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Local drive-in catches eye of CBS news

Recorder/David Rainville
Northfield Drive-In projectionist Paul Bader gives CBS cameraman Rob Smolanoff a lesson in 35mm projection Friday. The drive-in will be the focus of a piece on the national CBS This Morning program, tentatively set to air this week.

Recorder/David Rainville Northfield Drive-In projectionist Paul Bader gives CBS cameraman Rob Smolanoff a lesson in 35mm projection Friday. The drive-in will be the focus of a piece on the national CBS This Morning program, tentatively set to air this week.

NORTHFIELD — An area attraction that faces huge expenses if it’s going to operate next year may get a boost from a nationwide news feature.

“It was exciting to hear that “CBS This Morning” wanted to come cover the drive-in,” said Gabriel Shakour, son of Northfield Drive-In owner Mitchell Shakour.

The morning news program stopped by the outdoor theater Friday to film footage for a segment that may air as early as this week.

“We’re doing a story on the conversion from film to digital projection,” said “CBS This Morning” producer Jamie McGlinchy. “We’re going to use the Northfield Drive-In as a microcosm for all the drive-ins in the country.”

“Film” companies will stop producing 35mm film prints of movies at the end of the year, making movies available in digital format only. Mitchell Shakour said his drive-in faces conversion costs up to $200,000 to go digital.

McGlinchy said he can’t be certain exactly when the segment will air. Due to the nature of the news business, it could be pushed to make room for breaking news. Once he’s done putting it together, he said, it’s all up to his editors.

On the edge of their (car) seats

For most of the season, the drive-in’s fate remained uncertain.

On Aug. 3, the 65th anniversary of the Northfield Drive-In, Shakour announced that he would indeed upgrade to digital projection. He hadn’t made the decision until that night, based on how close the 400-car theater came to a full house.

The cutoff was 200 cars, and when he reached that number Aug. 3, Shakour breathed a sigh of relief, and stopped counting. Later, he went over ticket sales, and found he had exceeded the mark by 67 cars.

His announcement was met by cheerful cries from the crowd, and a symphony of car horns.

While McGlinchy and CBS cameraman Rob Smolanoff filmed their feature, the drive-in did some filming of its own.

Soon, Shakours will launch www.saveourdrivein.com, which will tell the theater’s story and serve as a call to action for those who want to help the business make it into the new age of digital projection. It will be coupled with a crowd-funding effort on www.kickstarter.com.

Mitchell Shakour said he doesn’t love the idea of asking for handouts, but was convinced to seek support to help make the transition.

Local support

Since he announced that the theater would go digital, he said he’s received several donations at his ticket booth.

“People have been throwing in $5 or $10 at a time for the digital fund,” he said.

Some, however, have made larger donations.

“We had one couple come from Vermont, and I could tell they weren’t rich; they weren’t in a Mercedes or anything. They were just regular, blue-collar working folks,” he said. “The husband asked if I was going to go digital, and I said ‘Yes.’”

Then he reached up to the visor of his car.

“He pulled out a roll of five $20 bills and gave them to me,” he said. “He didn’t ask for so much as a free soda from the snack bar in return. He seemed like he was on a mission; I didn’t dare turn it down.”

Shakour was touched by the couple’s kindness.

“It was really emotional,” he said.

The drive-in has received an outpouring of publicity in area newspapers and local TV stations, as well as inclusion in a contest by Honda, aimed at saving drive-in theaters.

Shakour said he thinks the publicity has helped. He’s supplementing the support he’s seen by way of some tricks of the trade.

“I went back to what’s worked in the past,” he said. “We’ve been doing triple-features, and that helps. People stay longer, and get hungry. Then they head to the snack bar.”

Concessions sales are the life-blood of the theater, he said, since Hollywood takes a large percentage of ticket sales right off the top.

Shakour will close out the season Labor Day Weekend, with his annual “dusk till dawn” quadruple-feature. He’s got a lineup in mind, he said, but it won’t be set in stone until the week of the show, as several film companies rush to recycle their 35mm prints after each movie’s first run.

To find out what’s playing, visit www.northfielddrivein.com, or www.facebook.com/northfielddrivein.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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