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TOPIC: Can drive in theatres be successful?

Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 04 Aug 2011 18:17 #36807

  • Mike
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Folks: there are drive-ins all over the country doing very well. Some are new and some are long established. They have a very interesting niche and all you have to do to see how they work is to get in your car and go on a road trip. The ones that are gone, and that is very many indeed, often fell from a combination of the increase in land prices and the value of their property sky rocketed as they were built not far out of town or that they did not adapt with the times. The most successful ozoners today are the ones that have (surprise) more than one screen. A multi screened theatre in a good market has very good business potential. Check out this 5 screen in Dearborn Mich. www.forddrivein.com/showtimes.asp?house=3720
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Last Edit: 04 Aug 2011 18:19 by Mike.
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 05 Aug 2011 01:10 #36809

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The suggestion that you take a road trip is a good one. Drive-in theatres are a tricky business to put into a box. They sprung up all over the country during the 40s & 50s, had the same problems other theatres had with TV, video & booking quirks, then nearly faded into obscurity as towns grew up around them or property values and taxes exceeded income. In many cases, the owners got old and either sold to Wal-Mart or just closed when they found they could not identify anyone suitable to take over the business.

For those who have made it work, the drive-in is a special breed of cat. Each one identifies strongly with its community. What it plays, how long its season runs, its rules, food offerings and overall presentation are all affected by the makeup of the community it serves and the individuals who run it.

Drive-in owners are also a tricky bunch to put into a box, especially if you don't want a fight to break out! :woohoo: Most are very independent, having invented their own wheel & strongly believing it to be the best one around.

Case in point: Bob's operation gives him the freedom to engage in the romance of the vintage projection booth. He's developed the rest of his operation to the point that he can spend time in that area.

I grew up in the carbon arc days but find no interest in that kind of "romance", as I don't believe the customer cares what's in the booth. Most of my patrons think i've been running DVDs for years, so there's really nobody here to appreciate a carbon-arc changeover booth that would keep me firmly tethered to a small part of the theatre. Two people, two approaches, two successful drive-ins.

The economic realities of a typical drive-in season are valid, and work best if you can appreciate an agricultural lifestyle. Your big paydays will occur during a small part of the Summer, and you'll have to rake that out over the months that you're closed... assuming you can do this without a second or third job. I'm fortunate that my place is paid for. I can plan for the next big expense, digital, without figuring out how that works into mortgage payments and the cost of raising a family. A new entrant to this business will have to work those things out.

Opinions vary widely here, over how long film will be available. There's probably not much point in debating it, because none of us really knows for sure. We'll all have to set our thresholds for when we feel it's time to pull that trigger... However, I strongly believe that everyone will have to make that change... it's only a matter of when. So... it may not be wise to go into a new drive-in project, or any theatre for that matter, without addressing this issue and having a plan in place that works for you.

Whether you resurrect a closed drive-in, acquire an operating one or build from scratch, drive-ins are nearly always a blast to operate... especially if you have a flexible lifestyle and can adjust your business plan on the fly.
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 05 Aug 2011 14:34 #36811

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revrobor wrote:
It looks as though some don't know that carbon arcs are still in use in some theatres in this country and around the world. And obviously they've never seen a picture lit by carbons.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I've seen plenty of hardtop movies that used carbon arc as a light source and a few drive in movies that used carb arc as the light source. It is very good when properly done. Black and white films look really good with a carbon arc light source especially when vintage prints are used.
Digital drive-in presentations are superior to any film drive- in presentation. Digital projectors in drive- ins could revitalize the industry especially in markets that can operate during a long season.
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 05 Aug 2011 15:00 #36812

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I think that drive in theatres offer one of the most profitable entries into the movie business. You can go anywhere without fear of allocation, you can split films, and you can pick your market as drive ins are not everywhere as hard tops are. Up here in Maine is it too unpredictable but in the low rain or warmer states I'd look long and hard at a drive in.
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 09 Aug 2011 14:34 #36827

  • Jerry 42nd
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Our local D-I runs on a break even basis. Admission price of $5.00 per person, 1.00 per child. Small concession stand - prebagged popcorn, etc.. The question I have is how do the distributors allow the showing of two movies for $5. Each one is at the mall gigaplex for $9 each. They were able to book Harry Potter on its opening weekend with a co-feature. Second question...Is the box office split between the two movies when the grosses are reported????
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 09 Aug 2011 15:18 #36828

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I run a seasonal sucessful drive in in a small market, u think you couldmake it happen, you can send mea message with questions if you want
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 09 Aug 2011 16:26 #36829

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Jerry 42nd wrote:
Our local D-I runs on a break even basis. Admission price of $5.00 per person, 1.00 per child. Small concession stand - prebagged popcorn, etc.. The question I have is how do the distributors allow the showing of two movies for $5. Each one is at the mall gigaplex for $9 each. They were able to book Harry Potter on its opening weekend with a co-feature. Second question...Is the box office split between the two movies when the grosses are reported????

