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“Overnight, we went from an industry that makes $15 billion a year — $11 billion in ticket sales and $4 billion in concessions — to one that is not going to make a penny for three or four months,”
—John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO).
Variety, March 21, 2020

Two weekends ago,  I was in Mt. Dora, Florida (just outside of Orlando) and I heard  that a group had plans in nearby Eustis to build the largest drive-in theater in the world. My first thought was it was a joke. But it wasn’t, and now the idea seems at least plausible.

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The proposed Lighthouse 5. — a five theater drive-in

Two weeks ago life was relatively normal in the United States as the Coronavirus was spreading around the world. Now restaurants and bars are closed. Both the NBA and MLB has suspended their seasons. Both New York and California on lock down as efforts are made to stop the spread of this pandemic. So, of course, movie theaters in the entire country are mostly closed. (Deadline reported that drive-ins did the most business.)

Since this is a screenwriting/filmmaking blog the question is not when when movie theaters open, but will they open? First there’s the billion dollar of box office revenue already lost, and the billions they will continue to lose as it appears that this virus will impact the world for months rather than days or weeks.

Movie theaters were already on shaky ground before this unprecedented in my lifetime occurred. Back in 1952, when the polio epidemic closed movie theaters,  going to a movie in a theater was still a thing. Not only was that long before the internet, it was a time when most people didn’t even have televisions.

Today video games are a bigger business than the movie industry, the internet (Facebook, YouTube, googling) occupy plenty of people’s free time, and cheap streaming services (Amazon, Netflix, Disney+, etc.) allow people to watch movies and TV shows on large screen TVs in their home.

Regardless of how this virus plays out, any business that’s dependent on large indoor crowds is going to have to rethink their business plan.  How long can concert promoters, sporting teams, and convention planners stay in business without business? I take a middle ground approach between hysteria (the sky is falling) and those that think this is overblown. It will forever change the way we do somethings. At least we have history on our side that we can bounce back.

But people have already been laid off, business are closing, and bankruptcies will follow. If the country heads into a recession, Florida can face a depression because it’s so dependent on tourism.  And like The Great Depression, some business will thrive. I’m sure Amazon, Walmart and most grocery stores have seen a boost in business. Domino’s pizza’s stock has gone up in this crisis and they’ve announcement that are hiring 10,000 people.  A FedEx guy told me Saturday that it was busier than Christmas for them.

But what’s going to happen to movie theaters? For those wondering how they’re going to pay their mortgage or rent, that question isn’t even on their radar?

“When this crisis passes, the need for collective human engagement, the need to live and love and laugh and cry together, will be more powerful than ever.”
—Director Chris Nolan

I’ve been a regular movie attender ever since I got my driver’s license at age 16. But I know 16-year-olds today who are not only in no hurry to get a driver’s license, but rarely got to movie theaters.

Are drive in movie theaters going to make a comeback. I wouldn’t bet my money it will. I haven’t been to a drive-in theater in 20 or 30 years. Occasionally, when I drive by one now and then I get nostalgic. But I don’t see it ever being a regular part of my life again.

As a novelty, the theater in Eustis could work. They work a deal out to get the land discounted with the promise that it will be good for the town’s economy. In Florida, you can operate a drive-in year around. It’s not far from Disney World. I could see it work as a glorified RV park, with shopping and restaurants, and  a safe and fun place for people to hangout. And, of course, to watch a movie in the comfort of their own car.

But it’s not going to be the future of theatrical distribution. My hope is that when the dust settles from this virus—and the economic fallout—that there is a still a thing as a wide theatrical distribution.

P.S. Back in the early ’80s, I lived in an apartment complex just a couple of blocks from the Pickwick Drive-In theater in Burbank, California. It was famous for being where the shot part of Greece. It was torn down in 1989. That may have been the last drive-in theater where I watched a movie. According to this website there are still over 300 operating drive-ins in the United States.

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Scott W. Smith 

 

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“I believe science might offer the answer to the Curse of the Bambino.”
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt)
Moneyball

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Babe Ruth when he played for the Boston Red Sox

My love for traveling is rooted in not traveling much until I was 19-years-old, and following baseball as a kid. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Boston were linked in my mind to baseball teams. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to go to baseball games in all of those cities.

On a flight to Boston yesterday, I starting reading the novel Shoeless Joe which the movie  Field of Dreams is based on. It didn’t occur to me until then that two of my top ten sports movies have scenes in Boston’s Fenway Park.

Field of Dreams came out in 1989 and Moneyball in 2011, and though I’ve watched them both many times over the years I just never aligned them like I did on my flight to Boston. I’ll give an asset to The Rewatchables podcast for putting them on my radar again.

If you don’t know either film, the following scenes will be out of context. But both scenes at Fenway Park play an important role in the stories they are telling.

And as a Fenway Park bonus track—from a non-sports movie—here’s Sean (Robin Williams) talking about his Red Sox memory in Good Will Hunting.

