NEWBERG, Ore. - The family who owns the 99W Drive-In in Newberg is on cloud nine after learning they were one of five drive-ins picked to win a digital projector, courtesy of a Honda promotion called Project Drive-In.
"We are so happy," said Camille Francis, who owns and operates the drive-in with her husband, Brian, and other family members. "We are putting it up on our marquee, people are cheering - it's just really awesome."
The family was so ecstatic about winning, they invited folks to come down Sunday evening for a free movie night to celebrate.
Technology is changing and theaters will soon no longer be able to get 35 mm film prints from movie studios, which are pushing towards an all-digital platform. And the price tag to convert is not cheap, which is why the folks at Newberg's drive-in were hoping beyond hope to win this contest.
Each day for five days, Honda selected a drive-in and when the fourth one was picked and the 99W Drive-In was not on the list, Francis said their hopes really started waning.
"When the first winner was announced, they had 30,000 Facebook fans and we only have 7,000," she said. "And we were watching every day and watching the winners. And we thought only East Coast drive-ins would win."
But on the fifth and final day, on Sunday, Sept. 15, Honda showed up at their door.
"We thought this was just another news interview, so I woke Brian up this morning and we went over the questions," Francis said. "And then they told him they were really from Honda and he fell over in shock."
"Saving the 99 W Drive-In theaters means saving romantic proposals, quality time with friends and family, and nostalgic experiences," said Alicia Jones, Manager of Honda Social Media at American Honda Motor Co., Inc. "Digital projection will help this small business create priceless memories for decades to come."
Honda's Promotional Video for Project Drive-In
Voting closed over a week ago, but Honda has extended voting to Sept. 21 and will be giving away four more digital projectors. That means the Motor-Vu Drive-In in Dallas, Oregon, which was also hoping to win, has a few more chances. They've been renting a digital projector, but it hasn't been all that affordable.
"We had the opportunity to rent one this year and we hope the person we're renting it from will let us buy it next year," said Jeff Mexico, owner of the Motor-Vu Drive-In. "That's what we're hoping will happen, but if it doesn't, we will have to buy one and they're pretty expensive."
Mexico has already had to purchase digital projectors for two indoor theaters he also owns. He said he is all for the new technology, but the cost is just so high that it's tough for operators. Some theaters and drive-ins are being forced to shut down completely because they can't afford the price tag.
"We have no intention of closing," Mexico said. "But it would be nice to get a free one because I've already paid a lot between these two indoor theaters for digital and this is going to be number three."
Mexico said he has already sold a coffee shop, as well as a theater he owned in Albany, to help pay for the digital transition. Despite the hit to his pocketbook, though, he's actually excited about the change.
"I love it because the picture is great and you don't have to worry about getting a used film with scratches on it," he said. "Every time you show the movie, it looks great."
Aside from the film quality, there is the practical side of it all. Mexico said he doesn't need a projectionist to run movies and there's no more lugging heavy film up and down stairs.
"I've been building and breaking down movies since 2002 and doing it every week, it gets old," he said. "Now it's just a little hard drive. You throw it in there, you program it and you drag and drop. It's so much easier."
"Although when there is a problem," he added, "it'll probably be more difficult to fix than a mechanical problem."
Oregon has just four drive-ins in the entire state - in Newberg, Dallas, La Grande and Milton-Freewater. All but the Newberg one have gone digital.