Drive-in film theaters have been one thing of a salvation through the coronavirus pandemic. As one of many few leisure joints which are protected to go to exterior of the home, they’ve loved an enormous enhance in reputation. However don’t name it a comeback, says Transit Drive-In Theater proprietor Rick Cohen.
Outside moviegoing, as soon as seen as a relic from one other century, has grow to be the go-to spot for these itching to social distance from their sofa. That’s left Cohen, whose venue is in upstate New York, repeatedly fielding calls from native and nationwide reporters.
“I’m juggling all this media — they’re all around the drive-in resurgence,” Cohen tells Variety days after his theater opened for the season. “Drive-ins aren’t having a resurgence. Drive-ins have been doing nicely. It’s a resurgence of the media remembering that drive-ins nonetheless exist.”
That could be true, however there’s no denying that drive-in theaters are uniquely suited to thrive whereas most multiplexes keep closed because of the international heath disaster. And although there aren’t many left within the U.S. — about 300 drive-ins nonetheless exist, in comparison with over 5,400 brick-and-mortar theaters — they’ve been uncommon vivid spots for the exhibition business. The majority of those that personal and function cinemas are struggling to outlive, having been left and not using a option to earn a living whereas theaters are shuttered.
Cohen considers himself one of many fortunate ones.
Transit Drive-In, situated about 30 minutes north of Buffalo in Lockport, is seasonal (most likely a great factor contemplating western New York’s arctic chill throughout a lot of the winter). It doesn’t open till summer time when it’s lastly heat sufficient to spend time open air. Cohen had been planning to mud off projectors and arrange store in the midst of March, simply in time for “A Quiet Place Half II,” a sequel to John Krasinski’s horror hit. When Paramount pulled it from launch, Cohen delayed the reopening — first voluntarily earlier than it turned necessary two weeks later.
Final week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave drive-ins in his state permission to promote tickets once more and Transit Drive-In was in a position to open simply in time for Memorial Day weekend. For a lot of cinemas, Cohen’s included, the tip Could by means of Labor Day in September stays considered one of busiest instances of yr.
However for the primary time within the 33 years that Cohen has been working herd, issues at Transit Drive-In look somewhat completely different.
For one, he’s capped capability within the parking zone at 50% to permit extra space between autos. That’s resulted in roughly 640 spots up for grabs nightly throughout 5 screens. There’s a median of two.three adults per automotive, however even with admission working at $10 a pop, Cohen’s math suggests there’s “potential cash left on the desk.”
“We routinely promote out within the summertime when there’s an enormous new film and the climate is sweet,” he stated.
Additionally for the primary time, tickets are solely being bought on-line. That security measure limits the dealing with of money, whereas making certain spots aren’t oversold. “I’m going to should pay larger processing charges as a result of I can’t take money,” he stated. “However it’s higher than being closed.”
There are extra staff working than normal to help with new protocol, which means Cohen’s payroll can be larger with much less income coming in. Nonetheless, he isn’t nervous about restrictive gross sales or making ends meet. “Opening a drive-in, for me, wasn’t about how a lot cash I could make it. It was about serving the group safely,” he stated.
Right here’s what a typical night time now appears like:
5:50 p.m. — Arrive on the Transit Drive-In
Cohen’s day begins nicely earlier than he first reveals as much as work, typically answering emails and sifting by means of voicemails from patrons earlier than he pivots to run different errands. Though tapes don’t begin rolling till 9 p.m., he will get in simply earlier than the clock strikes 6 to greet the keen clients hoping to get the very best spot within the lot.
“There’s solely so many areas within the entrance,” he stated. “Earlier than this, they’d throw a Frisbee round or take the canine out. A drive-in is an element tenting, half movie show and half tailgate social gathering. So now, it’s rather less of every of these, however nonetheless a variety of enjoyable.”
6 p.m. — Begin to scan tickets
There are execs and cons to the online-only system for getting tickets, although total they’ve discovered it has made arrivals extra environment friendly. Staff can methodically scan tickets earlier than sending clients by means of.
