GRANDVIEW — The movies arrive in large, square orange crates. Inside the crates are numbered reels of film that, when placed in the right order, will show a complete motion picture.
Hours before the first movie is shown at dusk, Shawn Daniels is at work in the projection room. The film strips make a whooshing sound as Daniels loads the reels on to the large, silver projector.
From this room, movies will be shown at the Grand View Drive-In Theater, about an hour south of Cedar Rapids. This past week, Daniels is loading first-run movies “Despicable Me 2,” “Monsters University” and “Elysium” on the projector.
But the way he sets up movies may soon change. Movie studios will soon discontinue producing traditional 35 mm films, forcing movie theaters across the country to make the transition to digital.
So the Grand View Drive-In, 15505 County Road, is competing for one of five digital projectors through Honda’s Project Drive-In competition. Upgrading to digital projection costs about $80,000, according to Honda on its Project Drive-In website.
Voting ends September 9 and the winner will be announced at the end of the month.
Daniels and his wife, Kelly, who own the theater, opened the Grand View in May 2007. The theater is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Evenings begin with a family-oriented movie, followed by one for adults, such as “Grown Ups 2.”
“This is all about the families here at the theater,” Kelly said. “And it’s cheap. Right now, a family of 4 — 2 adults, 2 kids — get in for $20. They can be here for four, five hours.”
The drive-in is a family business. Kelly’s mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her own mother work behind the concession counter selling hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, candy and soft drinks.
With a digital projector, the couple will no longer have to pay expensive shipping rates to send back heavy movie crates, Kelly said. For now, Kelly said, the business pays for itself.
If the Daniels do not win the contest, they will hold fundraisers and work with area businesses to offer promotional discounts. In addition, the Daniels would consider purchasing used digital equipment.
On this Friday night, there were about 20 cars at the drive-in. Among the customers was Amber Lebeda, who was visiting a drive-in for the first time.
She and Justin Wulf arrived early and opened the back of their pick-up truck to sit while watching the movie.
“These could disappear,” Wulf acknowledged.
Kelly Nelson, of North Liberty, and Stephanie Yoerger, of Iowa City, have been coming to the Grand View regularly for four years.
“We love movies, we love being outside, so it’s a perfect combination,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of a way to mix it up instead of watching movies inside. It’s just a nice night out.”
“Drive-ins offer something no other entertainment experience can offer,” Yoerger said. “You come to the movie, and you have to come a little bit early, and it’s time for you to bond with your family or your friends or your significant other.
“When you go to a regular traditional movie theater, you just go right before the movie, you sit and you’re quiet. But this … you see people playing Frisbee, playing catch. Where can you bring your dog to the movies?”