Moonlite Drive-In: Living in a digital world
“The drive-in theater is a labor of love. If you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t do it,” Jim Lipuma said.
Lipuma, owner of the Moonlite Drive-in in Brookville,Pa., says he has always loved the movies. When he was 15 years old, he had a classmate whose parents owned the Greater Pittsburgh Drive-in. One summer, he was asked if he wanted a job at the theater.
"And that summer job hasn't ended because 32 seasons later I'm still doing what I did 32 years ago," he said.
According to data produced by the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association as of March 13, 2013, there are 357 drive-in theater sites in operations with 604 screens in total. Pennsylvania has the most still in operation, 30, trailed by Ohio and New York, with 29 apiece.
"The Moonlite wouldn't be here if Jim Lipuma didn't fall in love with the Moonlite in the first place. It would've been dark all these years."
However, the theater may become dark for the reason that has caused many drive-ins to permanently turn out their lights. The movie industry no longer wants to print the movies onto 35mm film, which is what most drive-ins use. Instead the industry wants to use digital prints that will save them time, money and equipment. But many drive-ins are small and are not able to purchase a digital projector.
"We're talking about around $85,000," Lipuma said. "We have to air condition the projection room because if the computers get hot then they don't work correctly. Currently, in our room, we don't have to air condition the equipment so that's another drain on our power source."
Lipuma also said that the older equipment allows him to keep the screen door to the outdoors and an additional door that leads to the snack bar open to let moveigoers take a peek at the equipment. If the theater acquires a digital projector and equipment, the room will have to be sealed tight to keep out road dust and insects.
"Financially, we cannot do it currently right now. But we will not give up," he said.
Assembling the Movie
Each movie Jim Lipuma shows at the drive-in comes in 35mm film, which is shipped to him in multiple reels and boxes. Lipuma's job is to cut and splice the reels together to make one continuous reel that will be spun onto large, spool-like platters that will feed the projector.