While they have been a common sight in both America and Australia for nearly as long as cinema has existed, drive-in cinema presentations are still a fairly rare experience here in the UK. Over more recent years as more pop up cinemas have existed and the portability of the cinema experience has increased the number of drive-in events has become more prevalent. However, there number and frequency have only started to recently increase with few reappearing for a following season.
I was therefore intrigued when I heard that Experience Cinema, a company more likely to be known for its Rooftop Cinema screenings were going to do a late summer into autumn drive-in a few miles down the road from me at Brent Cross shopping centre.
In my usual disorganised style, I failed to find a suitable evening to go and investigate this event and was impressed to notice that the events had proved so popular in terms of sold-out screenings that additional screenings had been added. I, therefore, managed to find a Friday evening just towards the end of the drive-in season to book a ticket.
Tickets were £25 per car, rather than per a person which meant if you had a few friends in a car then you were only actually paying £5 or so each.
Gates to the car park opened an hour in advance of the screening and you were allocated your parking position based on a first-come-first-served basis. Being there early meant that we had front row ‘seats’ just off of the centre of the screen.
I was lucky enough to be able to interview Gerry Cottle Jnr, one of the people responsible for the event. I interviewed Gerry in the back of the car, who talked at a rate of knots; having had a look at the ‘projection box’ which was in the design of a giant popcorn box. Currently, the screenings are being done via a Christie LHD700 7000 lumens and BluRay player projected onto an inflatable screen. The sound is done via an FM transmitter and appropriate local low range licence. However, Gerry was saying that they are interested in using a DCP system, but they wanted to see how it went first.
I started off by asking Gerry – why a Drive-in Cinema? I was told it was the classic American way, and wanted to do something simple – it is a great location, and they wanted to provide a great experience around the film. No one is doing drive-in and they really wanted to do it well. Most people have after all never been to a drive-in in the UK. To this end, Experience Cinema is not going to do anything for Christmas because can’t come up with anything different.
So why here at Brent Cross? For two reasons really, firstly because they knew Zippo Circus who are based at Brent Cross and that started a discussion about doing it. But also because Brent Cross was when it opened in 1988 was the first American style shopping maul in the UK, so it adds something to the experience, along with the roller-skating ushers. The team also did a drive-in at Ealing over the summer which was brilliant.
What has been the most challenging part? The weather [predictably] has been the most challenging part of doing the event. During the really windy evenings over October, there were evenings when the films had to be cancelled because the screen could not be put up. But for the most part, people will still turn up and the make the most of the event.
What was one of the best memories? During Grease, there was a van of about 6-7 people who during one of the songs got out and started to dance and were cheered on by the rest of the audience.
One of the things which I noticed and commented on was the personal touch. There was someone at the gate to welcome you and point you in the right direction. Then another person to check your tickets, provide you with useful information (like the FM frequency for the sound) before you are supervised with where to park. But all the staff appeared to really want to be there and were happy to chat. When I arrived and asked if Gerry was around, the member of staff made sure that he came over and found me.
And what about the future? Rooftop Cinemas will be back next year with another drive in experience, plus another rooftop venue. Along with that, we should wait to hear an announcement about ‘Cinegigs’ – a gig venue and films, standing up. Rooftop cinema is also doing new year screenings in an exclusive heated marquee 100ft above Kensington High Street at the famous Roof Gardens. In fact, all eight screenings have sold out in less than a week!
And my view on it? I had a really great evening. It was nice being able to watch a film in the comfort of my own car, with my own temperature and audio control, but I did fill a bit disconnected from the rest of the audience, who were of course in their own cars. Of course, it relies slightly on having your own car and it being comfortable. One of the key things with this drive-in was that they ensured that everyone had a good view. Gerry told me that they would have been able to have sold more spaces, but then the audience would not have had such a great experience, and it was the experience which is important to them. Unfortunately, there was a minor technical issue during the showing of the film, but we were told what was going on, and I have been to enough screenings to know that this happens sometimes, no matter how well you rehearse. I would go again, and I would recommend people going. I may not want to see all my films this way, but it makes a nice change and was a good experience, and that was the point. For me one of the keys things that these guys, like many of the others care about what it is they are doing and what it is that they are providing to their audience. Yes, they need to make a profit to keep going, but this is about keeping the great cinema experience going, and they do it well.
For more information: http://experiencecinema.com/
Below is a list of the films which were shown:
Fri 4th Oct, 2013, 7.30pm, Screening: Around 8.30
Sat 5th Oct, 2013, 7.00pm, Screening: Around 8.00pm
ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004)
Sun 6th Oct, 2013, 6.00pm, Screening: Around 7.00pm
Fri 11th Oct, 2013, 7.30pm, Screening: Around 8.30
WORLD WAR Z (2013)
Sat 12th Oct, 2013, 7.00pm, Screening: Around 8.00pm
THE NOTEBOOK (2004)
Sun 13th Oct, 2013, 6.00pm, Screening: Around 7.00pm
TOY STORY (1995)
Fri 18th Oct, 2013, 7.30pm, Screening: Around 8.30pm
FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013)
Sat 19th Oct, 2013, 7.00pm, Screening: Around 8.00pm
BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
Sun 20th Oct, 2013, 6.00pm, Screening: Around 7.00pm
Fri 25th Oct, 2013, 7.30pm, Screening: Around 8.30pm
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Sun 27th Oct, 2013, 6.00pm, Screening: Around 7.00pm
HOCUS POCUS (1993)
Where – Brent Cross Shopping Centre, South NCR Car Park, NW4 3FP.