling just to keep business alive — they can only show movies in 35mm film and have raised just $1,350 of the $100,000 they need to convert to digital.

“When they stop making film, that’s it,” said Andrew Tevanian, operator of Pride’s Corner. “Then you’re out in the cold.”

Drive-in

These days, moviegoers in 44 states can take in a drive-in movie from the comfort of their own vehicles, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania have the most drive-ins, with nearly 30 each; Indiana has 20 and California, 17. Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, North Dakota and Wyoming are the only states without a drive-in.

In Rhode Island, Rustic Drive In in Smithfield sometimes welcomes 500 cars on a Saturday. It needs to because the company that owns the theater spent more than $200,000 on three new digital projectors for its three screens. The company is taking advantage of an offer from Los Angeles-based Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp, which arranges flexible loans and reimbursements from studios, a representative said.

The conversion means the 63-year-old drive-in is in it for the long haul, said Deborah Belisle, vice president of the company that runs the theater.

“That is saying we’re staying,” Belisle said. “The ones that are left now, they’re not going anywhere.”

Also:

LOS ANGELES: A feeble July 4 weekend has left the domestic box office down by nearly 20 percent from last season, but the sky isn’t falling in Hollywood. As a matter of fact, most of the studios are doing just fine this summer.

No one likes to make less money, and this season’s overall grosses are at $2.3 billion so far, down 19.3 percent from $2.8 billion over the same stretch last year, according to Rentrak. But there’s not a lot of teeth gnashing and no one is panicking, and it’s not a matter of “what, me worry?”

The short story is that while no film has matched the $400 million success of “Iron Man 3,” there have been far more hits than misses. There also hasn’t been a mega-budget bomb — last summer there were four — and some of the high-profile movies that have under-performed domestically will wind up in the black thanks to overseas returns.

Remember that last summer was the biggest in history with $4.8 billion in grosses, so it was always going to be a tough act to follow and the industry knew that. It was clear that this summer’s biggest sequels were going to be hard-pressed to match the grosses of Tony Stark and his pals, “Man of Steel,” “Monsters University” and “Fast & Furious 6.”

There was one animated films with major potential -”How to Train Your Dragon 2” — instead of two in “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters U.” And the summer’s prospects took a major hit when Universal was forced to push “Fast & Furious 7” in the wake of Paul Walker’s death.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” ($227 million), “Maleficent” ($213 million) and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” ($200 million) are the summer’s biggest movies to date, and “Godzilla” ($197 million) and “Transformers: Age of Extinction” ($174 million and counting) are close. But their grosses don’t compare with last year’s leaders at the half-way point: “Iron Man 3” ($406 million), “Man of Steel” ($267 million), “Fast & Furious 6” ($235 million), “Star Trek Into Darkness ($222 million) and “Monsters University” ($210 million).

Fox is having a terrific summer that stands to get better this week when “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” opens. It scored big-time with the teen drama “The Fault In Our Stars.” But while that film’s $12 million budget makes its $112 million total all the more impressive, it doesn’t raise the roof in terms of the overall box office.

With the success of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “22 Jump Street,” Sony is a much better place than it was last summer when “After Earth” and “White House Down” were two of the season’s biggest disappointments. The domestic total for Spidey was the lowest in franchise history and half of the “Iron Man 3” haul, but it has grossed more than $500 million overseas, second-best in the series.

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