Drive-Ins Theaters, Once Fading, Are Becoming Community Centers During the Pandemic


Bri and Lindsey Leaverton had their dream wedding all planned out. In April, they were going to get married at a century-old mansion in downtown Austin, with their guests sipping cocktails on a veranda by the pool.

Instead, they found themselves 20 miles south of town, tying the knot at a drive-in on a dirt road surrounded by cows. A formation of cars blasted their horns in delight. “When our wedding planner asked us about getting married at a drive-in, we looked at each other and said, ‘That sounds insane,’” Lindsey says.

The coronavirus has upended countless minor and major life events over the past few months. While many of these plans were canceled, a surprising share migrated to the drive-in movie theater, where social distancing, via cars and pickup trucks, is the norm. These theaters have scrambled to pivot their entire business model in the face of disappearing film releases–and have unwittingly become catchall communal hubs across the country. “Drive-ins are being contacted like they used to be, for everything in the community,” says filmmaker April Wright, who directed the documentary Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace. “They’re hosting church services, weddings, graduations, dance recitals, concerts, stand-up comedy.”

Shifts to events like outdoor weddings and smaller-scale concerts serve as creative ways to stay afloat in an industry that was unforgiving before the pandemic: the number of drive-ins in the U.S. has continuously dwindled, especially as home and handheld entertainment command more and more attention. Now, increased costs, a delayed film slate and potential competition from pop-ups–the Tribeca Film Festival, for example, is programming drive-in experiences at beaches, sports stadiums and even Walmart parking lots–are making some theaters skeptical they can last through the crisis. “A lot of us are really struggling,” says Nathan McDonald, the owner of the 66 Drive-In in southwestern Missouri. “If [movies] continue to be pushed, I’ll probably close in late August.”

The Hounds Drive-In in Kings Mountain, N.C., has hosted more than 18 concerts, and included bands and DJs

The Hounds Drive-In in Kings Mountain, N.C., has hosted more than 18 concerts, and included bands and DJs
Key Vision Photography

Some 300 independent drive-ins operate across the U.S. They typically make most of their money during the summer, when students are on break and blockbusters roll in every weekend. But this year’s tentpole films, from Mulan to Wonder Woman 1984, have been repeatedly delayed, thanks to the continued closure of major indoor-theater chains like AMC and Cinemark. As drive-ins opened for the season, they first turned to throwback classics like E.T. and Jaws, hoping to capitalize on nostalgia.

Such films have produced mixed results for theaters. At the 66 Drive-In, the average number of cars on a given night has dropped from 225 to 120. “You can easily sit from the comfort of your couch and watch these films,” McDonald says.

Instead of waiting for new blockbusters to salvage their businesses, many theater owners have taken advantage of other event-space closures. “We’re trying to substitute those new films for concerts or comedy shows so we can bring in relatively similar revenue,” says Joe Calabro, president of the Circle Drive-In near Scranton, Pa. The stream of a Garth Brooks show, aired at hundreds of drive-ins across the country, sold out. So the Circle turned to local musicians, whose normal gigs have been stripped away. Chris Shrive, a singer-songwriter from Old Forge, Pa., opened his band’s show from the concession-stand roof. “To overlook 450 cars; to see people barbecuing on the tailgates of their trucks, laughing, meeting people parked 18 ft. away–it was awe-inspiring,” Shrive says. “This just might be the new normal.”

Basking in the crowd was Sherry Sakosky, who was seeing her first live concert since the start of the pandemic. “There’s been a lot of built-up frustration and animosity,” says Sakosky, who estimates that some 95% of the concertgoers followed proper social-distancing protocols. “To be out amongst friends in a safe manner and to be able to experience the same show with them totally brings the community together.”

In Kings Mountain, N.C., the Hounds Drive-In has also thrived in its newfound role as a concert venue, especially because artists pay up front to use the space. “They set up everything, we get our money, we get to keep all the concessions,” owner Preston Brown says. “I love it.”

His financial success has enabled him to turn his drive-in into a sort of commons. The Hounds has hosted dance recitals and pet organizations; it’s welcomed more than a dozen graduating high school classes free of charge. Students received their diplomas on the big screen as their families watched from their cars. According to Scott Neisler, the mayor of Kings Mountain, the Hounds’ active presence has resulted in a local economic boost. He also staged the city’s Fourth of July fireworks show there, in order to celebrate the holiday safely.

