The Fairview Drive-In theater in Newton has withstood 60 years of changes in movie industry trends — but now it faces a new era in the digital world.
While viewers have already grown accustomed to some changes along the way, this new technology is expected to offer better quality visuals and sound in the future.
Overall, the drive-in experience is still much like yesteryear, but one major change in recent years was when the wired box speakers were replaced by tuning in via car radio for the movie’s sound.
But the industry is again changing, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association — and the upgrade isn’t cheap.
Fundraisers are being held nightly at the drive-in with 50/50 raffles, sales of T-shirts and more. The owners have set a goal to raise $50,000. Fairview’s website reports that the amount raised to date is $2,755.
Owners and operators from across the United States traveled to Florida recently to meet with experts in the industry and learn about the latest developments in theater technology, hospitality and operations, the group’s website reported.
At the Fairview Drive-In, owners Larry and Melody McGrath, under the name Earlann, Inc., have 10 years of experience and are ready for the future. Manager Brittany McGrath said the theater opened originally in 1953 and has been running for 60 years.
“To go digital is a big transition. Film (eventually) will be hard to get. The studios have not set a date as to when they will stop making 35mm and only provide digital, but, rumor has it, it will happen at the end of 2013,” Brittany McGrath said.
“We will have to buy new projection equipment, sound, and computers. This is a difficult move for independent small businesses because financing for it is around $75,000-$80,000 a screen.”
The Fairview’s owners and management do not want their drive-in to become a statistic as, nationwide, the number of drive-in theaters is declining.
According to Drive-Ins.com, there are less than 500 in the U.S., compared to 5,000 in 1958. In Illinois, only about 12 are still in operation.
McGrath hopes that with this new-age equipment that the theater hopes to obtain, Fairview will be around for at least another 60 years.
And McGrath believes making the trip for this movie experience is worth it.
“We provide entertainment and a unique experience. A big advantage for families is that they can bring their children early and play in the open grassy area in front and on the sides of the lot. You can bring lawn chairs, blankets, and pillows and get comfy,” she said.
The food is made-to-order at the Fairview, so the staff encourages people to show up early to get concessions in time before the show starts.
The outdoor movie shows rain or shine, unless a power outage or severe weather occurs.
Along with the new equipment, upgrades will be required for what is now the projection room and for the sound processors.
“We have to keep the projection room well insulated, and be able to provide heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer,” said McGrath.
The new equipment will run more like a computer. It involves downloading all movies from a hard drive and putting them on a server, she explained.
Melody and Lee Parks of Mattoon recently took their family to Fairview Drive-In.
“We had a fantastic experience here. The prices for both the movie and the concessions were unbelievably low. We snacked on drinks, popcorn, nachos and even cotton candy. (The experience) took me back to my childhood,” said Parks, 37.
Parks and her husband, Lee, 43, along with their children, Gabe, 9, and Madison, 5, said they plan to return.
“Going to the (Fairview Drive-In) is well worth the drive,” she said.
McGrath said, “The time-line on fundraising is really up to the generosity of the community and businesses. We hope to raise enough money by the end of the year, so we can start making renovations before next season.”
The drive-in is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from May through the end of August, and re-opens for a Halloween special called “Fright Night” in October.
Ticket prices are $6 for those 13 and older, and $3 for those 3-12 years old.
The theater is located in rural Newton at 16045 Highway 33 East.
Contact Dawn Schabbing at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-238-6864.