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Nathan Baker

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Drive-in going digital instead of going out of business

December 14th, 2013 9:44 pm by Nathan Baker

Drive-in going digital instead of going out of business

The show will go on at a Bristol drive-in theater that faced permanent shuttering after a change in heart by the owners and an upgrade to the projector.

In August, owner Danny Warden said he had no plans to transition to digital cinema at the Twin City Drive-In Theatre, likely making this season the last for the 53-year-old outdoor theater, but by early November, a new Barco projector was quietly humming in the projection booth.

Warden said he changed his mind when he learned that he didn’t have to dig up the drive-in’s utility lines and speaker wires to make the change to digital video, and that the process to obtain the hard drives with the movies already installed was easier than he thought.

“I’m used to film, so it’s been a little difficult for me, but I have the steps written down, and I’m going to get the hang of it,” he said Friday.

Warden put the theater and the surrounding property up for sale when he learned that few movie companies would continue to offer 35-millimeter film prints of new attractions.

He said he refused an offer from automaker Honda to list him in an online contest giving away free digital projectors to drive-ins across the country. Elizabethton’s State Line Drive-in was entered into the contest and won one of nine projectors awarded.

But after researching the switch, Warden decided the lure of the entertainment industry was too strong for him to ignore.

He drained the business’ checking account to buy and install the $75,000 projector and showed four weekends of showings with the new equipment before the end of the season.

“The picture is amazing,” he said, attributing the newfound brightness to the projector’s 6,500-watt bulb. “People come to the snack bar and compliment the picture and how bright it is.”

Warden said the expense of the new equipment doesn’t concern him much. He expects ticket and concessions sales to make up for the cost.

Even before the new projector and the increased awareness of the area’s remaining drive-ins, he said last year was the theater’s best ever, largely because ticket prices at indoor theaters are still well above his at $7 for adults and $3 for children.

The new, brighter projector may even lengthen the Twin City’s season, allowing shows to start earlier in the year and earlier in the night, before complete darkness.

Even with the new technology and the “theater in his blood,” Warden said he may still consider selling the property if the right offer comes along, but he’s not going to actively advertise it for sale.

Warden’s grandfather, Raymond Warden, and Bo Diggs, Raymond’s son-in-law, built the theater in 1949 and showed the first film in 1950.

In 1974, Warden and his wife Ellen bought the Twin City from Diggs, his uncle, who had purchased Raymond Warden’s interest in the 1950s.

Warden said he plans to open for the 2014 season sometime around the spring NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway in March.

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