First-off: Whether the drive-in breaks even or not doesn't matter to the studios. Nor does the theatre's concession operation. In this case, only the admission price would be of concern to them and that they are paid promptly as agreed.

1st question: (Short answer): With some exceptions, they can do whatever they want. It's their multi-million dollar product. If they want to (nearly) give it away, they're free to do that. However, keep in mind that the national ticket price averages at $7.89 (NATO, 2010). A $5 admit isn't that much lower than a $9 is higher.

(Long answer): The distributors can not legally influence your admission prices, and they say this frequently in their contracts. However, they can do some indirect things that will make you think about how low you want to go. The most recent is their "per-capita admission", a clause in the master contract you sign in which you agree to pay a minimum amount per admission. You are free to set whatever price you choose to charge the customer, but if the percentage for that week is less than the per-cap admission, then you get to make up the difference out of your concession or your back pocket. The studios don't enforce this universally and so-far, they tend to notify you if they intend to... usually on tent-pole films that they expect to make a lot of money on.

Years ago, a studio argued that it should be reasonably free to place its product where it could make the best return on it. As I recall, the court agreed, which gave the studio(s) a bit more leeway to skip over theatres that didn't charge admissions reasonably close to market rates.

The magic time frame seems to be the first two weeks of a new release. If the theatre returns a high enough percentage to cover the per-cap (if enforced) and the cost of the print is covered (ie: no loss to the studio), then there doesn't seem to be a lot of resistance on the part of the studios. I've seen several indoor houses that had very low grosses and still got everything off the top. In the big picture, a single small theatre only seems to hit their radar if the bills don't get paid.

The studios tend not to like carload pricing on first-run shows. The way they see it, one person pays, the others get in free. They might as well have been in the trunk. The indoor-theatre comparison would be like one person buying a ticket, then opening up the exit door and letting his friends sneak in. 6 people in the room... one ticket sold. You might sell some more popcorn that way, but the studios get cheated out of 5 admissions. You're using their product to attract your popcorn customers, which makes resistance on their part understandable.

The examples above are not uniformly applied across the country... especially as applies to carload pricing. Where a theatre in one area of the country might have problems booking first-run at carload admissions, a theatre on the other side might not. The studios allow some discretion to their regional offices, and we generally have to accept that.

2nd question: No. The boxoffice gross is applied equally to both films. If you make $1000 for the week, the studios claim it on each film. You would have agreed to pay this percentage for the first film and that percentage on the second. Those percentages are each paid on the total gross. In that way, it's just like going to the indoor and watching both shows. We pay as if each film was sold separately. The customer doesn't see that, however. This is why drive-ins pay close attention to the combined percentage for the double feature.

As far as I know, the only way to get around that would be to clear the house between shows and sell new tickets. In this case you'd be sharing one screen between two separate, single bookings. The studios would expect to know about that, however. In a first-run booking, they demand all available showtimes (it's in your contract). Any split would have to be agreed to in advance.
Last Edit: 09 Aug 2011 16:30 by rodeojack.
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 11 Aug 2011 13:48 #36831

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rodeojack wrote:
Jerry 42nd wrote:
Our local D-I runs on a break even basis. Admission price of $5.00 per person, 1.00 per child. Small concession stand - prebagged popcorn, etc.. The question I have is how do the distributors allow the showing of two movies for $5. Each one is at the mall gigaplex for $9 each. They were able to book Harry Potter on its opening weekend with a co-feature. Second question...Is the box office split between the two movies when the grosses are reported????

First-off: Whether the drive-in breaks even or not doesn't matter to the studios. Nor does the theatre's concession operation. In this case, only the admission price would be of concern to them and that they are paid promptly as agreed.

1st question: (Short answer): With some exceptions, they can do whatever they want. It's their multi-million dollar product. If they want to (nearly) give it away, they're free to do that. However, keep in mind that the national ticket price averages at $7.89 (NATO, 2010). A $5 admit isn't that much lower than a $9 is higher.

(Long answer): The distributors can not legally influence your admission prices, and they say this frequently in their contracts. However, they can do some indirect things that will make you think about how low you want to go. The most recent is their "per-capita admission", a clause in the master contract you sign in which you agree to pay a minimum amount per admission. You are free to set whatever price you choose to charge the customer, but if the percentage for that week is less than the per-cap admission, then you get to make up the difference out of your concession or your back pocket. The studios don't enforce this universally and so-far, they tend to notify you if they intend to... usually on tent-pole films that they expect to make a lot of money on.

Years ago, a studio argued that it should be reasonably free to place its product where it could make the best return on it. As I recall, the court agreed, which gave the studio(s) a bit more leeway to skip over theatres that didn't charge admissions reasonably close to market rates.

The magic time frame seems to be the first two weeks of a new release. If the theatre returns a high enough percentage to cover the per-cap (if enforced) and the cost of the print is covered (ie: no loss to the studio), then there doesn't seem to be a lot of resistance on the part of the studios. I've seen several indoor houses that had very low grosses and still got everything off the top. In the big picture, a single small theatre only seems to hit their radar if the bills don't get paid.

