First-run movies should appear more often on the marquee of the Joy-Lan Drive-in theater now that the projection equipment has been upgraded to digital.
“Iron Man 3” has been showing for several nights and inside the snack bar a poster proclaims that the “Man of Steel” movie will be coming soon.
Joy-Lan owner Harold Spears, 83, invested more than $70,000 to replace the old 35-millimeter film projector with a digital model last month.
“Thirty-five millimeter [films] won’t be here anymore,” Spears said. “So if I didn’t go digital I’d have to close the theater. I didn’t want to do that so I converted to digital.”
It also was a labor of love. “It was a big, big expense,” Spears said. “The business that we do really didn’t justify the investment, but I like this business; I enjoy this business. I would certainly hate to have to close it up.”
Spears has been in the drive-in business since 1955, many of those years with Joy-Lan. “I was with the company that used to own this drive-in for many, many years and then the company was finally sold off … and I bought this drive-in and one in Lakeland about 15 years ago,” Spears said. He also owns the Silver Moon Drive-In in Lakeland.
This is a major change for a business that has largely remained the same through the years, Spears said, adding that some drive-ins have yet to convert.
“But if they don’t convert to digital at least by the end of this year, they’re going to be out of business,” he said.
Maurice Carter, who has been the manager and projectionist at the drive-in for 10 years, has been running the new projector for several weeks.
Carter wasn’t certain he would be happy with the digital equipment.
“I miss the old one because that’s how I learned, and when they brought this one to my attention I was very scared about it, but I love it now,” he said.
Admission is $4 for ages 10 through adult; $1 for children ages 4 through 9. Children less than 3 years old are admitted free.
Spears said his customers are people of all ages. “We get a wide selection, all kinds of folks. Family pictures have always done well at the drive-ins,” Spears said.
“We probably don’t get as many teenagers as we used to get.”
The draw of the drive-in is comfort and price, Spears said.
“You can dress as you like and smoke if you still smoke,” Spears said.
“It’s a more relaxed atmosphere in a drive-in theater and admission is so much less we can still give people good movie entertainment at much more economical value.”
Joy-Lan is located at 16414 U.S. 301, north of Dade City. For show times, call (352) 567-5085.