2013-02-22 / Community News

Can community band together to save drive-in?

By Kristy Wagner Staff Writer


Rep. Justin Chenette, left, poses with Ry Russell, manager of the Saco Drive-In Theater, in front of the old film projector that has played movies at the drive-in for nearly 50 years. Russell hopes to raise $75,000 by June in order to purchase a digital projector so he can continue to offer new releases at a reasonable cost for his patrons. (Kristy Wagner photo) Rep. Justin Chenette, left, poses with Ry Russell, manager of the Saco Drive-In Theater, in front of the old film projector that has played movies at the drive-in for nearly 50 years. Russell hopes to raise $75,000 by June in order to purchase a digital projector so he can continue to offer new releases at a reasonable cost for his patrons. (Kristy Wagner photo) SACO – The Saco Drive-In Theater needs help transitioning from old school film reels to digital film projecting.

Ry Russell, 23, leases the Route 1 property and manages the drive-in business. Russell needs to raise $75,000 to purchase a digital projector or new blockbuster movies might not be an option after this summer.

“It kind of came up when I first started here. It was estimated we had seven years before we would have to go digital so this shift is happening quickly,” Russell said.

The drive-in was built in 1938 and used to be called the Automobile Theater. It wasn’t until the 1950s it was renamed Saco Drive-In Theater.

Russell, who grew up in Scarborough and Saco, said the drive-in has received many emails and phone calls of support. Avant Dance and Event Center in Westbrook offered to donate space for a fundraising event. Russell said he is thinking of using the space to host a silent auction and maybe a comedy night. Hosting a giant yard sale at the drive-in in the spring is another fundraising idea Russell has received from supporters of the drive-in movie theater.

“When people ask how they can help we say everyone can get involved however they are able. If everyone on our Facebook page donated $1 or $5 we could make this happen,” Russell said.

The Saco Drive-in’s Facebook page has 16,309 likes.

On board with the goal of saving the drive-in is Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) who said the drive-in has an iconic and cultural value in the community.

“I got involved with this because when I think of Saco I think of key icons like Rapid Ray’s; you go get a burger and then you go to the drive-in to see a movie,” Chenette said, adding he and his family would frequent the drive-in throughout the summers of his youth.

“It’s hard to find nice family-oriented entertainment. This is a low cost option that supports the lower to middle class families,” Chenette said.

Russell said he too would visit the drive-in regularly throughout his childhood.

Chenette said it is the oldest drive-in in Maine and Russell added many drive-ins across the country either have closed or are slated to close because of the digital dilemma. Russell said the drive-in movie business maintains, but is not a moneymaker by any means.

“Unfortunately, the movie margin is 80 percent expense right out the door and when we have a second feature we can be looking at upwards of 90 percent, but that’s the model. No one can do this and make a living,” Russell said.

Russell, who works a full-time job at Primary Local, a residential mortgage company in Scarborough, said he got involved because he feared the drive-in would close if he didn’t lease it and keep it going for the community.

“I came here to resurrect the drive-in not knowing in two years we would be facing same dilemma, just different issues,” Russell said.

Film companies have been saying by 2013 most films will be converted to digital only because traditional film format is too expensive and being phased out. Russell said a lot of film companies have said after 2013 new releases might only be released in digital format.

He said old movie nights are not an option to keep the theater going if he does not make his fundraising goal by the end of this season – old movies don’t bring in enough money to sustain the theater.

“Unfortunately, old movie nights don’t work here. Families come here to see new movies at a reasonable price. A family of six can come here for $15. Raising our prices just is not an option; I cut prices when I came here. I remember being in a middle-income family as a kid and what our income limits were. Keeping this alive is about providing something for those families,” Russell said.

The entire project from purchasing a digital film projector to weatherizing the small building it is housed will cost $90,000, but Chenette and Russell said they plan to raise $75,000 and theater proceeds will provide the other $15,000. The current projector is housed in the same leaky building the new projector would go in, but Russell said the old projector holds up in the rain – a digital projector cannot get wet.

The current projector used by the drive-in is estimated to be about 50 years old. If a digital projector is purchased, Russell said he will keep the old projector at the theater.

“We would like to make it so this summer isn’t an issue. We hope to do this by May or June, but it’s a lot of funds and we know that, we will do everything we can to get through this season if possible. The max deadline will be end of this season. We will need to have it or unfortunately that would be it,” Russell said.

To donate time or money, supporters can email Russell at savethedrivein@gmail.com or they can donate through the drive-in’s Facebook page.

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