The studios tend not to like carload pricing on first-run shows. The way they see it, one person pays, the others get in free. They might as well have been in the trunk. The indoor-theatre comparison would be like one person buying a ticket, then opening up the exit door and letting his friends sneak in. 6 people in the room... one ticket sold. You might sell some more popcorn that way, but the studios get cheated out of 5 admissions. You're using their product to attract your popcorn customers, which makes resistance on their part understandable.

The examples above are not uniformly applied across the country... especially as applies to carload pricing. Where a theatre in one area of the country might have problems booking first-run at carload admissions, a theatre on the other side might not. The studios allow some discretion to their regional offices, and we generally have to accept that.


2nd question: No. The boxoffice gross is applied equally to both films. If you make $1000 for the week, the studios claim it on each film. You would have agreed to pay this percentage for the first film and that percentage on the second. Those percentages are each paid on the total gross. In that way, it's just like going to the indoor and watching both shows. We pay as if each film was sold separately. The customer doesn't see that, however. This is why drive-ins pay close attention to the combined percentage for the double feature.

As far as I know, the only way to get around that would be to clear the house between shows and sell new tickets. In this case you'd be sharing one screen between two separate, single bookings. The studios would expect to know about that, however. In a first-run booking, they demand all available showtimes (it's in your contract). Any split would have to be agreed to in advance.

AMEN. We have seen policies vastly different: you can document differing open, split, settlements, etc. and do not bother saying "well in texas they..... " cause it won't help.
Michael Hurley
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 15 Sep 2011 09:32 #36975

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We're thinking about building a smaller twin drive-in that we own, rather then leasing the one we have now. We looked at 6 acres of commercial land today, that is not far from where we live. We now travel over 250 miles to a low population area. I'm thinking 2 screens 150 & 75 cars? What size screens will work with digital, How many lumen's do I need. Watts, Foot lambert's or whatever? This new build will draw from 3 million within a 40 mile radius as opposed to the 50 thousand we draw from now!

I've been a film projestionist & showman since 1970 (IATSE Local 359, & 310), but I no nothing about these new-fangled @#!**&^@!%!, contrapsions! I want to go smaller so just Mom & Pop & maybe my daughter can run it. Kinda like a Jerry Lewis "Mini-Drive-In"! Thanks, Crazy Bob.
Last Edit: 15 Sep 2011 09:38 by crazybob.
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 15 Sep 2011 09:39 #36976

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The town already has a WAL*MART!
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 15 Sep 2011 16:24 #36978

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Well Bob, besides my years in exhibition I spent some time with WalMart and know they do a lot of research on a community before they build. So they must have faith in the growth potential of the community. The number of DIs across the country are growing slowly and I believe what you propose could succeed. There are a couple of DI owners who post here who will be giving you some good advise so watch for it. I believe you could start with film. It may be on it's way out but it's not dead and you've got time to convert. BTW I'm an old IA man myself (577 San Bernardino, CA). Care to share where you're considering building?
Bob
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 15 Sep 2011 16:59 #36979

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I live in South Jersey. My present drive-in is in North Central PA, in a beautiful, endless mountain area. We stay in a camper there all Summer.It's on over 20 acres & the screens are around 100 ft wide. I'm using 4k xenon. I'm halfway between Lock Haven & Williamsport, about 50K, pop. The new location I'm looking at is smaller but affordable & zoned "Mixed". It's a cleared field that slopes for good drainage. It will be in the Delaware Valley, POP. 6.3 Million, near Philadelphia. The closest Drive-In would be the Delsea in Vinland, NJ. We already talked to the bank & we will be talking to the zoning board soon. The realtor knows them all & thinks that they will welcome us with open arms. The town has no theatres (hartops) at all! I'm going to put up a Pole barn type building for the conc.They built my 30X 32' garage in one day! The land has city water, but the sewer hook up it 1300' away. May have to build a septic sys. I will put in 35mm, at least to run my vast collection of intermission clocks. I'm building the concession stand 2 sided that will serve a dual pupose. during the day I can sell pizza, wings cheessteaks, & ice cream. tons of shore traffic pass by. I need info about what size screen I need that will work with digital projectors that aren't too expensive. Thanks, Crazy Bob..
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 15 Sep 2011 17:19 #36980

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Digital projectors are very expensive and will continue to be for some time. The least expensive I've heard of is $60,000 for one machine and that was quoted by Brad Miller of Film-Tech. For that kind of money you could equip both your booths with good rebuilt 35mm equipment. Good luck. I'll watch your progress.
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 15 Sep 2011 17:42 #36982

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I may just open one screen at first, & it should pay for the second screen in a few years. This is not a done deal yet, but I have to start somewhere. Thank you, sir!
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Re: Can drive in theatres be successful? 16 Sep 2011 02:27 #36983

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Two screens on just 6 acres? Seems it would be awfully cramped.
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