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Drive-ins go digital, but some things never change

Drive-in » A vintage pastime turns a new chapter with switch to digital

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In the booth » Redwood projectionist Earl Shafer hauled reels and manned projectors for 40 years. That ended this summer when the Redwood switched to digital. Shafer now runs the drive-in’s four digital screens — down from six — with a few commands on a keyboard and 165-megabyte hard drives.

The switch makes for a brighter picture with fewer flickers, he says, but it sometimes looks fake and metallic. Film has a richer depth you can see in the old shows such as "Oklahoma!" and "Star Wars," he said.

At a glance

Salt Lake City: An iconic backdrop

In 1958, Life Magazine photographer J.R. Eyerman captured the feel of the midcentury drive-in with a photograph he took in Salt Lake City. It shows a congregation of cars pulled up to a towering screen with Charlton Heston playing Moses in “The Ten Commandments.”

For the shoot, Everman lured dozens of local college students to the showing of the 1956 film “ … And God Created Woman” featuring Brigitte Bardot, said his daughter Kathryn Marshall. He chose Utah because he wanted a rural drive-in surrounded by mountains, she said.

For the photo that was actually published, Everman swapped Heston’s image for Bardot’s.

The iconic picture “engages us. We smile a little bit, and we’re touched by it,” Marshall said. Plus: “The idea that he’d come up and run Brigitte Bardot for the Mormons was pretty funny.”

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Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York now count the highest concentration of the open-air theaters. Texas and California are also rank among the top.

As of March, Utah had six theaters, according to Vogel’s organization.

These open-air venues charge only a few bucks, so they’ll stick around, fans contend. The perks: If you don’t like the movie, watch the stars or the crowd. Go ahead and bring your own pizza, but the snack bar doesn’t cost much, either.

One trend has stuck through the decades, Shafer said. "During intermission, Mom and Pop come into the snack bar holding hands, no matter what age they are," from high-school couples to others approaching their 90s.

Summer nights » Amelia Tupouniua and Hailey Hardy, seniors at Kearns High School, came recently for their first drive-in showing. They took to Twitter earlier in the evening, sending an open invite to join them for "The Smurfs 2." Some members of their drill team showed up.

"I think it’d be fun with our whole team," Hardy said.

Travis Cornaby’s daughter Gracie, 12, goes to multiplexes, she said, munching on crinkle-cut fries. But "I love it out here more. You can feel the air and the breeze." The redhead previously saw "Toy Story 3" and "Brave" at the Redwood.

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Such family evenings create a positive buzz in the drive-in lots, said Ken Adam, a director at large for the UTDA.

"You see a kid here when they’re a baby," he said. "And the next thing you know, they’re driving here."


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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