While it wasn’t a typical Hollywood Blvd red carpet opening this summer I worked a special movie premiere. My first outdoor drive-in theater experience during the pandemic was also my only Los Angeles movie premiere this summer. For anyone just finding my blog, my name is William and I’m an entertainment publicist working in Los Angeles, CA. I work at a boutique PR agency that represents film and TV for awards and film festivals. This post is inspired by my recent experience working a film that had its west coast premiere at an outdoor drive-in theater as part of the 2020 Outfest Film Festival.
Before the world shut down, film premieres were a staple in my work routine. It feels like a lifetime ago when I was darting and skidding on black ice in Park City, UT racing to reach a movie theater. My last traditional theater premieres were during my last work trip of 2020. Yes, I got to grace the crowds of the star-studded Sundance Film Festival. I share this to let you know that I’ve experienced theaters and movie openings of all shapes and sizes.
Attending and working this outdoor drive-in movie stands out in my moviegoing experience. A sobering reminder of drive-in movie reality was when I wanted to sh my friend, but I remembered that her voice only reached the walls inside my SUV. (I’ll talk more about this later but trust me big cars for the drive-in movie win.) For all the comforts that came with sitting in your own car, there are elements that were clearly missed from an in-theater movie premiere experience.
How a Drive-In Movie Premiere Compares to a Traditional Theater
Where going to a theater for a movie made the space work to immerse you, drive-in movies put this task on the individual. This drive-in movie premiere was hosted at the Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, CA. I'd never been to this Malibu scenery and wow was it a glorious scene. The space reserved for the cars was an open dusty lot giving each car ample room. I had no issues parking my SUV, big cars for the win. No cars had any issues in the drive-in theater when it came to finding room to leave and ensure that others could see too. While seeing the screen wasn’t an issue, it was up to me to suspend my disbelief as a viewer. Instead of relying on surround system a pitch-black room I had to shut out outside factors to focus on the film.
Attending a drive-in movie does offer some unique benefits in making it a comfortable viewing experience. When I arrived at this drive-in movie I was dressed up in a suit and tie. My typical uniform when working a movie premiere as part of the publicity team. Thanks to the luxury of sitting in my car I got to change into something comfortable after I did my publicist duties. I brought a friend with me to the event and we both go to enjoy the snacks and sandwiches we packed. Another win-win, saving money from movie theater snacks and seeing a movie in sweats. Unlike a traditional theater, within my car I had full control of my AC. When it got too cold in this outdoor Malibu theater, I had the power to make my own toasty screening room.
Drive-in movie premieres offer a unique viewing experience that echoes traditional theater traditions while inventing new ones. Audience engagement is what energizes movie premieres and it was hard to recreate that magic sitting in our cars. During key moments in the film cars honked piercing the empty night sky – a drive-in movie exclusive version of cheers and woos. Moviegoers at this outdoor drive-in premiere were limited to relishing their thoughts with their passengers. Focusing on the film playing did come a bit harder. Being in my car meant I could check my phone readily, which because I was working that night I did have to do often. I also noticed that if I poked my head in different directions, I could also see other films playing.
A small issue, that I knew I couldn’t be only person enduring. During drive-in movies the audio is provided by tuning your car radio to a set signal. In case you’ve never been to a drive-in movie, know that you do not want to make the mistake of leaving your car completely on during the run time. I speak from experience of being twenty minutes into the movie and realizing that my engine was still running… During the film I sporadically turned on and off my car’s lights and radio because the inactivity shut it down. A minor hiccup, but a drive-in movie issue I thought worth noting.
During a typical premiere the publicity team would be wrangling our talent and prepping them for a carpet and photo. Part of my responsibilities included scheduling these pictures, and beforehand ensuring our team was tested and had negative results for COVID-19. The 2020 Outfest Film Festival team did its best to maintain a socially distant press line by having our filmmakers take photos in groups of no-more than 6. I could tell the filmmakers enjoyed their premiere experience and seeing the cars packed to see their film. However, I could tell that there was an emptiness in not being able to connect for an in-person reception or for a talk back to introduce the documentary’s subjects.
Are outdoor drive-in movies the future of film?
In our socially distant world virtual cinema and drive-in theaters are becoming vital in the business of film. Yet, as someone who works on film campaigns and works with press, I admit that I think drive-ins are still more of a novelty than a viable film distribution method. For those in organizations like the Film Academy aka the voters for the Oscars, drive-ins are not on their radar. For members of our press, drive-ins could be the substitute for premiere receptions, but again press screeners are often easier for them to access.
For the average moviegoer not in the entertainment industry, drive-in theaters are a quality distraction to socially distant routines. For professionals, it’s one of those extra things that could be fun, but by no means is a priority in shaping contenders or the race of chasing gold, an Oscar.
Have you been to a drive-in movie? What are your thoughts?
Thanks for reading these Words by Will! See you in the next post!
Author William Samayoa
Marketer by profession and storyteller by passion. L.A. raised, proud Latino, and pop culture enthusiast.