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Parks drive-in theater prepares for new beginning

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 10:16 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Chris Fischetti, of InsulRight.com, sprays insulation into the projection room of the Riverside Drive-In in Parks Township in preparation for a new digital projector that will be ready for next summer. Photographed on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013.

While Riverside Drive-In slumbers for the winter, work is under way to ensure its future.

The outdoor movie venue in Parks Township wasn't a winner in a nationwide contest this year for a new digital projector, but owner Todd Ament had a backup plan for getting the needed equipment.

The drive-in is getting its digital projector through a five-year, lease-to-own program.

“It's affordable for drive-ins like us that can't come up with the whole $70,000 and go and outright buy the equipment,” Ament said. “This was the final option for us.”

Theaters have to get the new equipment as movie companies make the change from 35 mm film to digital.

It's a hard hit and a big expense for the nation's remaining drive-in theaters.

The upcoming Will Ferrell movie “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” will be the last Paramount film to be released on 35 mm stock, a Paramount spokeswoman confirmed.

Riverside was entered earlier this year in “Project Drive-in,” a national contest sponsored by Honda. It did not garner enough votes to receive one of the nine projectors that were awarded.

The Oaks affected, too

Adam Morgan was among those casting votes. He manages The Oaks Theater, a single-screen movie house in Oakmont also in need of a projector update.

“I was voting for them every day,” Morgan said. “I'm really happy Riverside Drive-In will be able to make the change. I hope they stick around a long, long time.”

Although The Oaks has a digital projector, it does not meet the standards that have been adopted by the major motion picture studios, Morgan said.

“We thought film would hang on longer than it has,” he said. “In the past two years, the changeover has really sped up. It caught a lot of small theaters by surprise.”

Morgan said The Oaks' owners are aiming at investing in a new projector during the first part of next year.

“It's something we're definitely going to do,” he said. “If we don't make the change soon, the digital changeover will definitely close us.”

Morgan said he has been to the Riverside and has poked his head into its projection room, which made him wonder how the drive-in would house the new equipment.

The projection room is being renovated. Donations toward the drive-ins “digital fund” totaled $28,000 by the end of the season in October, and that money is being used for that work and the down payment on the projector, Ament said.

“The equipment has to be in a moisture-free, dust-free, climate-controlled atmosphere,” Ament said. At a drive-in, he said that's like “building a computer lab in the middle of a cornfield.”

Ament plans to have the new digital projector up and running for when the drive-in reopens on April 4 with showings of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

The digital projector will handle all current, first-run movies, Ament said.

The film projector will still be there, so pre-show ads and intermission can still be shown in “retro-style,” along with some films.

“We thank everybody who's made contributions to the digital fund,” Ament said. “Technically, we're not out of the woods. We still got to make payments on it for five years.

“At least the drive-in is going to reopen.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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