Going to the movies: The phrase has a special place in people's hearts. And for some, when it comes to drive-in movies, the phrase resonates even more.
This is especially true of Woodbury resident Carl Weese.
"It's about Hollywood, the movies, the open road," he said. "There are so many Route 66 drive-ins and for an awful lot of people, drive-ins were where they had their first dates, their first feelings of independence. I think that resonates with people when they see the pictures."
Weese has been photographing drive-in theaters for years.
"I've been working with the drive-in theater subject for a long time," he said.
After photographing the old Torrington Drive-In of Burrville, Weese added the photograph to his portfolio.
"People were really excited about that photo — more so than other photos," he said. "So I thought, 'this must resonate with them'."
Weese created a Kickstarter project page, seeking donations toward a road trip to finish photographing drive-in theaters. The project is fully funded but people can donate until the deadline.
As of this posting, Weese has 248 backers who pledged to donate $16,495 toward his $8,800 goal. The deadline to donate is 1:07 a.m. Thursday, April 26. The more donations Weese receives, the more he is able to accomplish with the funds. Those who help support the project will receive various mementos from Weese, in appreciation of the support.
"I've covered the theaters up and down the East Coast, across the upper mid-west and out through Montana, but to complete the project I need to reach the theaters at the farthest corners of the country from my home base in Connecticut," he said on the Kickstarter page. "That's why I need Kickstarter sponsors to back the trip."
He said the trip will cover at least 12,000 miles and take at least six weeks.
"I won’t be racing from one venue to the next," Weese said on the Kickstarter page. "Each theater has to be photographed at the perfect time of day in the right weather, which often means waiting for those conditions."
Where He Has Been
Weese took pictures of drive-ins in 28 states so far. In 2001, Weese photographed a drive-in theatre in northeastern Pennsylvania.
"The next year, in 2002, I took the biggest trip yet, to Montana," he said.
There, a town could be empty on a Saturday night, because everyone is 12 miles away at the drive-in, Weese said.
When Weese photographs a drive-in theatre, the picture encompasses so much more than the physical structure.
"I'm not simply at the structures of the theaters but the way they relate to the landscapes," he said.
Sometimes the drive-in theaters are nestled at the foot of a mountain range or near farmland. From the parking lot of the Wellfleet Drive-In in Massachusetts that reminds Weese of the ocean's waves to the ziggurat-style of the Warner's Drive-In in Franklin, West Va., each drive in has its own look and feel that is often symbiotic with the landscape.
"Everything is different - they're never the same," said Weese. "the screens — you see them in relation to the very different looks of the country.
Where He Will Go
"I'll travel with my cameras to theaters in the south-central and southwestern states, up and down the west coast, and back across the Rockies through to the lower mid-west," Weese said on the Kickstarter page.
Time is of the essence. Weese said drive-in theaters are faced with extinction — if they do not switch to digital technology, they will not be able to keep up with the times.
"The companies that distribute feature films intend to stop distributing, well, film," he said on the Kickstarter page. "Everything has to go digital, but conversion to digital projection costs $75,000 to $100,000 per screen. Drive-ins are seasonal businesses — I don't think I've ever met a drive-in owner who didn’t need a day job — so most just don’t have that kind of money. I hope a solution is found, but I’m afraid that by 2013 there may be far fewer working drive-ins than I'll be able to find this summer."
Some drive-in theaters made the transition to digital, he said. Some theaters asked for donations toward going digital, like the Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In
and the Admiral Twin Drive-In
The Harvest Moon Twin Drive In detailed the dilemma on their website:
"2012 is a year of great transition in the movie industry. The major film studios, the ones that make the movies you come to the drive-in to see, are in the process of forcing all movie theaters to play movies in digital format only after this year, 2012.
This is good for the industry as a whole, with better picture quality, better high definition sound, less film issues (supposedly), and less need for a dedicated employee. They (film studios) will no longer have to produce film (which 2 major distributors have stopped already) and save millions of dollars in expenses on their side.
However, the downsides are numerous for drive in movie theaters. To be able to play the movies the fans (YOU) want to see, a theatre must meet certain specifications called DCI compliance. Currently, all drive in movie theaters in the country are incapable of meeting these requirements, Including Masking (making the screen smaller for some movies), have a set number of FL (brightness of the picture), and digital 5.1 surround sound (drive-in's use FM transmitters to broadcast the sound in 2 channels to the audience). These requirements mean that the Harvest Moon, like all 386 other operating Drive Ins in the country, do not qualify for the benefits that indoor movie theaters receive to help off set the massive cost of upgrading to digital projection equipment."
That is why Weese wants to get traveling and photographing as soon as possible.
"That's the urgency — some of them that didn't make the switch might not make it," he said. "We know some will survive if they make the transition. Of concern is the smaller ones with smaller audiences that are only open on the weekends."
A Two-Fold Goal
"From the start, I had twin goals — to create a traveling exhibition and a book," he said. "Aside from the money, which is useful, the other thing about the Kickstarter project is having backers all over the country. There's a potential for museum curators to see that the interest is out there. There are people who love this subject."