Saving the Drive-In Theater

"Digital conversion" is the buzz phrase of the moment.

There was a day, not so far back in the past, when certain words were said again and again about drive-in movie theaters and at drive-in movie theaters.

Common terms said over and over included "B flicks" and "popcorn" and "sundown" and "parking spot" and "pajamas" and "speaker" and "Moooom, Paul spilled soda all over my snacks!"

Or some variation on that sibling-esque theme.

But the two words you're likely to hear today about the drive-in are these: digital conversion. The few remaining car cinemas around the country are making the digital jump or must, to survive. And survival among this vanishing slice of Americana has already been touch-and-go for several decades now.

Meaning this: Many drive-in owners don't have the funds to make the costly but timely upgrade. Digital projectors are only the start at some spots, which need fuller upgrades across the future-facing board.

Project Drive-In is one solution-seeking plot twist in the outdoor movie palaces' story. Backed by Honda and the thousands of drive-in devotees who are pitching in a few bucks, the fundraiser seeks to help those alfresco cinemas that can't financially bridge the digital gap to do so, and before the deadline comes.

And that's coming: The site puts the ticker at "less than 3 months" before the movie industry's switch to digital goes full flower.

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What to do? You can get involved at Project Drive-In and donate. Easy? Yes.

We're also a fan of getting and seeing movies at Southern California's remaining drive-ins. Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair made the digital jump earlier this year and The Vineland of The City of Industry is also rocks the digital projectors. Other pop-up drive-ins have gained popularity in recent years as well, though the project's focus is, of course, the permanent theaters.

So, summer wanes. Have you put the kids in pajamas and hit a drive-in yet?

Here's hoping we'll be back to saying "popcorn" and "snacks" and "soda" soon at our outdoor movie theaters, and not wondering when another screen'll be lost to the non-digital ages.

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