It's the twilight of the all-American drive-in theater. Photo by Carl Weese.
Our friend Carl Weese, who has written numerous posts and articles for you here on TOP, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help him fund the final leg of his drive-in theater travels before it's too late. You probably recall that one of Carl's pictures in our Platinum Print Offer from back in 2010 was of a drive-in movie theater, and that Carl's drive-ins had, at that time, just been featured on the New York Times Lens blog.
For years, Carl's been documenting the remaining drive-in theaters in the East and Midwest, often making epic trips in his little truck that keep him away from home for weeks on end. He's made it as far west as Montana. Well, also for years, he has intended to make one giant swing out to the West Coast and through the areas of the country that are least accessible from his home in Connecticut in order to document many of the drive-ins out there. It's the last piece of the puzzle he needs to finish up the long-term project he's been working on for ten years. Before now, knowing that it's going to be a big, long, hard task, he's put off that last leg.
But now, he can't wait any longer. The reason is that theaters are being forced to make the switch to digital projection. That works fine for year-round, indoor theaters, but drive-ins are a seasonal business, often run on a shoestring. Most of the still-surviving drive-ins just won't be able to justify the huge expense of converting to digital. Many also make ends meet by showing older, classic movies that are only available on film. Drive-ins have been in decline for years, but chances are that digital is all but the death knell.
So the time has come for Carl: it's now or never. A scant few years from now, many of the surviving drive-ins all over the West Coast will have closed their gates for good. Carl does photograph abandoned, overgrown drive-ins, but he'd rather not photograph ruins. He'd rather photograph as many as he can while they're still going concerns. A big part of the eventual book is going to consist of the people who own and run the theaters (a lot of whom are, shall we say, colorful) telling their own stories. (Carl says, "There's no such thing as a boring drive-in theater owner.")
Carl is very good at traveling light and cheap (well, okay—not light), but the trip's going to cost a heap. He plans to make a giant figure-8 loop to hit not just the west coast itself, but the southwest on the way out and the central corridor on the return. The trip will keep him out on the road for six weeks. If you can, head over to Kickstarter and allow him to make his pitch—there's a short video as well as the same information in writing. (Maybe it's me, but I just like the video too.)
Take a look and see what you think. Even a small donation helps a lot. Help send Weese west!
UPDATE: I'm happy to report that Carl's project was 100% funded in a little less than 21 hours. Don't be reticent about making a contribution if you haven't already, however—the rewards will go to everyone who wants them and Carl has said that all of the money raised will be put towards the project. Congrats to Carl and thanks to everyone who helped!
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Jesper Lauritsen: "The Pike print is one of my favorites in my little print collection. I just love it! Of course I am backing this Kickstarter project!"
Featured Comment by Rod Graham: "I grew up in NW Arkansas. When I was a kid we'd go to the Hwy 71 Drive-In Theater, halfway between Fayetteville and Springdale, with a big bag of popcorn made at home beforehand. Had some of my first dates there as a teenager (yes!). I'm now 61 years old and for the last twenty years that beloved piece of ground has had a Walmart Supercenter sitting on it. Yes, I'm in Carl; good hunting!"