SHELBYVILLE – The state of the modern drive-in-movie business is hardly a heartwarming tale of the underdog overcoming impossible odds, and yet, Joe Gaudin holds out hope of a Hollywood-style happy ending.
Gaudin owns and operates Shelbyville’s Skyline Drive-In Movie Theatre. He bought the venue in 2009 from the DeWitt family, who’d owned it since 1971.
The Skyline had been doing well under Gaudin, cruising along, a local business catering to a specific niche of family-oriented movie lovers sick of skyrocketing multiplex prices. Then, recent news from Hollywood changed the game, and now Gaudin finds himself in a fight for survival.
His “Save the Skyline” fundraising drive formally kicks off Saturday morning, with a full day of events that will culminate in a fireworks show and a triple-feature of current-release, family-friendly movies. In addition to the movies and the fireworks by Sarge’s Fireworks Extreme Pyro, the event will also feature a car show and a flea market.
According to Gaudin, although Drive-In Theatres declined steadily in popularity through the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s (Indiana now has 17, down from a peak of 180), the industry began a modest renaissance around 2006.
Now comes Hollywood’s digital revolution.
In November, Gaudin explained, all the major movie studios will begin phasing out tradition 35 mm film, with a complete transition completed early next year. That’s a big problem for drive-in movie theatres.
“It’s going to cost $60,000 to change to a digital projector,” Gaudin explained. “That’s not that big a deal for a multiplex; they’ll just tack it on to admission. Many of them have already made the changeover. For smaller theatres though, and especially for drive-in theatres, $60,000 is a really big deal. It’s enough to put you out of business or to make you close down and sale the land.”