Historic landmark theater trying new approach
Henderson’s drive-in theater fell short on votes to win a digital projector this month, but theater owner Mark Frank is not done yet with pursuing options to fund the $100,000 project.
He is not alone in that quest as local and national fundraising efforts continue to preserve the iconic part of America’s car culture.
Theaters are racing against time as older celluloid film technology gets phased out of the major movie industry at the end of the calendar year.
The Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre got into an online contest sponsored by the Honda Corporation that awarded nine of the digital projectors at a cost of $80,000 each.
The “Project Drive-In” campaign continues to take in donations with the hope of helping more theaters like the Raleigh Road drive-in. But that’s not the only preservation effort.
Frank said he has joined his theater’s cause to a consortium of artistic causes campaigning for donations through giveaways and other promotions online at kickstarter.com.
“We didn’t get enough votes to be in the top nine,” Frank said. “We do have a number of options, however.”
According to Frank, he didn’t think too much of the kickstarter idea at first, but he learned about other drive-in and indoor theaters moving forward with that campaign.
“I didn’t like the idea of asking customers for donations,” Frank said. “Then I saw the prize selections, how it works. At least a dozen indoor theaters and one drive-in that I know of have converted that way,” Frank said.
He was encouraged when he saw the scope of what many others in a unique retail business community were doing, and the responses they were seeing, to help the smaller independent theaters get through the transition.
“That’s our next step,” Frank said. “We’re pretty confident in this. Once I learned more, I warmed up to it. The only reason we held off was to see how the Honda contest turned out.”
Theater manager Craig Askew said it is pretty much a switch-or-die situation. Also, the cost base is $80,000, with an additional $20,000 in other equipment upgrades and renovations needed to accommodate digital projecting.
Askew said the kickstarter campaign has more than 30 thank-you giveaways depending on donation levels, including his favorite: donor names getting put up on the theater marquee. The range of rewards is in place so every donor, from small individual donations to businesses helping at a sponsorship level, receives a big thank-you.
“I think it’s great that you get something tangible for donating,” Askew said. “This is a do-or-die situation, but I am positive about it. I really want to see this place continue. It is an icon in Vance County that very much needs to be preserved.”
Theaters that wish to continue showing new releases — always the high demand in the industry — must set up for digital projecting by Dec. 31. The movie industry stops making celluloid films available for release after that date.
Frank said because many drive-in theaters are a rural business open mostly on weekends, fronting $100,000 is a tall order to fill.
“The costs are more challenging for the drive-ins,” he said. “Really, the writing is on the wall. Many of them will go dark.”
There are several hundred drive-in theaters left in America, and most of them are in three states: Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio, according to Frank. He estimated there are six in North Carolina, nine in Virginia and three in South Carolina.
According to Askew, their campaign is scheduled to “go live” Saturday with a link at the Raleigh theater’s raleighroaddrivein.com website. Askew said linking to it is also possible at the kickstarter.com website by entering Raleigh Road Theater in the search option.
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