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John Thompson

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Digital thank you: Elizabethton drive-in rewards fans for help in getting projector

April 18th, 2014 11:15 am by John Thompson

Digital thank you: Elizabethton drive-in rewards fans for help in getting projector

Jenny and Andrew Wetzel, owners of the State Line Drive-In, proudly announced they will be going digital thanks to voters in the Honda Project Drive-In contest. (John Thompson/Johnson City Press)

ELIZABETHTON — Drive-in movie fans in the Tri-Cities will receive a big “thank you” from the State Line Drive-in Theater this weekend.

The theater will charge no admission to its showings this weekend of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs II.” It will be the first movie shown since the drive-in converted from 35 mm film to digital this winter.

Theater owner Andy Wetzel is providing the free showing to the public as a way of thanking everyone who voted for the 68-year-old State Line in Honda’s Project Drive-In. Enough people voted for State Line to enable it to win one of the nine digital projectors that were given away by Honda.

“We just wanted to do something to let everyone know how much we appreciate the support we got,” Wetzel said Thursday as he was touching up everything for the grand reopening.

Wetzel said the last movie shown at the theater in 35 mm film was also a free admission to “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs II.”

“Those who saw the movie in 35 mm last fall will now be able to compare it with digital and see what a difference there is,” Wetzel said.

The fans who voted for State Line not only helped the theater win a state-of-the-art projector to replace its 1940s equipment, they probably saved the drive-in’s existence. Hollywood will no longer be disseminating its movies in 35 mm, meaning the State Line would not have been able to offer first-run movies to its patrons. The theater would probably have shut down.

That was the reason behind Honda’s efforts to supply the most popular drive-ins with the digital projectors: to prolong the life of drive-in theaters, an American icon.

Honda did not just provide the digital projector. The company also provided an expert in the projectors, Chase Taylor, to install the equipment at State Line. The staff of the State Line who will be operating the projector also had training in the equipment paid for by Honda. The total value of Honda’s gift was $80,000.

Wetzel also had to make some major contributions. The digital projector is so sensitive that the projection room had to be air conditioned. A three-phase electrical line had to be run to the projection booth. A new floor and new paint made the room look as new as the projector.

Wetzel said he hopes the lot will be full of cars and truck all weekend. He said the lot has a capacity of 200 vehicles.

While the movie is free, there is the normal charges for the goodies at the concession stand. Also new this year is ice cream bars and treats.

The gates will open each night at 7:15 and the show begins at 8:15.

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