The Stardust Drive-In Theatre in Watertown is expected to see some of its busiest nights of the year this Memorial Day weekend.
Families are likely to come from all around middle Tennessee to partake in the vintage experience of the drive-in theater, but there is one aspect of the Stardust that is undeniably modern.
Barry Floyd, owner of the Stardust, recently bought two digital projection systems for his two 60-foot screens. The digital projectors were bought to replace much more cumbersome 35mm film projectors, but the change came at a hefty price. For both projector systems, the cost came to around $143,000.
Floyd said the new systems, while expensive, are much easier to use without the need for physical film rolls. In the days of using film projectors, Floyd had to cut and splice together all of the film for advertisements and movies that would be playing on any given night, a process that took Floyd six-to-eight hours on average.
Floyd said that time has now been cut down to about 20 minutes with the new digital projectors.
“With these new digital systems, reordering clips is as easy as dragging them into a different order on the screen,” Floyd said.
Floyd is quick to show off his new digital projection systems, and for good reason. The Stardust is one of only two drive-in theatres in Tennessee to have upgraded to the newer technology, the other in Midway.
“The projection is much cleaner, no more tears or dust appearing on the screen.” Floyd said.
With less work required with the projection systems, Floyd now has time to focus on other improvements he would like to make, such as increasing the size of the kitchen, which brings the main source of income for Stardust, as well as adding more storage space at the theatre. Both of which had to be delayed due to the more urgent purchase of the digital projection systems.
Floyd is a member of the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, which tries to bring together the owners of the only around 300 drive-in theaters left in the U.S. The owners meet for a convention once a year to share tips to help each other support their drive-ins and keep them running.
Floyd said it was at one of those conventions he got the advice of selling basket meals, something he hadn’t done before.
“Now those basket meals are most of the food that I sell,” Floyd said.
Those basket meals are now a key factor in keeping the Stardust Drive-in Theatre operating.
“The theatre pays for itself, if I didn’t, I couldn’t do this,” Floyd said. “I didn’t inherit this from my grandfather or by an old drive-in. I sold my house and moved to Lebanon to build a drive-in theatre.”
The Stardust will begin playing movies every night of the week during the summer season, which begins Thursday.