Drive-in Movies Stage a Comeback

Malibu Film Society used an outdoor movie screen at the Adamson House to kick off the 2016-17 MFS season. Now, the society is working to make a pop-up, drive-in movie theater in Malibu.

If you’re a certain age, you know the fun of drive-in movies. Snuggling under a blanket with family, friends or a date. The drive-in peaked in the 1950s but by the 1990s became a dinosaur of the entertainment business—many converted into swap meets. But now, while physical distancing is a must during our current pandemic, the drive-in movie is making a comeback.

While a few still remain in Southern California, new drive-in theaters geared to Millennials were already popping up in recent years in downtown Los Angeles—most atop rooftop garages. Even the Sagebrush Cantina restaurant got in on drive-in movie nights recently, showing family favorites while making use of its enormous Calabasas parking lot. With an 18-car limit, reserved spots are typically sold out nightly.

The Malibu Film Society (MFS), which has been on hiatus since the coronavirus pandemic, has not allowed public gatherings and is working on getting into the drive-in movie trend, too—perfect for adhering to physical distancing while allowing for good old-fashioned entertainment.

“We’ve been talking with the city for the past several weeks following a proposal we received from the Malibu Foundation, which is looking to underwrite an outdoor movie drive-in night,” MFS Executive Director Scott Tallal detailed. “The film society board had already been discussing that. We’re hoping to do a couple of these between now and the end of the year.” 

But it’s difficult to get a drive-in up and running as there are many hoops to jump through. Tallal is currently working with LA County officials on approval for a pop-up drive-in to bring some entertainment to Malibu.

MFS is eyeing the Chili Cook-off site in the Civic Center as a possible location. 

“It’s a very large, flat area. The weeds would have to be trimmed, but once prepared, could be a site to rent from the City of Malibu,” Tallal said. Any drive-in event could not happen, however, until later in the summer in August. “You have to remember, just like fireworks, they don’t look great while the sun is still out. You might be able to see them, but you really have to wait until it gets dark. That pretty much wipes out most of the summer because if it were just being done for adults it wouldn’t be a problem. We have no problems starting a movie at 8:30 or 9 o’clock, but if it’s going to be done for families, which is what we’re talking about, then we really need to be looking at maybe a 7:30 start instead. For that, we have to wait until the last half of August because it’s not dark enough before then.”

After Malibu’s only movie theater burned in 2005, Tallal was instrumental in organizing outdoor movies at Bluffs Park using a medium-sized screen. Any new drive-in attempt would use a larger screen “because you have to be able to see over the car in front of you.” The screen proposed is 52 feet wide and suitable for 200 cars. High quality audio would be directly transmitted into car radios through short wave transmitters that do not require outdoor amplification. 

“People who live up in the Knolls wouldn’t be bothered by it,” Tallal said. “The caveat is that we don’t have the permits to do it yet.”