Drive-in cinemas – the ‘50s makes a comeback in response to Covid-19

For a whole generation, the act of going to the movies wasn’t just limited to theatres – the drive-through cinema was a huge cultural marker throughout the 1950s and ‘60s. Film lovers would drive to an open-air theatre and park up in front of a huge screen, while waitresses (often on roller skates to get around the field or ‘lot’ more quickly) brought snacks, drinks, and burgers to their car. It’s an iconic image of the post-war generation, but could it now be a big part of ‘the New Normal’ for the Post-Covid generation too?

Drive-through cinemas – a practical response to a unique problem

The reason that drive-through cinemas have suddenly become a hot topic is because of Covid-19. That dastardly invisible virus has managed to curtail the vast majority of leisure activities for weeks on end, leaving a furloughed population and kids on extended school breaks with nothing to do.

As the peak passed, it was inevitable that we would start to see a gradual easing of restrictions. While essential services were the first to be fired back up (and rightfully so), the leisure industry has had to wait a little while longer to get going again. As of June 15th, the government allowed both non-essential shops and some attractions to start opening up once more, but with strict social distancing measures still in place. For indoor cinemas, this would mean almost empty theatres and revenue that simply didn’t match the cost of reopening.

The British, though, are a resourceful bunch, so rather than keep things indoors, why not utilise the summer weather and open up outdoor drive-through theatres? It’s been tried, it’s a hit with movie lovers, and the word has spread – the drive through is back!

What’s the idea?

The drive-through, or drive-in cinema is a very simple idea that was developed in rural America in the 1950s. A field, a big white sheet and a film projector was all that was needed to get things started, and for generations who grew up after the war, it was a cheap alternative to the cinema or movie theatre. For rural communities miles from the nearest town, it was also a chance to get together and enjoy a Saturday night’s entertainment on the cheap.

The drive-through became the ‘Drive-Thru’ and became more sophisticated as time went on, with custom-built locations and better facilities. It dropped out of fashion in the 1970s and ‘80s, but the Covid-19 crisis has revived the drive-in cinema’s fortunes almost overnight. And for the first time, it’s become a big attraction in the UK, too.

Why is the drive-through a good idea?

Social distancing is one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation, and the impact it will have on our leisure time means that we need to find new ways of doing things, possibly for years to come. A drive-through cinema set-up means that filmgoers don’t even have to get out of their own cars to watch the movie, and contact is therefore minimised, while social distancing can be maintained at all times.

As it’s been shown time and again that Covid-19 can spread like wildfire through close contact, anything that allows people to socialise but still say safe has to be a good thing. And until scientists come up with an effective vaccine, it may be the only way that we can carry on with any kind of ‘normal’ leisure activities.

The Drive-through phenomenon

The Drive-through cinema phenomenon in the UK is the ultimate ‘pop-up’ business concept. Currently, it’s doing the rounds in major towns and cities, thanks to organisers like @TheDriveIn, who have been responsible for the re-emergence of the drive through in cities such as Birmingham and Manchester. Elsewhere, Drive In Theatres launches their site on July 4th in Enfield, while Luna Cinema will be entertaining the movie fans of the Midlands in such grandiose settings as Warwick Castle, Knebworth House and Blenheim Palace. In London, the Free Range Film Club is hosting outdoor screenings that are open to those who don’t have a car, although space at all of these events will be limited to make sure social distancing measures are adhered to.

As the word spreads, expect more of these pop-up Drive Through cinemas to appear across the country all summer. However, if you are planning to put on a show for your local community, you do need to consider some serious issues.

Not only do you need to think about social distancing and public health and safety concerns, but you’ll need to talk to your local council about an entertainment or events licence, as well as ensuring you’re not breaching any copyright laws by showing a film to the paying public without securing permission first.

You’ll also need to consider noise and light pollution restrictions, access, and fire safety issues. Facilities such as toilets are also problematic at the moment, as it’s almost impossible to provide these for visitors, This in itself could constitute a breach of health and safety legislation, so again, you’ll need to talk to your local Health and Safety officer to make sure you stay on the right side of the law.

Insurance for drive through cinemas

Both the landowner and the organisers will also need to consider insurance issues very seriously. If anyone is injured during a visit to an event, you could find yourself at the receiving end of a very expensive compensation claim. That means the very least you’ll need is public liability insurance. Property damage and equipment hire insurance may also be required, and if you employ anyone, even on a temporary or part-time basis, you will need Employer’s Liability insurance (which is mandatory if you employ anyone, including some family members).

The landowner may also insist on full Public Liability insurance before they agree to host a pop-up cinema event.

If you’re thinking of holding a drive-through cinema experience, whether you want to build it up as a business or just want to put on an event for your local community, talk to the experts at Park Insurance first. They’ll be able to go through all the insurance requirements for one-off events as well as business insurance for pop-up drive-through cinema businesses. Call us today on 0117 955 6835 or use our online Get Quote function for a fast, no-obligation quote today.