But a storybook ending for drive-ins might prove elusive. Their new, outsize role in public life has not always ensured their financial health. The Bengies Drive-In Theatre, in Middle River, Md., has opened every day of some weeks, with concerts, church services and more. But the theater is operating at less than half capacity to promote social distancing, and has taken on a much bigger staff to control safety and crowding. “The public thinks we’re a cash cow,” says Bengies owner D. Edward Vogel. “But it’s been very hard on us.”

Pop-up theaters emerging since the start of the pandemic, says Vogel, are “breaking my heart.” He is particularly worried about the 160 temporary drive-ins arriving in Walmart parking lots–featuring films chosen by Tribeca Enterprises–in August. These spaces could further squeeze the independent operators. (A representative for Walmart did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the 66 Drive-In in Missouri, McDonald doubts he can make it to the fall, because of decreased capacity, a blank movie slate and people bringing their own food instead of buying from the concession stand. His financial plight is worrisome to David Fowler, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Carthage, Mo., who has been holding services from the snack-bar roof every Sunday, to growing crowds. His congregation appreciates seeing fellow worshippers in person, as opposed to sitting at home alone. “It’s a bit of Americana I’d hate to see lost,” says Fowler.

Bri and Lindsey Leaverton, center, with their children at Doc's Drive-In in Buda, Texas.

Bri and Lindsey Leaverton, center, with their children at Doc’s Drive-In in Buda, Texas.
David Wells

In face of such hardships, drive-ins fight on for survival. In Buda, Texas, Doc’s Drive-In has housed graduations, soccer watch parties and two weddings, including the Leavertons’. In April, 45 cars rolled up on each side of a dirt-road aisle. The couple, who paid $4,000 to book Doc’s, swapped heels for boots and stood on a rickety stage, swatting away june bugs as an officiant married them from 6 ft. away. “It turned out the wedding we had was way, way better than anything we could have dreamed of,” Lindsey says. After the ceremony, Airplane! played on the big screen.

By Andrew R. Chow


Cinema Chain iPic Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Enter Netflix, Apple Or Amazon?

In a move that surprised many in the movie industry, luxury cinema chain iPic filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this morning and announced it is pursuing either a financial reorganization or a possible sale of the circuit.

iPic indicated in the filing that “the financial restructuring will allow the company to further improve and enhance its theaters and dining experiences, continue to provide an unparalleled guest experience that is evidenced by the over 2 million iPic Access loyalty members, and continue with its expansion plans.”

The circuit currently operates 16 locations in nine states and has expansion plans for several more in the coming years. CEO Hamid Hashemi, who previously founded the Muvico Theatres chain, began iPic in 2007 and has grown the chain from its infancy, purchasing the Village Roadshow chain and transforming it into the circuit at the forefront of the luxury cinema experience.

While the company avowed it would explore restructuring options, what is especially intriguing about the filing is its proclamation that it is actively exploring the sale of the chain. The court filing indicated that several entities have been granted access to the circuit’s financial data.

It would not be surprising to discover that one of those companies might be Netflix. When Landmark Theatres was put up for sale last year, both Amazon and Netflix actively kicked the tires on a possible purchase, striving to secure a theatrical footprint through which it could release its films. At the time, I mentioned in a Forbes article that it was a curious approach as Landmark already played most Netflix films, such as this past December’s multiple-Oscar winner Roma. Why they would want to buy a chain that was already exhibiting Netflix content was baffling.

So far this morning, the name Netflix is the one on most industry observers’ lips, and if the Landmark purchase was head-scratching, then the purchase of a circuit chain that has even fewer locations would be even more peculiar. Perhaps the fact that Netflix already has a marketing partnership with iPic is the genesis of these rumors. For example, if you drive past the iPic Westwood, you’ll see an enormous vertical billboard on the side of the theater not for a current or upcoming film but for Netflix content.

To me, what would make more sense is if an entity such as Amazon or Apple might dip their toe into the exhibition waters. Amazon has hinted that their existing release strategy of adhering to the 80-to-90-day release window might be up for debate. Having their own exhibitor in which to feature their content, especially around awards season, might be extremely beneficial. The same goes for Apple.

But it would behoove any company interested in the circuit to do their due financial diligence. iPic was launched as a luxury cinema brand that would appeal primarily to adults 21 and over. However, with Disney garnering a larger and larger market share the industry can expect more films that appeal to the under-18 crowd for whom iPic has little interest. Five of the top ten films so far for 2019 are films geared toward children, including the aforementioned Lion King, Toy Story 4, and Aladdin, along with the latest installments of the How to Train Your Dragon and The Secret Life of Pets franchises. In both 2017 and 2018, only two of the top ten films for the year were family offerings.

