Drive-in theaters have taken on many of the accoutrements of indoor screenings as public moviegoing has shifted almost entirely to an outdoor, socially-distanced model in recent months. But two elements of the Los Angeles filmgoing experience that probably no one expected to ever see at a drive-in were (a) filmmaker post-screening Q&As and (b) ArcLight caramel corn.
Both those Hollywood screening staples will be on hand next Thursday at the Vineland Drive-In on the outskirts of L.A. in the City of Industry, as the entire four-screen ozoner is taken over for a preview event to unveil “The Rental,” an IFC Films horror thriller written and directed by Dave Franco. The actor-filmmaker will indeed be on hand for a Q&A after the showing — which will go out to cars via FM sound, just like the film — even though this is the first time that ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters have offered admission to a filmmaker-attended preview with by-the-carload pricing.
“It’s an ArcLight one-night pop-up, and we’re really trying to take the best elements of an ArcLight experience and bring that to the Vineland,” says Vincent J. Szwajkowski, chief marketing officer of ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres, the company that oversees plush indoor experiences in Hollywood and elsewhere and the Vineland, the one surviving outpost from the long-distant days when Pacific was an almost exclusively drive-in chain.
For IFC Films, it’s just the latest example of how the indie has been making lemonade out of theatrical exhibition’s lemons by catering to the drive-in experience during quarantine conditions, putting many of its titles on drive-in screens as the major studios have mostly sat things out — and in the process, claiming the box-office crown many weeks running with another horror title, “The Wretched,” that’s been showing for weeks at the vast majority of the 300-plus drive-ins in the nation.
The preview event for “The Rental” comes a little more than a month before IFC’s acquisition makes a bigger move into drive-ins — and whatever indoor theaters have opened by then — on July 24, a little more than a month after it has its non-red-carpet premiere at the Vineland. With Franco staying behind the camera for this, his directorial debut, the thriller stars Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Dan Stevens and Jeremy Allen White as two couples who head for an oceanside rental house, at which celebration turns to paranoia and, presumably, much worse.
The Vineland was one of the last drive-ins in the country to get official permission to reopen, as L.A. County tarried in allowing outdoor venues to resume business, while drive-ins across the county line, like the Mission Tiki, did sellout business. Having just reopened earlier this week, the Vineland is looking to make up for lost time, although the June 18 showings of “The Rental” will be far from anything resembling business as usual under the stars.
All four screens will be showing Franco’s film, and the Vineland’s normal snack bar will be closed for the event. “We are bringing in ArcLight crew members from our Hollywood location [to serve] complimentary ArcLight caramel corn” as well as standard popcorn, Szwajkowski says. Admission will be $55 a carload instead of the drive-in’s usual per-person pricing, which could lead to a resumption of the car trunk-stuffing of old, or at least some very crammed SUVs. With the snack bar closed and only the free popcorn being served, “for the first time ever, ArcLight is breaking its rules and allowing outside food and beverage brought in,” waiving all prior anti-In-‘n’-Out rules.
“Actually,” he says, “we were actually planning on doing an ArcLight one-night pop-up where we were going to show an older film. But as we started to have conversations with IFC, they graciously agreed to partner with us on this pop-up and give us the advance screenings for ‘The Rental.’ And the best part about that for us is being able to have the Q&A, which is so quintessential a part of the ArcLight experience. So we’re really excited to have pivoted from doing something that was more of a retrospective night to a more kind of in-the-moment, advanced screening version.
“We’ve been closed for several months now and we miss our customers, and we know they are missing us. And so this is for us a way to really engage with them. And I hope it’s very successful and that’ll allow us to do more events like this moving forward.”
“Over the last few months, IFC Films has focused on the rich moviegoing tradition of drive-ins, which provide a safe and unique space to enjoy films right now,” Arianna Bocco and Lisa Schwartz of IFC said in a statement. “It’s an utterly singular experience to watch films with an audience under the stars and we couldn’t think of a more perfect film than ‘The Rental’ to celebrate the storied history of the Vineland Drive-In,” which opened in 1955 as a single-screen venue.
Says Szwajkowski, “It’s been actually quite amazing to work with IFC. They’ve just been so flexible and pushing for great partnerships, and particularly in this drive-in setting, they’re actually so excited about it. So are we, so I think when we find another studio that’s as excited about something, it just makes it that much more fun for us to put things together. They’re definitely someone we actually are hoping we can do more things with in this type of environment in the future.”
Szwajkowski admits that there’s some irony in the Vineland, as the last vestige of Pacific’s drive-in-centric days, suddenly being at the forefront of the company’s consciousness again.
“Obviously this whole health crisis as has challenged so many businesses, and we’ve just been really trying to think about how we can be nimble and how we can shift our attention and find new opportunities for moviegoers to come together,” he says. “So yeah, I would say the Vineland hasn’t previously been part of the broader organization’s sort of top strategic focus. And now it’s been a really lovely way to pivot.”
Carload tickets for the Thursday “Rental” event are being sold through Eventbrite.