| Drive-in movies: The sequel

Alan Ackerman is convinced he has hit on a new growth industry: drive-in movie theaters.

Laugh if you will at the idea of this staple of the Eisenhower era – now a shadow of its former self – having a renaissance. He’s not doing it the old way.

For one thing, he’s not showing film.

This summer, the Carroll County entrepreneur took the unusual step of opening a digital drive-in, possibly the first in the country to use DVDs instead of 35 mm. His staging area is a large parking lot at the Mason Dixon Dragway southeast of Hagerstown.

…The picture is clear. The sound comes through without a crackle over FM radio. The illusion of times past is somewhat diminished by the SUVs and minivans lined up for double features on the inflatable 50-foot-by-25-foot screen, but Ackerman plays vintage cartoons and intermission clips – digitally remastered.

I was an assistant manager for Storey Theaters (a company which has since been absorbed by Regal Cinemas) when E.T. was new. I worked at the only drive-in theater showing it in Atlanta, possibly anywhere in Georgia, the Glenwood (now, of course, an apartment complex).

The big thing I learned was that, even now, there are moviegoers who would not be caught dead in a walk-in theater (that’s what drive-in people call what you’re probably thinking of as a “real” theater). Are there enough of them in one place to support a drive-in theater? Well, maybe not a permanent full-time drive-in in the traditional sense. But this modern combination of a digital projector, inflatable screen, and otherwise-unused parking lot is a great way to test the waters. This could work.

The single biggest drawback to drive-in theaters isn’t addressed in this article: Daylight Saving Time. It’s hard to interest people (especially families, to which this is being marketed) in a double-feature that won’t begin until at least 9:30 pm.