Custom-Built ‘Drive-In’ Movie Theater Revs Up Entertainment Level

Pennsylvania event space features seven vintage cars and a sophisticated projection-based theater ready to take visitors back to 1950s.

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Custom-Built ‘Drive-In’ Movie Theater Revs Up Entertainment Level

A classic car collector who owned a large event space in Pottsville, Pa. turned it into a 1950s-style drive-in movie theater with ELAN controls.

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Can you think of a better or more iconic pairing for a classic car collector who owns a 4,000-square-foot room than a drive-in movie theater? A man in Pottsville, Pa., certainly couldn’t — and that’s why he called on Tom Walker and his team at The CI Guys to create the 1950s-style experience with ELAN control.

“A reliable control system is the most important factor when designing a unique and complex system such as this,” says Walker. “It’s imperative that the technology is responsive and accessible during private events.”

The CI Guys installed a central ELAN system to control both the theater and multi-room audio system. ELAN also controls the entire building’s Lutron lighting, Aprilaire thermostats, Elk Security system, and Axis and Toshiba security cameras, says Walker.

“Now, through both one-touch access and automated scenes, all of the event space’s technology is instantly manageable,” he says.

Walker installed one ELAN gSC10 System Controller, accessible through 14 strategically placed ELAN touchpanels and two ELAN handheld remotes. He also used three ELAN S1616A audio controllers to control the space’s extensive multi-zone audio system.

“With reliable control in place, we can employ the most cutting-edge entertainment technology available today and turn what was once a garage into an indoor drive-in movie theater,” says Walker.

Inside the Installation

Walker and his team installed a central focal viewing point: an ELAN-controlled 24×10 Stewart Filmscreen display, which is viewed from the comfort of seven vintage cars stationed throughout the room, creating the feel of a vintage 1950s drive-in movie theater.

Mounting the screen was the first challenge of many that Walker tackled – and overcame – during the installation process. His team of carpenters had to design a pulley system with a custom-built frame to successfully hoist the screen high enough to be seen from all angles in the space without using a lift. Then, he could roll out and lift the screen from the ground to the pre-built, framed opening in the wall.

“We had to get really creative when installing the screen because we could not bring a lift into the room at the time the screen was being installed,” he says. “The screen was too large to attempt to unroll and stretch from a ladder. The pulley system that we designed allowed us to physically unroll the screen on the ground, stretch it and slide it into the wall cavity, mounting it onto a completely pre-aligned framework. We were able to develop a nifty and successful solution.”

Walker and his team also installed a DPI Insight 4K laser projector in a private projection room above the concession stand located at the back of the space. Walker installed the projector into a custom glass encasement, meaning he had to choose the perfect lens that would project a clear image through it.

“Before actually installing the projector, we tested multiple lenses to gauge what would work best for the screen in terms of resolution and overall look,” says Walker. “The end-result is truly awe-inspiring.

A Night at the Drive-In

Authenticity was absolutely key for the client, so The CI Guys installed a 360-degree audio system throughout the space to closely replicate an authentic drive-in theater experience with customized effects. For example, the event space owner had acquired and implemented traditional ‘drive-in’ speakers – which needed a slight delay function to recreate the outdoor ‘echo’ effect common in old school drive-in theaters – and installed two in each of the seven cars. All the ‘drive-in’ speakers are dedicated zones of audio to play in conjunction with the surround system or separate from the rest of the 360-degree audio experience.

“It was definitely a challenge to figure out how to get the central audio feed to these unique drive-in speakers that are actually installed on pedestals next to the cars, with enough cabling to bring into the car,” says Walker. “They’re separate from the room’s zones and have their own dedicated channels. It was our job to extract audio content and filter them to these speakers to effectively to recreate a degree of authenticity that the client requested.”

Despite several hiccups, Walker and his team were able to successfully transform the room into a fully functioning event space that looks and feels like a 1950s drive-in movie theater. With a single button press on the ELAN mobile app, the lights dim, the audio fires up and the projector turns on. With another press or two, the movie starts, the game is on, or they can just watch TV.

“This was certainly the most unique project I have ever done,” says Walker.

The event space officially launched with its grand opening event for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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