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Regarding an Outdoor Cinema

Dear Editor,

In response to the article by The Magpie Whisperer, Village Voice, 6th February, I would offer the following comments.The writer obviously does not understand the difficulties in operating a Drive-In theatre in Lithgow. There are former projectionists in Lithgow who worked at the Marrangaroo Drive-In and all will tell you that this area, like Orange and Bathurst are not suitable places for open-air cinemas. They all suffered from the problem of fog closing in during the night and even with today’s high powered digital projectors you can’t penetrate fog. And all three failed financially.

The cost is purchasing land and setting up a modern Drive-In, even if it were possible in  Lithgow would run into millions of dollars and no company would risk financing such a project.

Another problem is Daylight Saving. Sessions can’t commence in the warmer months until after 8.30pm and in winter it is too cold even with an earlier starting time. To close down during the winter months means loss of income and no developer would be interested.

Magpie Whisperer states there is no modern Cineplex in Lithgow. Market research was conducted some ten years ago and it was found that Lithgow does not have the population to make even a 3 screen cinema financially viable. The single screen at Mount Victoria is successful because of its specialised style of movies but even that only screens four days each week. The Community Cinema in Lithgow, run by the Lithgow Valley Film Society, also is successful because of its specialised programs and being a film society is not restricted by the demands placed on commercial cinemas. However, it is still able to screen new releases along with classic movies.

The other problem one has to understand is the demands of film distributors on the commercial scene. To screen a new release the cinema owner has to agree to three or four sessions daily for up to a month. In many cases, the distributor on top of the basic fee, around $300 or more, then takes up to 60% of the first weeks box office takings. While this reduces by around 10% each following week, the operator still has to pay rates, electricity, wages and other costs. It may seem simple to buy a block of land; erect a hard-top cinema or set up a Drive-In; install a few projectors and away you go to great profits. It’s not that easy. The day of the traditional cinema is numbered.

I can’t speak on behalf of the Crystal Theatre at Portland and I wish them well with their fund-raising for a digital projector and hope they can get around the demands distributors are placing on the availability of digital hard drives for single monthly sessions.

Look around Australia and there are very few Drive-Ins still operating and where they are is in areas where the climate is suitable and only where there is no hard-top cinemas for hundreds of kilometres. The two exceptions being at Dandenong in Victoria where they operate four screens successfully and at Blacktown in Western Sydney, but even that Drive-In was reduced from two screens to one and being included in a housing development.

Magpie Whisperer might find it advantageous to talk with two of the former Lithgow Drive-in projectionists for their realistic views.

Ross Adams (Lithgow Valley Film Society)

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