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TOPIC: New drive-in

New drive-in 24 Sep 2019 11:52 #44413

Hello everyone!

I've been in negotiations with a non-for-profit on the purchase of 27 acres for the last two months. We finally have a financial agreement (a couple minor things before we accept the agreement on our end) and the goal is to open a drive-in movie theater.

I'm not sure whether we are starting on 1 or 2 screens. I would really like to run retro nights with like series/trilogies of cult classics as well as first run movies, but having not talked to a film broker, some of the requirements for movies are unknown to me.

Really hard to find rough cost though and a film broker.

So far I've managed to find projectors range from 30-60k (screen size is probably 40x70) - do aftermarket replacement bulbs for lenses work or what is the ~approx cost.
Screen cost? I've found outdoor screens for quite cheap under 3k, not framed though, not sure average cost.
Sounds for FM radio appears to be super cheap, 1-2k? Is that really all it takes to broadcast on shortwave FM?
Are ranps required? Only one of the 4 I've been to have had ramps and just set sections for larger vehicles.

I'm really only concerned about those cost as those things are unknown to me.
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New drive-in 27 Sep 2019 07:06 #44416

  • lionheart
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It sounds like you might be putting the cart before the horse. You need to work out a more complete business plan before acquiring land or spending any large sums of money.

Film bookers are not that hard to find. You should be able find several bookers by searching these boards. I recently saw some recommendations for bookers over at forums as well.

Be careful when you consider projectors that they are powerful enough for the size of screen you are looking at. Also, when you wrote about the cost of "outdoor screens" being "under 3k, not framed", I wonder if you are talking about some form of fabric, canvas, etc. such as those used indoors. Drive-in screens aren't something that would normally need framed. They are rigid structures made to stand up to the elements. Can you imagine how much wind a screen of that size will catch? Anything not really sturdy will not last long at all. It wouldn't be something to scrimp on.

I'm not going to try and give more specific answers since I've never run a drive-in, and I've been out of the exhibition business for a while. I had hoped someone with more recent and specific knowledge might answer your questions, but it's been awfully quiet on these forums lately.
Last Edit: 27 Sep 2019 07:09 by lionheart.
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New drive-in 29 Sep 2019 05:18 #44417

Thanks for that link to

I've contacted a few brokers, but none have responded. (Then again, sometimes people take more than a week to get back to you)

The land I'm acquiring regardless as part of it is zoned residential to build our house on (other part is industrial and is allowed for a drive-in as I've contacted the local township and verified that it is an allowed usage). It is just in a good location that a drive-in is something I'd personally like to do, it it doesn't work out I'll just open a u-storage place and call it a day.

We have numerous drive-ins in Ohio and I've been to quite a few is why I ask about the framing and screen. Looks to me that the actual screen is cheap, but it needs the frame (support structure on it) I have an initial estimate, but even at one of the older drive-ins it literally appears to be a white canvas over boards that are attached to 3 old telephone poles as that is the only support available to be seen from it. (There main screen is metal, going to guess aluminum framing)
Last Edit: 29 Sep 2019 05:20 by swigmonkey.
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New drive-in 02 Oct 2019 00:22 #44418

  • Ken Layton
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The drive in owners website has some information that will help you:

Selby makes drive in theater screen towers:

Selby Products
Screen Towers
PO Box 267
Richfield, OH 44286
330-659-6631 or 800-647-6224
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New drive-in 08 Oct 2019 15:48 #44427

  • rodeojack
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The business plan suggestion is probably the best advice so far.

After that:

Most any person who actually runs a drive-in should tell you to build at least 2 or 3 screens. This is because the studios will require you to hold on to a booking for a minimum of 2 to 3 weeks. That means you'll get 2 or 3 new movies a month, which is not usually enough to keep your client base interested. You lose up to 50% of your crowd with each week you hold a movie (more or less). Business on the holdover weeks can be pretty thin, even if you do relatively well on the weekend.

2 or 3 screens don't cost 2 or 3 times as much to run as the first one. 'Nuff said there.

Having multiple screens takes the pressure off to book in new stuff all the time. You can CHOOSE to hold over well-performing titles, which results in lower rental rates

There are no "aftermarket" xenon bulbs. There are two or three sources for decent bulbs, and a couple of discount brands you should probably stay away from, given the cost of your projector. The brand you settle on will probably depend on price, performance and how well you like the dealer you buy through. The lamp companies build their bulbs to go far beyond the warranty period, because none of them want to buy you a new set of reflectors if their lamp blows up. On the basis of warranty, any reputable brand should work OK.

As far as I've been able to tell, the lenses are built to work with specific projector brands. They don't just plug in, like the old 35mm ones did. Be sitting down when you get the price of these things. I think mine were in the $14k range. I spent somewhat over $200k to retrofit my booth and put in 3 projectors (one 7kW version and 2 4Ks). We already had the sound system in.

Granted; you can probably build a booth cheaper. I happen to feel the output of the booth is why my customers come out here (even over our food, which is a separate topic), so we didn't scrimp on the conversion in any way I can think of. 8 years later, I'm still happy with the investment.

Yes, you can buy an FM transmitter for $1,000 to $2,000, or therebouts. You will also need antennas, coax, mixers, switching, etc.

Visit other drive-ins to get a feel for how to ramp your place. I have two styles. My old field slopes downward, giving very good sightlines. My back two are flat, with raised berms for "ramps". I have to be more careful about where to put larger vehicles. In this case, having the screens higher up helps to compensate for the flat field. These were built almost 30 years after the first one, and construction concepts were a little different then.

You need to do some local study and make some contacts of your own as regards screens. Depending on size, you can easily spend $75,000 to $200,000 for one screen. One owner in the UDITOA group Ken mentioned built his place with a traditional Selby screen, then added a second, which he made himself from wood poles and miscellaneous other lumber. He took a lot of time to think out the project and get it right. That may or may not work for you, considering whether you can get the permits to go that way in the first place.

It's your call on what to book there, but I suspect you will quickly find that the novelty for retro will not sustain a long-term operation. Your customers can find EVERYTHING on cable, streaming or DVD, and watching these old films at your place will wear thin fairly soon. In our case, we do a retro on Labor Day weekend... 3 days only, and we're pretty careful about the combos we book for the event.

You should be prepared to have some of your money tied up in advance rent payments for your first year or two. This is pretty much standard practice with the studios until they get to know you. After that, you need to pay the film bills first and in full or you will be paying advances for much longer.

How to work out whether you have the population, community and local bureaucratic support and lack of nearby competition is well covered here and part of what you probably should know by now.

Talk to someone around you who is doing this now. There is a whole lot to running these places than you might think. There are many, many hats you need to be reasonably good at wearing, especially if you need to turn a profit in a reasonably short time.
Last Edit: 08 Oct 2019 15:55 by rodeojack.
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