Your new documentary Back
to the Drive-in - in a few words, what is it about?
I visited 11 unique family-owned drive-ins across the country, to go behind
the scenes to see what theyíre doing to keep their drive-ins alive.
Itís a story of resilience.
What inspired you to make a documentary about the (mini-)resurgence of the
drive-in, and what do drive-ins and the drive-in experience mean to you
I went to drive-ins growing up outside of Chicago. My mom took us
as kids, I went in high school and college, and as I got older I started
to wonder why there were so few left. My first documentary was about the
history drive-ins, and I wanted to do a follow-up about the families
that own them today, since most of the drive-ins left are family
businesses. When the pandemic hit, it added an unexpected layer to the
story. I really love drive-ins and the whole experience of seeing a
movie in a cool setting like a drive-in or a movie palace. I think it
elevates the evening and creates great memories! Drive-ins are also
community gathering places, which I think we need more of, especially
after so much isolation in recent years. And theyíre fun!
About ten years ago, you've made another
documentary about drive-ins, Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of
the American Drive-in Movie - so how closely (if at all) are these two
films actually linked?
Going Attractions focused on the history of drive-ins from
the invention to the peak, and all the ups and downs over different eras
until the present day. That movie came out 10 years ago, and I wanted to
do a follow-up, with the focus more on the people, the families, that
own drive-ins and work hard to keep them alive. So thatís why itís
to the Drive-in because Iím going back as a
filmmaker, but also during the pandemic, a lot of people went back to
the drive-in for the first time in decades.
Do talk about the locations in
to the Drive-in for a bit, and how did you find/choose them?
I tried to choose a diverse cross-section of drive-ins so that I
could show the full picture of what was going on during, and coming out
of the pandemic. So I picked drive-ins in different states, some in
cities, some rural, some old drive-ins, one of them had only been opened
a few weeks when I filmed, some had new movies, some retro films, some
served alcohol, some had one screen, others had up to seven screens - I
was trying to show different perspectives, but after visiting the first
few, I realized all these factors didnít matter. All the drive-ins
were facing the same challenges, and they are all in it together!
few words about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
Aside from selecting different types of drive-ins and owners to
show the story, after that, I donít know what Iím going to get. I
get on the road, and at each location, I just have to let the story
unfold. When making a documentary you develop an obligation to the
subjects of your film, and you have to listen and let them tell
you what is important. I shot the film myself, so I had my primary
camera, my drone, and a GoPro to do time lapse. I shot one day at each
drive-in, starting two or three in the afternoon, and going until
usually about 2 AM. The drive-in owners will tell you, I basically
followed them around for around 12 hours, doing what they do, and trying
to capture it.
can you tell us about the shoot(s) as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
I think itís always weird at first for people to have a camera
following them, but I try to just blend in and capture what theyíre
doing without being too invasive. The drive-in owners were very open and
let me into their worlds. And it was interesting that each location
seemed to have its own mini-story that emerged.
$64-question, where can Back
to the Drive-in be seen?
Itís coming out video on demand on March 14 so anywhere you can
rent or buy a new digital movie youíll be able to find it. Amazon,
Google Play, iTunes, cable TV, etc.
Anything you can tell
us about audience and critical reception of Back
to the Drive-in?
We kicked off the movie on drive-in day (June 6) last summer on
20 drive-in screens in 17 different states. We were actually the second
per-screen-average that day after Top Gun Maverick, which is pretty
amazing. And itís 100% fresh from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Everyone
seems to really be connecting to the movie and rooting for the drive-in
owners to succeed!
Now where do you see the
drive-in heading in let's say 10 years or 20 years?
Itís hard to say. We are definitely in a time of transition for
the whole film industry, especially the role of theatrical exhibition. Since drive-ins are about more than the movie, they are a total
experience, they are unique, they are a place to create memories, so
Iím very hopeful they can continue to survive and maybe even see an
uptick over time. There is a stronger list of new movies coming out this
summer, so hopefully the drive-ins will do better than they have the
last couple years.
What - apart from a good movie, obviously - makes a drive-in experience perfect
I think itís the whole atmosphere. Drive-ins are designed to be
a venue, and so as soon as you drive on the property it has a special
feeling. The sky and stars above, hearing the movie on the speakers of
everybodyís cars around you is really cool. And of course some food
and snacks, and good company.
Enough about drive-ins for the time being - any
future projects you'd like to share?
Iím working on a bunch of projects. Under my
banner I am working on roller rinks, bowling alleys, and
regional/family-owned amusement parks.
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on
I always loved movies. I had a movie family. My dad had an 8 mm
camera, we had reel-to-reel editing equipment in the basement, so I was
always familiar with the process, even as a kid. I used to see every
single movie that came out in theaters, from the biggest studio films,
to the smallest indie films. I knew I would work in movies and TV eventually, but I had a business career first. When I switched into
filmmaking, I took a bunch of classes at UCLA on writing and
cinematography, and then I did narrative film programming for the
Sundance Film Festival for over 15 years. I always say that was my film
Judging from your filmography, you seem to
be equally comfortable in narrative and in documentary filmmaking - so how
do the two compare for you as a filmmaker, and which do you prefer,
Yes I really think the format depends on the subject. For my
narrative projects I am attracted to true stories, real people, underdog
stories, which ties into the documentary side, and in my documentaries,
I like more commercial topics, and I am always looking at my docs like
narrative films, and applying the same structure, so to me they arenít
that different. Telling a great story about something Iím interested
in, especially if itís about something or somebody that most people
might not notice.
Do talk about your filmwork prior to Back
to the Drive-in!
I won a screenwriting competition for
Script Magazine in 2004 and
I have been working in different aspects of the industry ever since. Back
to the Drive-in is my 4th feature documentary to be released.
How would you describe yourself
as a director?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Iím really interested in all the people I work with, and the
subjects of my docs. In narrative, I really enjoy working with actors. I
am also a writer, I also shoot, I also edit, Iím a drone pilot, I
produce, so Iím very familiar with many aspects of filmmaking in
addition to directing, which I think helps me to be a better director.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
I like Brian DePalma because my favorite genre is thrillers. Also
Hitchcock of course. I like Steven Soderberg because he always tries
something different. Same with Richard Linklater. John Landis directed
some of the best comedies of all time. Penelope Spheeris inspired me for
documentaries, because when I saw The Decline of Western Civilization
Part II: The Metal Years in a theater, it made me realize
documentaries didnít have to be boring or about heavy topics.
My favorite movie is Rocky. I love an underdog story - the movie
is one, and so is the backstory of how it got made. I also love Carrie,
The Shining, Rosemaryís
Baby, for docs The Kid
Stays in the Picture, I loved The Beatles Get Back. And many more.
... and of course, films you really
There are probably a lot I donít love, but I canít think of
Your/your movie's website, social media,
@driveindoc on Twitter
@april_wright_1999 on Instagram
Thanks for the interview!