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Christie Helps Texas Drive-Ins Light Up ‘The Big Picture’

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and with the installation of award-winning Christie® digital cinema projectors at two of the Lone Star State’s most popular drive-in theaters, they are now also the brightest. The Big Sky Drive-In in Midland and the Stars and Stripes in Lubbock, both featuring outdoor screens up to 90 ft wide, now offer a superior movie viewing experience thanks to Christie’s DLP Cinema® projectors, which are recognized as the brightest and most powerful in the industry.

“Drive-in theaters have always been a romantic business venture that faced many technical challenges,” noted Craig Sholder, vice president, Entertainment Solutions at Christie. “The limited amount of light that can be projected on the screen from even the most powerful film projectors is not always sufficient to compete with the ambient light of the outdoors. This has often seriously affected the quality of the projected image and undermined the movie-viewing experience for many patrons. Christie projectors are ideally suited for the outdoor environment where ease of operation – especially to focus and scale images – and high brightness levels are critical.”

Thinking Big
As a major sponsor of the 12th annual convention for the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association (UDITOA), February 6 – 9, in Kissimmee, Florida, Christie is partnering with dealers such as Sonic Equipment Company to help lead America’s drive-in theaters into the digital age. Backed by more than 80 years in the exhibition industry, Christie is offering complete, turn-key solutions that include design, consultation, installation and support services. As well, Christie can provide interested customers with 24/7 support and maintenance through its Network Operations Center (NOC), located in Cypress, California.

Among the first drive-ins in the country to “see the light” of digital technology were the
Stars & Stripes and the Big Sky drive-ins – the first multi-screen drive-ins in the country. Christie projectors, rated at 30,000 ANSI lumens of brightness, covered their entire screen surfaces with the sharpest digital images ever seen in a drive-in theater.

A Big Improvement at The Big Sky
Big Sky owner Sam Kirkland opened in October 2005 with two screens, both using 35mm projectors. He added a third screen in 2007. Two of Big Sky’s three screens are 45 ft by 90ft, with parking spaces for 436 cars and 382 cars; the third screen, at 35 ft by 70 ft, can handle 198 cars. The conversion to Christie digital projectors was done by Sonic Equipment Company, of Iola, Kansas.

“When a drive-in goes to digital movies, it’s a big difference from film, and audiences see the difference immediately,” said Sam Kirkland, owner of The Big Sky. “Our Christie projector gives us a gorgeous picture and our customers love it!”

Lamont Furlow, the 60-year old general manager of Big Sky, whose parents managed a local drive-in theater, recalled that he was virtually born into the movie theater business.

“Directly or indirectly, I’ve been in the exhibition business all my life, and have a special passion for the drive-in,” he said. “I’m not real computer literate, but when we had some initial challenges the first week, we called our Christie representative and he talked us through the situation right over the phone. The show started on time and the entire system has worked beautifully every since!”

Most importantly, Furlow noted, “Now that we’re digital, lighting the screen is no longer an issue. Our patrons enjoy even the darkest scenes in a movie.”

In the past, Big Sky also had serious problems getting the picture focused when running 35mm projectors. “With Christie digital projectors, it’s now in perfect focus,” he said. “My immediate reaction when we showed our first movie in digital was, ‘That can’t be my screen!”

He added: “We couldn’t be more pleased with our new Christie projectors.”

A Bright Idea at the Stars & Stripes
Ryan Smith had fond childhood memories of working in his grandparents’ indoor theater, as well as nights spent at the local drive-in. In 2003, at the age of 24, he opened the Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre with two screens and two used 35mm projectors, assisted by his parents.

Today, with two screens that measured 35 ft by 70 ft, and one measuring 45 ft by 90ft, the earliest lesson he learned about drive-in theaters, said Smith, was that, “you just can’t get enough light on those big screens.”

Smith selected Christie projectors, financing the cost of the digital conversion himself. Sonic Equipment Company of Iola, Kansas, supervised the installation and helped to train Smith and his staff.

The impact was instantaneous. According to Smith, in the first week they opened, “People noticed that something was different. They realized the picture was brighter. And I was thrilled to provide my customers with ‘indoor-movie’ picture quality.”

Smith is now eager to explore the expansion of his business with new kinds of content, such as sporting events, concerts, and cultural performances. “We were always constrained by film,” he said. “With digital, there are no limitations. We are very pleased with our Christie projectors.”

“Our customers have all praised the outstanding image quality of Christie digital projectors and we love their ease of use, and their low cost of operation,” said Steve Zimmerman, director of business development at Sonic. “As a Christie certified partner, we look forward to helping America’s drive-ins enter the digital age and bring a new level of entertainment to the next generation of moviegoers and beyond.”

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