As Europe emerges from lockdown, drive-in movies spring up

Stephen Beard Jun 22, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
"Grease" is screened at a drive-in movie in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on June 13. Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

As Europe emerges from lockdown, drive-in movies spring up

Stephen Beard Jun 22, 2020
"Grease" is screened at a drive-in movie in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on June 13. Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

In Europe, COVID-19 has been breathing new life into an American cultural relic. Drive-in movie theaters, which reached a peak of popularity in the United States in the 1950s and then went into a long decline, have cropped up in a number of European countries in the wake of the pandemic. The appeal of this form of entertainment at this time is obvious: social distancing is much easier to achieve in a drive-in than in a regular cinema.

The latest iteration of what the organizers call “safe cinema” is scheduled to open in a car lot outside a major exhibition center in the northern British city of Manchester later this summer. Tickets will be sold online, all the cars will be parked 2 meters away from each other and visits to the restroom will be strictly controlled.

One Agency’s drive-in movies are scheduled to open in Manchester in the summer. (Courtesy One Agency)

“This will be an entirely contactless event,” said Vickie Butterworth of One Agency advertising firm who’s organizing the shows. “I think it’ll be a raging success. It ticks all the boxes from a safety point of view in a time when people are still a little bit dubious about what they can and can’t do, where they can and can’t go, who they can do it with. I think it’ll go down a storm.”

Vickie Butterworth of the One Agency ad firm. (Courtesy Vickie Butterworth)

Actual storms might be a problem. Manchester is one of the rainiest places in the United Kingdom. But Butterworth doesn’t think that will put off many customers.

“I’m not going to lie, the weather is pretty horrid here most of the time, but look, northerners are pretty well-equipped to deal with the rain. Northerners are tough. They can handle it. And I think the rain might even add to the atmosphere a little bit,” she said.

Not everyone is equally enthusiastic about the drive-in.

Andy Pates of Go Cinemas, which runs open-air movie shows across the south of England, has his doubts about the drive-in model. Watching a movie from under an umbrella is one thing, he said. But watching it in a car in a downpour is something else.

A Go Cinemas open-air movie show in the south of England. (Courtesy Go Cinemas)

“You’ve got to start the wipers going. Now sometimes you get that awful screeching sound on the windshield, which is going to be very off-putting,” he said. “Also, the slanted windows in modern cars will automatically limit the view of the screen. And people on the rear seat of the car will have head rests to contend with.”

Pates is not impressed with the Manchester plan to beam the movie soundtrack into the car radios on an FM frequency. He fears that might drain car batteries and mean that many of the vehicles will have to be towed away from the venue at the end of the show.

“I’m not trying to be pessimistic,” he insisted. “I’m just pointing out some of the practical difficulties with a drive-in.”

In Manchester, Vickie Butterworth is undaunted. With three large mobile screens arranged around the venue, she’s confident that everyone will be able to see the show and that many Brits will enjoy the nostalgic feel of the event.

“Many of us remember the famous drive-in scene in the movie “Grease,” so it’s a pretty familiar concept,” she said. “I think after all the frustrations of lockdown, this will be a lot of fun.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the latest on the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

As of now, those $600-a-week payments will stop at the end of July. For many, unemployment payments have been a lifeline, but one that is about to end, if nothing changes. The debate over whether or not to extend these benefits continues among lawmakers.

With a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, are restaurants and bars shutting back down?

The latest jobs report shows that 4.8 million Americans went back to work in June. More than 30% of those job gains were from bars and restaurants. But those industries are in trouble again. For example, because of the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, increased restrictions on restaurant capacities and closed bars. It’s created a logistical nightmare.

Which businesses got Paycheck Protection Program loans?

The numbers are in — well, at least in part. The federal government has released the names of companies that received loans of $150,000 or more through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Some of the companies people are surprised got loans include Kanye West’s fashion line, Yeezy, TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s. The companies you might not recognize, particularly some smaller businesses, were able to hire back staff or partially reopen thanks to the loans.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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