EDMONTON—Fred Thompson used to love going to drive-in theatres. He still remembers seeing “The Flintstones,” the first movie he saw as a child, at a drive-in in Calgary.
“I myself love the drive-in, and I think it’s a shame that our local community here in Edmonton as well as across the province doesn’t have a drive-in to call their own,” says Thompson, who grew up near Calgary and now lives in Edmonton.
To fill that void, the 25-year-old entrepreneur has started his own company, the Silver Spur Outdoor Movie Company, to bring the North American tradition back to Alberta.
Thompson currently has a few showings scheduled in different parts of the province using a portable set-up. His original plan was to use this approach to gauge market interest before establishing a permanent venue, but with the overwhelming support his initiative has received from people across the province, he is now working on opening a permanent location.
“People are very excited to be able to experience this with their kids and grandkids that have never been to a drive-in before,” he says.
“People are also excited to revisit some of their memories from their youth when they used to go on dates to the drive-in or they went there when they were teenagers.”
Over the course of the summer, Thompson plans to find a suitable location for a drive-in theatre somewhere in the province. The biggest challenge, he says, is finding a location where he can secure a 5 to 10 year lease at an affordable rate.
Thanks to nostalgia among the generation who frequented drive-ins in the past, the theatres are making somewhat of a comeback across the continent.
Interest in drive-ins peaked in the 1950s and ‘60s, but gradually dwindled with the advent of different forms of entertainment over the years.
The last drive-in theatre in Edmonton shut down in the 1990s, and the last one in Calgary went up in smoke in 1999 after an explosion at a nearby factory. Although there have been a few scattered attempts at temporary drive-ins, there has been no permanent drive-in theatre in Alberta since the mid-2000s.
Thompson’s portable setup includes a 12.2-metre by 6.9-metre inflatable screen, a projector, and an FM transmitter to send the audio signal to FM stereos inside viewers’ vehicles.
He says his first scheduled showings in the towns of Breton and Warburg later this month are being highly anticipated by locals, and although he intends to sell tickets at the door, many are asking for tickets in advance.
He has had many inquiries from event organizers and venue owners in other locations across the province to schedule showings, he adds.
The number of guests depends on the venue, but he plans to cap it at 150 vehicles so as to not dilute the experience. Admission is set at $10 per person (for adults) for the upcoming shows.
A Plan in the Making
Thompson says he first got the idea to bring back drive-ins to Alberta when he entered college about four years ago.
The business graduate, who works full-time in a marketing position in Edmonton, says he undertook a few school projects using his drive-in business idea. In one project, he actually made a deal to book a theatre for two nights and sold tickets using social media and by going door-to-door, with the proceeds going to charity.
He started working more seriously on his idea last fall, and attended a few drive-in theatres in B.C. to get inspiration, started purchasing equipment, and established his company.
“Twenty-fourteen, the timing seems right for me, and it seems like everybody’s on board,” he says.
Thanks to coverage both locally and in social media, news of Thompson’s plan to open a drive-in has “caught on like wildfire” and he has hardly had to do any advertising, he says.
“I’ve found a lot of very good people around me helping me work towards this goal.”