P.S. Aaron Sorkin who co-wrote the screenplay for Moneyball says that he is drawn to stories about key times of transition and Moneyball qualifies. Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane embraced Sabermetrics based on the work of statistician Bill James.  A new way of mining data on ball players to evaluate talent and productivity. It’s credited with helping the Boston Red Sox winning four World Series titles since 2004. “The curse of Bambino” was what some called the effect of the Boston Red Sox trading Babe Ruth to New York Yankee back in the day.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

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“The setting of [Field of Dreams] is just so inspired, and so perfect. You look at the movie, and the cinematography has aged really well. What’s more American than apple pie? Well, literally, nothing is more American than a cornfield in Iowa, right? And so many times in the movie someone talks about the smell—the smell of the glove by your face, or the feel of the grass on your feet. And that visceral physicality to the thing that allows you to connect with it—that has aged well. There’s almost a nostalgia for it in an era when digitally, we’re just removed from everything.”
Mallory Rubin (Editor-in-Chief, The Ringer)
The Rewatchables, ‘Field of Dreams’ with Bill Simmons, Chris Ryan, and Mallory Rubin

Since the tile of this blog is Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely places (and features a cornfield in Iowa photo), I couldn’t pass up on posting the above quote after hearing it on The Rewatchables podcast. I actually didn’t love Field of Dreams when it came out in 1989. But after my dad died September 6, 1995—the same night Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gerhrig’s recordField of Dreams was the first movie I watched. Since then I’ve been a fan.

In 2014,  I shot and produced the micro-doc Tinker Field: A Love Letter, and recalled a baseball memory with my father:

P.S. Tinker Field was named after Joe Tinker who played for the Chicago Cubs, and is perhaps best remembered as part of the double play combination mentioned in the 1910 poem Baseball’s Sad Lexicon by Franklin Pierce Adams :

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Related posts:
Field of Dreams—25th Anniversary
Field of Dreams Turns 20
Dreams for Sale 
‘What could be make on a farm in Iowa for $50K?’—A Quiet Place 
Sam Shepard on a Farm in Iowa 
Burns, Baseball & Character Flaws 
Screenwriting, Baseball, and Underdogs (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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If you want to get caught up on world cinema, contemporary indie films, tap into some of the Criterion Collection, documentaries, and/or educational videos—all for free–then check out Kanopy.com, which hopefully you can access into through your college/university or public library. (Availability and selection of movies depends on your library/school.)

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Here’s a wide assortment of topics you can sort through.

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Between this post and yesterday’s post on links to recently Oscar nominated screenplays, it is simply amazing what is available these days for no cost.

Scott W. Smith

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‘Ford v Ferrari’ Behind the Scenes

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My go to movie at Thanksgiving is Pieces of April (2003), written and directed by Peter Hedges 

Here are some post I’ve written about it over the years:

Thanksgiving with ‘The Florida Project’ and ‘Pieces of April’

Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2) 
Pieces of April (Part 3) 
Pieces of April (Part 4) 
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6)
Pieces of April (Part 7)

Scott W. Smith

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I learned all the rules of a modern day drifter
Don’t you hold on to nothin’ too long
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
Written by Sharon Vaughn
(Recorded by Willie Nelson for The Electric Horseman sound track)

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The Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre opened in 1948 and was demolished in the 1990s—but it found a new life in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. It’s where Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) lives in an Airstream trailer with his pit bull.

Actress Jane Russell began working in theater at Van Nuys High School on her way to becoming a Hollywood star working along side Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, and Clark Gable. Natalie Wood (Rebel Without a Cause) graduated from Van Nuys High School in 1956.

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Jane Russell in “The Outlaw” (1943)

Another Van Nuys High School student who was more interested in sports than theater also went on to become a Hollywood star. Actor/director Robert Redford graduated in 1954 while Russell was still in her prime. Six years later Redford began his rise in the western Maverick— a show where Once Upon a Time’s Rick Dalton could have been a guest star.

Redford teamed up with Paul Newman on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), had an incredible run throughout the 70s, won an Oscar for directing Ordinary People (1980), started the Sundance Institute in 1981,  and got to use his athletic skills in The Natural (1984).

It’s near impossible to see Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood circa 1969—in Aviator sunglasses and a denim jacket no less— and not think of Redford circa 1970.

 

Redford directed Pitt in A River Runs Through It (1992) and they co-starred in Spy Game (2001).

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I did watch Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood for a seventh time today and it still holds up. It’s turning into the ultimate hangout movie for me as the two hour and 41 minutes flew by as I admired the craftsmanship on so many levels. And each time I see it I pull back a few more layers. Today was actually the first time I noticed that the movie rating at the Van Nuys rating was GP which was a pre-1972 PG and meant the film was intended for general audiences but parental guidance was suggested.

And since Redford came up in this post, one of his films I’d consider a spiritual cousin to Once Upon a Time… is The Electric Horseman. Redford plays a Rick Dalton/Easy Breezy-like character who is a past his prime rodeo star who drinks too much and—to pull a line from Tarantino’s movie— is “coming to terms with what it means to be slightly more useless each day.”

 

P.S. New Beverly Cinema double feature suggestion:

The Natural starring a 47-year-old Robert Redford and Moneyball starring a 48-year-old Brad Pitt. Two of my favorite films.

P.P.S. Van Nuys, California also had a small part in the classic Casablanca as the Van Nuys Airport doubled for an airport in Morocco. 

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Scott W. Smith

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