With this shift toward family fare, it’s essential to note that tickets for children at some iPic locations can reach $18-23. That ticket price may be acceptable for a couple on an evening out, but a parent taking their two kids to see Lion King could drop close to $100 before even entering the auditorium. The Korean band BTS has a special event cinema showing this coming Wednesday of their Bring The Soul: The Movie film. The AMC Century City, just down the street from the iPic in Westwood, is showing the film at a ticket price of $15. At the iPic, the cost is $32. It’s not difficult to figure out which theater a parent will take the BTS fan in their family to.

Get the popcorn ready because things are about to get interesting in the movie business.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I have over 20 years of experience in the entertainment business and am the Founder and CEO of Scout 53 Entertainment Consulting, which provides global entertainment business analysis, content distribution and revenue generation opportunities for cinemas, producers and in-theatre tech entities. I previously served as President of Distribution at Sony Pictures as well as in top-level executive positions at both STX Entertainment and Fathom Events. During my time at Sony, I crafted and instituted release plans for over 60 films that grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office and over 100 films that finished first at the box office on their opening weekend. I live in Los Angeles with my wife and 15 rescue animals.

Source: Cinema Chain iPic Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Enter Netflix, Apple Or Amazon?

It’s Alive! Facebook’s Surprising Video Standout Is A Horror Movie Startup

Like a proud parent, Jack Davis has covered the refrigerator in his Wilshire Boulevard office with artwork. But these aren’t crayon-drawn stick figures of Mom and Dad. They’re the stuff of nightmares—a demonic entity with shark teeth, a cannibal with thorns sprouting from his head, a tree that likes to disembowel its victims.

The gruesome creatures crawled out of the imagination of Davis’ Crypt TV, a digital studio that aspires to become the Marvel of monsters for mobile. Davis, 27, has raised $11 million from investors including Hollywood producer Jason Blum (Us, Ma), media mogul Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital, Huffington Post cofounder Kenneth Lerer and NBCUniversal. The four-year-old Los Angeles studio, which creates horror videos for social networks, is on track to bring in about $20 million in revenue this year through production deals, running ads for films like Crawl and selling merchandise.

When he started, “no one was doing scary for mobile,” Davis says. That signaled a missed opportunity. “This is a huge genre. It has a solid fan base, and scary movies are very, very big.”

The Golden Age of streaming has birthed Netflix competitors that cater to nearly every genre, from U.K. shows on Britbox to anime on Crunchyroll and, yes, horror on Shudder and Screambox. At the same time, studios like Elisabeth Murdoch’s Vertical Networks have built audiences that are reached primarily through mobile-first social networks such as Snapchat and Instagram, which more than a billion people visit each month.

Davis and Crypt TV cofounder Eli Roth, the film director and producer who developed Netflix’s first horror series, Hemlock Grove, bet that an audience who loved films like Jordan Peele’s Oscar-nominated Get Out would snap up suspense and horror on the small screen, too.

It’s an intuition that’s paying off. Crypt TV said on Friday that it had reached a deal with Facebook to develop five series exclusively for Facebook Watch, its on-demand video service. The deal extends a partnership started in 2018, when Facebook green-lighted a 15-episode series based on Crypt’s short film The Birch.

Facebook has been paying as much as $25 million for these original shows, though the bulk of them cost $3 to $5 million, according to a person familiar with the matter. Forbes estimates the new Crypt TV deal is valued at less than $20 million. Neither party would disclose the terms of the partnership.

Facebook might seem an unlikely place to screen monster movies for Generation Z and younger Millennials, who make up nearly half of Crypt TV’s audience. One Pew Research Center survey last year found that the world’s largest social network is no longer the most popular hangout for teens, a big drop from earlier in the decade. Plus, Facebook Watch has struggled to gain traction. A year after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched Watch to better compete with Google’s YouTube and Snapchat’s Discover, only half of Facebook users had ever heard of it, says The Diffusion Group, a media research consultancy.

Still, momentum is gathering for shows that capitalize on the network’s power to amass communities to talk about shared interests—say, Jada Pinkett Smith’s talk show, Red Table Talk, or Sorry for Your Loss, a drama on grief starring Elizabeth Olsen. Facebook says more than 140 million people each day spend at least a minute viewing Watch videos.

