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Vehicles are shown gathered at Verne Drive-In in Luverne in this undated photograph. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Vehicles are shown gathered at Verne Drive-In in Luverne in this undated photograph. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Drive-ins vie for digital projectors

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON — As the end of 35-millimeter film draws near, indoor theaters aren’t the only ones scrambling to purchase the digital projectors necessary to continue showing movies.

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Drive-in theaters are also finding themselves with only two options — get a new projector or close their doors.

Project Drive-In was launched by Honda with one simple goal: to save as many drive-ins as possible. The campaign is raising awareness for the plight of drive-in theaters and giving away a total of nine projectors, which cost an average of $75,000 each, to selected drive-ins.

The public can vote to determine which theaters will receive a new digital projector through Project Drive-In.

Honda originally planned to offer five projectors and to allow voting from Aug. 9 through Sept. 9. The auto manufacturer received such a strong response from fans and communities across the country, though, that after announcing the first five winners on Monday, it decided to extend the project to allow six more voting days and to give away four additional projectors.

Luverne’s Verne Drive-In — owned by Glen Burmeister — and Spirit Lake’s Superior 71 Drive-In Theater — owned by Gaylord Kemp and his wife, Pam — are both vying for one of the projectors, and have been spreading the word and asking for supporters’ votes. The owners of both theaters have been using social media, flyers and word of mouth to ask moviegoers and friends to vote for their theater on the Project Drive-In website.

“It’s been a little bit tougher this week because after Labor Day, we slowed down to just showing on weekends,” Kemp said. “So, we don’t have the crowds coming in every night where we’re handing out flyers.”

Purchasing new digital projectors has been an unexpected financial burden for many small theaters, both locally and across the nation. However, for drive-ins, which are typically open only for the summer months, the cost can be especially difficult to meet.

“The problem is, we’re not open year-round,” Burmeister said. “It takes us a lot longer to recoup that investment.”

Kemp opened his theater in 2008, and the business has been a significant investment for him. Receiving a digital projector from Honda’s Project Drive-In would be a huge benefit for the theater.

“I’m only half-done paying for the equipment that I have out there, and it’s already obsolete,” he said. “That’s why it’s very hard to take that we have to purchase new equipment already.”

Burmeister is in a similar situation. He bought his 35-millimeter projector for $32,000 and “now it’s junk laying out in the grass,” he said.

While the conversion to digital wasn’t one Burmeister chose, he admits there will be benefits to the new projectors. Theaters will now be able to show a variety of film formats, ranging from Hollywood feature films to destination wedding videos.

“We already have someone that is going to show their wedding video here,” Burmeister said. “They want to set up a tent, and then we’ll play the video of the wedding. It’s something you can do with digital that you can’t do with film.”

The new projectors will also be less hands-on and save theater managers like Burmeister and Kemp time when they show films.

“Now I have to physically be there, putting the film on and taking it off,” Burmeister said. “With digital, the hard drive can download with no one there.”

According to a Honda press release, by Aug. 16, more than two million votes had been cast as part of Project Drive-In. Initial recipients of the first five projectors included 99W Drive-In, Newberg, Ore.; Cherry Bowl Drive-In, Honor, Mich.; Graham Drive-In, Graham, Texas; McHenry Outdoor Theater, McHenry, Ill.; and Saco Drive-In, Saco, Maine.

Both Burmeister and Kemp noticed a lack of Midwest theaters among those that won projectors. They hope that the their location will play to their advantage as the second round of voting draws to a close.

“The way we look at it is, we have just as good a chance as anyone else in the country,” Burmeister said.

As part of Project Drive-In, voters are also encouraged to pledge to see one movie at their local drive-in and contribute to the Project Drive-In Fund to keep more drive-ins in business.

“Cars and drive-in theaters go hand-in-hand, and it’s our mission to save this decades-old slice of Americana that holds such nostalgia for so many of us,” said Alicia Jones, manager of Honda & Acura Social Marketing at American Honda Motor Co. Inc., in a press release. “We’re committed to helping the remaining drive-in theaters flourish with the move to digital projection.”

Regardless of which of the 116 theaters participating in the event receive the four projectors Honda is offering, Kemp and Burmeister are both committed to keep their theaters running.

“I’ll do anything possible to come up with the money to purchase a new projector if we need to,” Kemp said. “I’m not ready to give up.”

Voting for Project Drive-In will continue until Saturday, and the winners of the four additional projectors will be announced Monday. To vote, visit projectdrivein.com.

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Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at http://throughthelookingglass.areavoices.com.
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