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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Diary of a Drive-In Theatre: Installment #2

In this second installment we cover the most important item for a drive-in's construction - the SCREEN!

Besides the land upon which it is located, a drive-in's screen is it's most important and expensive asset.  Unlike an indoor cinema where vinyl, perforated screens are the norm, a drive-in screen is much larger (typically, at minimum, 40ft. high x 60ft. wide), much sturdier , and made of a solid material.  I should note that over the last decade or so the practice of multiplexing has occurred in the drive-in community.  Feeling the need and desire to increase profits by exhibiting more movies, drive-in owners - using the existing acreage footprint - have added screens. Unfortunately these added screens are invariably much too small (in many cases smaller then indoor cinema screens)  to obtain the true drive-in movie experience. 

Construction of the Screen Tower

Once screen size is determined (based upon acreage and the number of vehicles  it can accommodate) the construction of a drive-in screen normally takes 10 days. Termed a tower, the screen should be positioned like home plate, the projection booth at the pitchers mound, and parking spots in the infield flaring out to left, center, and right fields.

First:  Large holes are dug (typically 4) 6 feet deep. The main tower supports  are then placed into the holes and re-enforced concrete poured in to fill the holes.  It takes 10 days for the concrete to "cure".

Second: After seven days, the construction crew returns and begins building the tower frame. Made of steel, the frame is erected using pieces which were fabricated at the factory to the specifications of the predetermined screen size.  Liken the frame to a very large erector set.  By the time the frame is completed (about 2-3 days) the concrete is 90% cured, and it is now time to install the screen panels.

Third: A drive-in screen is normally made of aluminium panels, factory  pre-painted using a highly reflective white paint.  They are usually 18 inches wide and half the length of the screen height.  Although there are seams where the panels meet, they are not noticeable from a distance and certainly not by the drive-in patrons.  What is seen is a large, bright-white rectangle.

What's Next

Yeah, yeah, I know. You're waiting with the excitement of a child on the eve of their birthday (really, that excited ?) to know what the screen size is going to be for the drive-in upon which this diary is based.  Well, after careful consideration, and the previous statement I made in the first installment that we wanted to go with the largest screen possible - the tower (at the yet to be revealed no-name drive-in) will be: 50ft. high x 70ft. wide.

The  next installment will discuss what  projection and sound equipment a modern day drive-in uses, you'll be surprised!

Best and Happy Movie Going!
Jim Lavorato

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