MOUNTAIN VIEW — On a slightly sloping piece of land just a few miles from the Mountain View town square, Bobby Thompson continues to project movies for visitors who get to stay in the comfort of their vehicles.
Thompson has run the Stone Drive-In Theatre since 1975, and he said he is committed to keeping prices low and movies rolling.
Last year, the Stone Drive-In was in a contest to win a new digital projector to replace the old 35 mm system Thompson uses. Although he did not win the new projector, Thompson said, his commitment to the theater has not wavered.
A digital projector would give the theater the ability to show newer movies even as movie distributors are phasing out the 35 mm format. The problem is, a digital projector would set Thompson back $62,000 — money he does not have nor would be able to make up in any short amount of time.
“If I was going to get rich, I’d do something else,” he said when asked if raising prices were an option. “It makes my living.”
When a movie is not running, the theater looks like an unused billboard, a small building supplied with popcorn and snacks, and 150 posts with plugs for speakers. Once it gets dark, the screen is filled with movies — both new and old — and cars can sit next to the posts with speakers in order to hear the movies.
Thompson said his father looked for a specific type of property for this theater before he opened it in 1965. The slight slope helps with the picture quality, and Thompson said he gets compliments about the picture all the time.
“I’ve had comments for years from people from all over the country who tell me how clear the picture is,” he said. “People come in, and they kind of don’t think much of it until the movie starts. Then they apologize to me because they liked it so much.”
The key is getting the projector close to the center of the screen so that the picture both fills the screen and does not get distorted.
“And mine is really close,” Thompson said.
Like any theater, business depends on getting movies that appeal to a lot of people. Thompson said animated shows are popular, and he tries to milk a new movie for all he can get.
“I’m going to run the new movies every night,” he said.
Although the Stone Drive-In opens in the spring, business usually picks up in the summer, Thompson said. Last summer, he ran a popular new movie for two weeks and made $10,000 from the movie and the concession stand.
“I usually take in around $3,000 for a two-week run,” he said. “It just depends on how popular the movie is.”
Thompson said that the drive-in movie experience is a new one for some moviegoers. Factoring in an inexpensive movie ticket and snacks makes the experience even better.
“It’s open, and you’re in your own car with your own family. It’s a lot more private,” Thompson said. “Plus, if someone makes noise during the movie, you can reach them.”
Still, Thompson may need to close the drive-in at some point if the money isn’t there. He said his daughter will take over the business someday, at which point a new digital projector may be more feasible.
The Stone Drive-In Theater is at 808 Theatre Lane in Mountain View. Admission is $5 for visitors 12 and older. Current movie showings can be found at www.stonedrivein.net or on the Stone Drive-in Theatre Facebook page.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.