UNITED STATES—It was around 4:30 p.m. when Canyon News spoke to Paula Weinstein, Emmy award-winning film producer and the Chief Content Officer at Tribeca Enterprises, to discuss the company’s return to drive-in cinema during a time that is strange and new, on June 30. “It’s nice to talk to you,” Weinstein said.
On opening night, July 2, at the Rose Bowl, local musician John King brought his 14-year-old daughter to see the recent documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble.” We later talked about it, agreeing on the burning heat during our separate visits, and imagined how the drive-in style could dominate the future of live music.
For both Tribeca and King, connected by this event and their passions, it has been a chance to revisit familiar settings with reassurance: welcoming back the lovers of cinema and seeing the latest release. Then, the reminder once again kicks in: this year, so far, has been anything, but familiar.
They shared ideas to move forward in the entertainment world, as well as their thoughts right now. There still seems to be more questions than answers, and a restlessness to be proactive because of second-nature instincts. Yet, neither want to jump the gun, and would rather focus on the immediate moment and remain cautious.
“None of us know what it’s going to be. ‘What will our dates be? Will we be able to have everybody in the theatre?’” Weinstein said, when asked about Tribeca’s changes to embrace the current, evolving generation and lifestyle. “We’re being as optimistic as we can.”
Weinstein explained that it is part of the company’s DNA to run drive-ins and jump into action to help their community. “[It] was born out of 9/11 and out of Jane and Bob’s desire for people to come back downtown to Tribeca into the financial center.”
Nearly 20 years ago, when they were first established, drive-in screenings were already a part of their festival programming. Their new drive-in series is now open across the country through July 26 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Nickerson Beach and Orchard Beach locations in New York run through August 2.
Tribeca has been reaching out to communities which helped stimulate employment. Food trucks and local restaurants were asked to cater. Each drive-in is creating between 150 to 200 jobs. It is “to help jump start or support the economy. It’s been very intense and very gratifying,” Weinstein said. The company offers essential worker appreciation nights. They have reached out to local hospitals, grocery stores, and businesses that have remained open.
“It’s not unusual for us, and [me] as a film producer to immediately think ‘what can we do? How do we remain active? How do we reach out to people? How do we have people not feel alarmed?’” Safety is their primary concern. They intend to make sure all cars are at least six feet apart, and that guests wear masks if they leave their cars to visit rest rooms and the concession stand. “We are hoping for people to come and enjoy being all together. You can be with your best friend six feet apart in a safe way next to them,” Weinstein further stated.
When asked if the drive-in series will expand, and about the film industry’s current vibe in New York, Weinstein told Canyon News:
“We’re not even thinking about that right now because we open this week. So, we’re very much focused on what we are doing. Everybody is being cautious here. I’m grateful that we’re not going back right away. And everybody’s really trusting the best, most secure way to shoot and to be safe. It’s been a huge topic at the Writer’s Guild, IA, all the Hollywood studios. Everybody’s asking, ‘how do we finish the film’, ‘how do we shoot’, you know? ‘what are the safety precautions’. And everybody wants to move forward, but with direction and really strict guidelines to get back to work.”
Weinstein said they are excited for movie theatres to reopen. They will continue to invest in virtual, but right now they are just focusing on the drive-in’s success and “[enjoying] the time. Then we’ll start to completely focus on our 20th anniversary,” she added.
Speaking with Los Angeles musician John King, we imagined how vital this style of show might be across entertainment and in his own work. The subject came up at the mention of Tribeca’s upcoming stand up comedy shows in addition to film screenings at the drive-in. Various comedians will perform from July 9 to July 12. The Rose Bowl, Tribeca’s sole location for this series in California, is the only branch nationwide that will provide stand up comedy.
“It made me realize what this could be for my industry and what I do. I would definitely be interested in seeing a comedy show in that format,” King said, when asked about the advertisements. In a hypothetical, post-Covid world, if live music adopts the drive-in set up entirely to succeed, he explains that keeping audiences engaged could be a potential challenge. “From a musician’s standpoint, what I do is an interactive crowd experience. I see a lot of potential for new, creative ways to share that crowd entertainment experience,” King explained.
A clever variety of methods to interact may be needed more than before. Off the top of his head, he suggested that guests could send song requests over the phone, via app, or “having the crowd honk their horns or something, whatever, some silly interaction.”
“I think that there would be some kind of learning curve as a performer, and the audience to share that communication. I even imagine for the comedy shows, a big part of telling your jokes is having that immediate feedback from the audience of whether or not that joke went over because you’re hearing laughter. It tells you which direction you want to go with your next jokes. Reading the crowd. When you’re just putting it all out there almost blindly, and then you only find out later how well it went over. That’s got to be pretty challenging, I would expect for comedians.”
“I know for musicians, there’s definitely feedback you get from the crowd [and] you can tell it’s going over well based on people’s [reactions]. There [are] some things as subtle as body movement, they’ll start looking at their phones, or start talking to each other if you pick the wrong song. So, not having that feedback would definitely be a challenge. You’d have to figure out other ways to kind of gauge that, but I think it would be fun to be in that position.”
As for taking on those challenges, King stated further, “a big part of that is gonna be trial and error. When there’s not a guidebook for it, you just got to try a bunch of different things and figure out the best way to gauge whether or not some different strategies work.”
It was a first-time drive-in experience for both him and his daughter. Still, King got the never-failing “you’re old” comment from his kid when he mentioned some history. King and his family have been living in LA for the past two years, and previously in Austin, Texas for much longer. He has been a professional musician for over 17 years, and got his start performing at dueling piano bars.
Canyon News was invited to see the family favorite, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” on July 3. Both parties had a good time despite Pasadena’s blazing heat. It was nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit during our screenings before sundown.
It was reassuring to know that the crowds at each screening took health and safety rules seriously. “People were respectful of social distancing and keeping their masks on if they went outside. And not approaching our car unless it was important,” King noted. Employees also wore their masks properly, and made sure guests followed that same rule. “I felt safe, I felt really good about that,” King added. During the “E.T.” screening, a security personnel helped a woman with car issues nearby.
As for what’s ahead, on July 1, Tribeca announced a new partnership with leading retailer Walmart as the next step for the drive-in series. This August and nationwide, 160 store parking lots will become contact-free, drive-in movie theaters, according to a Facebook post by Tribeca. They will program the selection of films. Special guests and complimentary concessions are also planned.