Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sun not setting on drive-ins (July 3, 1987)

"Outtakes" movie column

Last summer I packed up my wife and daughter, dragged them to the Davis Drive-In and left them sitting in the car while I walked around the parking lot asking people why they see movies on outdoor screens. I realize that makes me sound like a neglectful husband and father, but I was there to get a firsthand look at the decline of an American entertainment
tradition, and my family came along for the ride.

I had gone with the preconceived notion that there would be only a handful of people to speak with, as national publications have been trumpeting the death of drive-ins for years. But 'I was wrong. By the time the sun went down the drive-in was packed, I had plenty of good quotes for my story and my mind had been changed.

Even though a few local passion pits had been closed up during the past few years, the remaining ones seem to be doing very well. And remarkably, some are even expanding -- the Motor-Vu Drive-In in Riverdale recently added a new screen.

Howard Coleman, the owner/operator of, the Motor-Vu, phoned me last week to discuss the additional screen. And when Coleman talks, I listen, because he's been exhibiting films at the Motor-Vu for 35 years. His is the voice of experience.

The Motor-Vu -- which Coleman said is the oldest drive-in in the Ogden area -- is a large place with plenty of room for an extra screen. So when Coleman heard the Riverdale Drive-In was slated for bulldozing he bought the screen and projector and moved them down the road to his theater. Of late, he said, attendance has been up at the Motor-Vu, and last weekend there were three big money-makers -- "Predator," "The Untouchables" and "Spaceballs" -- playing on his screens.

The philosophy behind the move, he explained, was to compete head-on with mall multiplexes. They've made multiscreen houses successful by offering more variety, and thereby increasing the odds that one film out of several will make big money as opposed to risking it all with one large theater hosting a single film.

Add to that the attractive atmosphere for large families -- generally less-expensive ticket prices, the allowance of outside refreshments into the theater, the privacy of your own vehicle -- and the owners of drive-ins are in the driver's seat.

Almost, anyway. The latest problem has been the video boom, Coleman said. "Now audiences are going to the video shop and renting a video for a buck and gathering the neighbors around," he said. The way he figures it, that cuts directly into his potential clientele. Also, the Reagan administration has been permitting major motion picture studios to get back into theater chain ownership, creating all sorts of problems for independents like Coleman, who must compete outside a system that appears to have the potential for denying them fair access to some films.

"Eventually, though," Coleman said, "I think you're going to see this (policy) reversed -- if we can hang on that long. There are a number of suits pending in the courts."

So, as the sun sets on drive-ins in other parts of the country, the survivors in this area seem to be fighting hard to maintain their existence. It'll be interesting to see if businessmen like Howard Coleman can remain successful.

• The first issue of a new movie magazine recently hit the stands -- and it's terrific. Appropriately named Premiere, the glossy, over-sized publication is a treasure-trove of movie trivia and personality profiles. It's been published in Europe for years, where it's become very popular.

Of interest to local audiences are brief snippets about director Phil Joanou and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who worked on "Three O'Clock High." My subscription card is already in the mail.

• During a recent interview with Keith Coogan and Anthony Rapp, the co-stars of "Adventures in Babysitting," the young actors related a story which is very telling about the mind-set of studio executives.

It seems that when first-time director Chris Columbus tested Rapp, Coogan and Elisabeth Shue -- the female lead -- he decided they were the ones he wanted. But Walt Disney executives (the film was made under Disney's Touchstone Pictures banner) wanted more people to read and be tested for the part.

Other females who were tested on studio orders for the part of a high school-age babysitter included Phoebe Cates, Valerie Bertinelli and Jami Gertz, according to Coogan and Rapp.

"But Chris said he never really took those people seriously," Coogan said. "He said we were the people they wanted from the very first time they met us, but that Disney made them go out and look some more."