Tuesday, June 09, 2009



drive in 3 

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a film critic refer to DVDs as “The New Drive-In” and felt it was an astute observation. Mostly because I’d thought the same thing myself a few days earlier.

The “Old” Drive-In was one of the great pleasures of my childhood and teenage years. I have early memories of being bundled into the back seat of a Mercury in my Lone Ranger PJs and sharing popcorn and hot dogs with my brother through the first feature before we fell asleep so my parents could enjoy the second one.

There was a Drive-In on the Trans-Canada highway not far from our house in Regina. And on the soft summer nights of that city, I can remember looking across the vacant prairie to see those crystal projected images flickering against the mid-west sky.

Before we had cars, my buddies and I would gather at the A&W, hike across the stubbled fields in the growing darkness, wait for the girl in the ticket booth to look the other way and scale the fence to get inside. Then we’d find somebody we knew with a car and pretend we were with them, sitting on the raised shoulder nearby with a speaker box in our laps to watch the movie.

The “Old” Drive-in was more about the experience than the movie. You went to show off your ride, sample the endless buffet of snacks and find some private time with your steady. It was mostly a summer thing because in winter the windows you normally just steamed up would frost over from the inside. So you’d have to scrape off the ice before driving home.

Although the sweetest good-night kisses were from the cool lips of a hot blonde who still had ice shavings in her hair.


I got my insight into the “New” Drive-in one recent night while walking my dog. It was one of those first soft nights here after a hard winter. A winter during which most of my neighbors apparently purchased HD televisions. And like that prairie drive-in, the images from those screens were flickering silently from several family room and bedroom windows.

While the dog nosed around for the rabbits who flood our neighborhood at night, I was struck by something interesting about those television screens. Not one of them was playing something that appeared to be of broadcast origin. I confirmed that a few minutes later when I checked the local listings. What had appeared on those screens were not TV series, reality shows, news, weather or the ball game.

All of my neighbors were watching movies. None of the titles of which matched those scheduled to be broadcast that night. Somebody was watching “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. Somebody else was going to sleep with “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”. Another was battling insomnia with “Mr. Brooks”. And another was ensuring sleep never came with “The Devil’s Rejects”.

No Canadian channels. No Cancon. Hmmmm….

How could this be turned to our advantage?

I got my answer last Saturday night after the Hockey Game.

For some reason, CBC’s “thoroughly Canadian” broadcast menu strays from that philosophy when they’re trying to hang on to the hockey crowd.

During the NHL lock-out, they attempted to lure viewers to the Hockey free “Hockey Night” slot with big budget Hollywood blockbusters. And Saturday night, they followed up the Detroit mauling of Pittsburgh with Will Farrell’s “Old School”.

Only for some odd reason, a network long tolerant of 4 letter words and nudity was broadcasting a dubbed clean version in which Will Farrell’s ubiquitous buttocks were always covered with a black band form fitted to resemble underwear.


Perhaps they were striving not to corrupt “all those kids” Don Cherry lectures on hockey skills and the smart way to decapitate a defenseman. But why bleep and cover a six year old movie most of those kids have probably already watched on DVD?

The answer was simple. Canadian TV executives don’t “get” movies or stay current on who’s watching what and why. At CTV (and CBC outside the hockey slots) they usually program ponderous, thoughtful, “ripped from the headlines” depression inducers whose mood and tone is constantly undermined and sabotaged by the insertion of chipper pitches for Iced Tea and cars that go “zoom-zoom”.

Over at CITY, they’re asking for regulatory relief from running any Canadian movies at all. Somehow forgetting that it was a News, “Star Trek” and two movies a night format that originally got them on the map.

These executives also don’t get that if you can watch an ultra crisp Blu-Ray version of almost anything you want with Surround sound, you might not be interested in tuning in a bleached version of “The Outlaw Josie Wales” with a monaural track that’s interrupted every eight minutes by a political attack ad or a cartoon bear selling anal hygiene.

They need to understand that to regain an audience, they have to replicate the “New” Drive-In.

The New Drive-In is also as much about the experience as the movie. You’re watching a recent movie that’s enough different from what’s on television that it encouraged you to go out and buy or rent a copy. (This generation’s version of fighting traffic to get somewhere before sunset).

You’re watching this movie from the comfort of your own surroundings close to where you can whip up your own sloppy joe’s or bag of Orville’s if you want. And if your companion gets warmed up by the HD presence of Brad Pitt or the sight of Will Farrell’s butt, well chances are even the guy outside with the dog isn’t watching.

Drive-In is a simple formula. Pick a genre. Deliver it. Don’t make things complicated. The people watching have other things on their mind.

And never conceive the finished product within that old “Don’t offend or advocate too strongly” TV Movie of the week mindset.

drive in 2

What would happen to Canadian TV and the local production community if some enterprising executive were to take the $13 Million his/her network was about to pour into just one clone of an American series and made 13 low budget movies instead?

What if 3 or 4 networks did it?

And what if those networks eschewed commercials for these films in favor of product placement and then made sure the technical delivery was in true HD?

Do you not think some of my neighbors might skip the drive to Blockbuster and tune in?

And don’t kid yourself, you can still make a pretty good movie for $1 million. It’s simply a matter of combining a good story (with or without an underlying universal theme) and some innovative production imagination.

In the states, Sci-Fi, USA Network, Turner and Lifetime have been working at that license level for years. In some cases, the regularly scheduled “originals” which resulted have been their network’s highest rated offerings. And they continue to generate revenue as DVDs and downloads.

Our nets could be making money and drawing back their audience in the same way.

And unless Canadian television begins using the strengths of the “New” Drive-In to its own advantage, it will continue to lose audience to that kind of competition.

Worst of all, with new devices arriving daily which will eliminate the drive to the video store and other minor inconveniences, it won’t be long before the decision to spend $10/month on a cable package or on an ever increasing library of new movies delivered directly to your home won’t be a difficult one at all.


For a passionate reaction and expansion of all this, check out Trevor Cunningham’s response here. Thanks Col. Cunningham. Good to know you’re covering the Western flank.


deborah Nathan said...

Would make perfect sense for TMN. although their money is quite a bit less than the national nets. The level of the Lifetime movies is above $1million - ranges from about $1.5 to $5 million. Same is true at Hallmark. Sci-Fi though had been making really cheap movies. I think of them along the lines of some of the Saturday matinee outings - Creature from the Black Lagoon being an all-time favorite.

I remember seeing Ben Hur a the drive-in one summer and everyone yelling as if you were at a ball game during the chariot race. There is a power, an energy, while watching a movie in a crowd. It's a different experience than at home. Hence, the continued success of blockbusters.

But do you think that anyone here would actually undertake to make films that were entertaining? And that doesn't mean that they aren't affecting.

I think you should have your own network. Maybe you could buy an A channel from CTV for $1.

Cunningham said...

Jim -

I think you're going to make me cry.

My first time was in the drive-in (no, not that first time). I was 3-4 and we went to see SNOW WHITE at the Drive in. I was wearing my pajamas because it was near my bed time, but I remember making it to the point where the witch gave Snow White the apple. I closed my eyes in fright and that was all she wrote. Soon I was out like a light.
People do watch indie, D2DVD, alternative movies for just that reason: it's "different" and it provides an "experience."

And it's put bread on my table.