Inside the $7.5 million, 40,000-square-foot Kennedy-era cinema
Talk about going back to the future.
For most people, indulging childhood nostalgia means flipping through photo albums and eating comfort food. Not for Michael Counts, the brains behind the recently announced August Moon Drive-In in Nashville, which is slated to open by mid-2018. Financed by the likes of Nashville music business legend Ken Levitan, August Moon is a $7.5 million project to recreate a Kennedy-era drive-in cinema under a giant dome spanning 40,000 square feet. Albeit one with a ceiling simulating a starry sky, modified vintage cars as seating, climate control, the largest non-IMAX screen in North America, and a dining menu that’s inspired by the classic American fare at Shake Shack.
“It’s born of a desire to transport audiences to the drive-in theatres of heyday,” says Counts, the New York director behind the immersive theatre hit “The Walking Dead Experience—Chapter 1.” “The movie experience is being reinvented and we’re the next step.”
August Moon is the latest in a series of revamps that go beyond the standard improved sound systems and high-def screens that most theaters have done in recent years. AMC Theatres plans to spend $600 million to add cushy recliners to about a third of its approximately 5,000 cinemas before 2020. iPic Theaters’ recently opened cinema in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport neighborhood has seats that come with buttons to summon servers to satisfy in-movie munchie cravings. And Wynnsong Cinemas in Johnston, Iowa, completed a six month refurbishment in mid-2016 that saw an arcade replaced by a 16-seat bar with craft beer pours.
This is how some theater owners contend with audiences more content to watch movies on their couches than sit in a ratty, popcorn-strewn seat. Americans purchased 1.33 billion film tickets last year, down from 1.42 billion in 2007, data from Nash Information Services show. At the same time, theater owners are raising prices: Americans paid $8.42 on average to go to the movies in 2015, up from $7.89 five years before, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.
In recreating a nostalgic era though, Counts will have to be careful not to go the way of the dodo. He says that technology allows him to keep the good parts of the experience, while warding off the bad. “A drive-in on a perfect summer night, at just the right temperature with fireflies out doesn’t happen all the time,” he says. “But we’re transporting people in time and space to an idealized version. That’s the attraction.”
This story was originally published on MarketWatch.
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