“It’s very hard to say that a platform … (of) two-plus billion people on it doesn’t have young people on it,” says Matthew Henick, Facebook’s head of content planning and strategy. “What Crypt does incredibly well is—because they’re able to tell their stories through many different modes or, in this case, products—they’re able to find those audiences and pull them in.”

Crypt TV taps into a community that likes to be scared. Horror has been reeling in fans on the big screen: The genre brought in a record $1 billion in box office sales in 2017, according to Comscore.

Some fans want to get their goose bumps for free. Thanks to The Birch, which was viewed 26 million times on Facebook, the studio now has 9.75 million followers, or more than triple its YouTube audience. On Davis’ fridge hang mementos from fans. One shared a photo of her tattoo—it’s of the Look-see, a creature with no eyes and flesh that’s been stitched together.

“Young people have so much emotion,” Davis says. A scary story “provides an amazing, permissive structure to take on deep emotional issues.”

A fortuitous encounter at a dinner party hosted by his parents in West Los Angeles led to the creation of Crypt TV. Then a student at Duke University, Davis found himself sitting next to Roth and began reciting dialogue from Roth’s portrayal of the bat-wielding Nazi killer Donny Donowitz in Inglourious Basterds.

The conversation turned to Davis’ career plans. The sociology and political science major said he hoped to launch his own company, capitalizing on the dramatic shift in media viewing habits he’d observed during his four years in college. Roth had a suggestion.

“I said, ‘You know that audience that’s going to see horror movies now’—because obviously now horror has exploded—‘They’re all on their phones,’” Roth recalls. “What is the next generation of characters? Who is creating the new Freddy Krueger? Is there a way to launch a Freddy? A Jason? A Michael Myers? A Chucky? Just on your phone?”

Roth introduced him to Blum, who became Crypt TV’s earliest investor and served as a mentor to the company’s 23-year-old founder.

An early success was #6SecondScare, an October 2014 online competition that encouraged users of Vine, Twitter’s six-second video service, to upload their scariest videos.

Roth lent his name to the contest and coaxed Hollywood celebrities including Quentin Tarantino and High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens to promote it and serve as judges. #6SecondScare attracted 20,000 submissions and ended up featured on ABC’s Good Morning America.

In the summer of 2015, Davis’ team launched Snapchat Murder Mystery, a show that gathered ten social media influencers to a mansion party, then killed off their characters in an Agatha Christie-styled whodunit. A year later came Crypt TV’s breakthrough moment with The Birch. The four-minute video follows a terrified schoolboy who summons an ancient being in the woods to dispense a particularly bloody form of retribution on the boy’s tormentor.

Davis faces his own monster lurking in the dark: Quibi. The mobile video subscription service comes with a Hollywood pedigree, a $1 billion cash horde and some of the best-known filmmakers in horror, Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth) and Sam Raimi (Evil Dead), as well as Blum, producing original content.

Quibi launches in April—though Crypt TV, in classic horror film fashion, has gotten a running start.

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I’m a Los Angeles-based senior editor for Forbes, writing about the companies and people behind the biggest disruption in entertainment since cable TV: streaming video

Source: It’s Alive! Facebook’s Surprising Video Standout Is A Horror Movie Startup

Fan Bingbing’s Mysterious Disappearance: What It Means For China’s Elite – Steve Rose


Imagine if Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlett Johansson went missing and nobody knew where they had gone – even three months later. That is what happened to Fan Bingbing. Fan is one of China’s best known and highest-paid actors, thanks to a string of domestic hits such as Cell Phone and Double Xposure, and small roles in Iron Man 3 and X-Men: Days of Future Past. The 37-year-old was on the jury of the Cannes film festival last year, and is set to star in a new thriller opposite Jessica Chastain and Penelope Cruz. On 2 July this year she posted details of a visit to a children’s hospital in Tibet on Weibo (China’s answer to Twitter). Then her account went dead, leaving her 63 million followers, and pretty much the rest of China, wondering where she had gone…….

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The Horror Oscars: The Best Scary Movies of Every Year Since 1978’s Halloween – Sean Fennessey


Here is the number of Oscars that were awarded to Alfred Hitchcock for Best Director: zero. Here is the number for John Carpenter: zero. Wes Craven: zero. James Whale: zero. David Cronenberg: zero. You get the point. In the Academy Awards’ 90-year history, horror films have been nominated for Best Picture just six times, out of a possible 546 nominees. Here they are: The Exorcist, Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, and last year’s Get Out. Only one took home the prize. (The Silence of the Lambs in 1992.)…..

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