The South Bay Drive-In Theatres on Coronado Avenue in South San Diego recently updated its projection booths to digital. The digital conversion is being forced on all movie theaters by the major movie studios, which are expected to eliminate the production of movies on 35-millimeter film by the end of this year.
The South Bay Drive-In is owned by Los Angeles–based DeAnza Land and Leisure Corp., which is completing a conversion of 21 screens at the six drive-ins it owns at a cost of $2 million. The South Bay theater has three screens and operates a swap-meet on the grounds on Wednesdays and every weekend.
The conversion of the South Bay theater meant closing for four days so the projection booths could be retrofitted with special glass windows, more vents, stronger air-conditioning, and an internet connection. The projectionist who ran the 35mm projectors was the first of several employees to be let go, according to theater employees who asked not to be identified.
Now a theater employee inserts a jump drive into a server the size of a refrigerator and then enters an encryption key to play the movie. The encryption key is sent via email after the movie arrives and is only good for the duration of the licensed showings for the theater. After that, the encryption keys no longer work.
John Vincent, president of United Drive-In Theater Owners Association, said in a recent interview posted online that the evolution to digital is a tough expense to take on for drive-ins, but the technology comes with a marked improvement in movie quality.
"We've heard this time and time again from the theaters that have converted, especially one that did it last year, that the feedback from the customers was great," Vincent said. "They really appreciated the brighter picture. No matter how good your setup was with film, it could only be so bright or you would melt the film."
The South Bay Theatres, reflecting prices at drive-ins nationwide, charges $7 for adults and $1 for children ages 5 to 9. Younger children are admitted free. Customers get two movies for their ticket.