However the brand new course of is just not with out its hiccups.
“We seen immediately that individuals who purchase their tickets on three days discover both make errors or change their minds,” he grumbles. “It’s actually aggravating. We had to enter intensive element on our web site ticketing buy web page. Apparently ‘all transactions are last, no exceptions’ is just not clear sufficient.”
6 p.m. – 9 p.m. — Promoting concessions and protecting restrooms clear
No moviegoing expertise can be full with out a big tub of popcorn and an ice chilly soda. Plus, concession stand gross sales are a serious income for theaters. Plexiglass has been put in on the snack bar, the place every cashier is supplied with their very own bottle of hand sanitizer. They’re additionally donning face masks and gloves. Just one register is permitted to take money. It requires two staff, one to deal with the meals and one to deal with the transactions. A second register settle for bank cards and a 3rd is reserved for advance orders dealt with by telephone.
“I ordered hands-free sanitizer stations in March. I used to be fortunate to get them in Could,” Cohen stated. “I needed to beg my provider for them. The producers can barely sustain. The truth that I received my palms on three of them… somebody up there was looking for me. I received fortunate.”
There are two entrances to the snack bar, the place two extra staffers are monitoring the world to make sure there aren’t greater than 10 individuals inside directly.
“That’s one other staff of workers members who wouldn’t be on the schedule that we’re offering for security,” he stated. “Folks aren’t going to police that themselves, you want somebody to permit individuals in as room turns into obtainable.”
Restrooms are additionally a priority, Cohen acknowledges, so attendants sanitize every of the 16 stalls after each use. That requires three further individuals — one surveying traces exterior the lavatory, a feminine to disinfect the women’ room and a male to wash the boys’s room.
“We wish each one who makes use of our restroom to really feel protected. The one method to do this is to actually disinfect the stall after each use,” he stated.
9 p.m. Roll the tapes
Most drive-in theaters entice households with a night of double-bills. However in an effort to cut back the foot site visitors in restrooms and concession stands, Transit Drive-in is just exhibiting single options.
“We don’t wish to encourage individuals to remain for 2 films the place there’s a crush to make use of the restroom in between,” Cohen stated. “That’s a sacrifice our clients are making. It’s not one thing we favor to do as a result of one of many benefits of attending drive-ins has been double options.”
Since studios are releasing new films much less often, latest movies just like the animated “Trolls World Tour” and thriller “The Invisible Man” have been mainstays on the marquee. “Folks love scary films at drive-ins. Horror and suspense do nicely,” he stated. “And household photos are extremely popular.”
11:30 p.m. Usher the final automotive out and clear the premises
Sometimes, showtimes are staggered so there isn’t a mad sprint to go away. They’re nonetheless experimenting with what instances work greatest. However for essentially the most half, that side has been clean crusing.
“With out intermissions, you don’t have concession-stand congestion,” he stated. “When the film is over, everybody leaves.”
When the ultimate automotive exits the grounds, Cohen sends his crew to wash any rubbish that’s been left behind.
“That’s enjoyable,” he jokes, “amassing covid-infected trash from the parking zone. We’re sporting PPE gloves and simply tossing in rubbish bag. So long as you’re acutely aware of what you’re doing and have protecting gear, you don’t should be sporting a hazmat go well with.”
12 a.m. Ship the crew dwelling
Working at a drive-in typically means late nights, however shifts have been ending barely earlier within the age of coronavirus. Intermission is generally round midnight, which alerts a blitz to purchase popcorn, sizzling canine and fries earlier than the second movie begins enjoying. On a median day, they’d go away round 2 a.m. — generally after 2:30 if it’s a prolonged film. (“It ought to be a regulation,” he laments, “that each one theatrical films ought to be two hours or much less.”)
“What’s bizarre is I really feel extra drained after a single-feature efficiency, getting out earlier than midnight, than I did earlier than once we had been exhibiting two films,” Cohen stated. “It’s much more irritating. You’re feeling much more accountability — the burden of individuals’s well being and security.”