Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

Ruskin drive-in theater goes digital to survive

RUSKIN

Shrouded in a black garbage bag, the 67-year-old film projector sits in a corner of the small booth.

Last weekend, it played its final film at the Ruskin Family Drive-In.

A new machine, humming with life, is in line to take over. The digital projector has all the bells and whistles the film version lacked, and a hefty price tag to go with it.

Owners Ted and Karen Freiwald estimate the transition to digital will cost about $150,000. After raising a small percentage of that on their own, they are now borrowing from a private lender.

It's a risk for the one-screen theater built in 1952, but a necessary one. By 2013, production companies plan to stop distributing movies on film. Digital will soon be a theater's only choice.

"We had to do it," Karen Freiwald said. "You've got to do what you've got to do."

It's a decision many small theater and drive-in owners struggle with these days. Some are raising money, others are taking on debt and some may be forced to shut down.

By borrowing, the Freiwalds hope they have secured the drive-in's future for years to come. The Ruskin drive-in is one of only seven in the entire state, according to drive-ins.com, a website that monitors the outdoor movie business.

After a weeklong installation, the Freiwalds will reopen their drive-in today to present their first digital movie.

The audience will notice a difference right away, Karen Freiwald said.

"The colors are vibrant, the images are crisp and the sound is clear," she said. "It's like when you switch to the HD channel at home and you go 'Wow.' "

The family-friendly theater runs a new double feature every two weeks. Karen Freiwald is looking forward to seeing animated movies with the new technology.

The new projector features a touchscreen interface. No more splicing or feeding film across the lens. Just insert an external hard drive loaded with a movie, enter a password provided by the production company and it's showtime.

The system is so easy to use, the Freiwalds are hoping to institute date night and leave their employees in charge every once in a while.

"We might venture out to Applebee's," Karen Freiwald said. "But not to the movies."

Though the new technology has brought excitement to the small theater, the change is bittersweet.

Ted Freiwald, 78, bought the drive-in in 1977 and has worked in the movie industry since he was 15.

Most of his nights have been spent in a projection booth. Now, it feels like a foreign land.

"He's adjusting," said Karen Freiwald, 54.

Freiwald asked his wife to speak on his behalf, telling her the digital world is all hers.

"Just give him a few weeks," she said.

Staying open will require community effort.

The drive-in plans to continue fundraising efforts with T-shirt sales and more, she said.

"This is an accomplishment for not only us but for everyone who comes to this theater," she said.

And the community is glad to have them stay, said Melanie Morrison, the director of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. "If you drive by there on any given night it's packed. The community really comes out and supports them. It's a big part of the area's history and current time."

On Friday, the Freiwalds expect a lot of curious customers will want to take a peek inside the projection booth. They'll be allowed in.

Gone, though, will be the nightly tradition of allowing an audience member, often a child, to start the film.

They can look, but they can't touch, Karen Freiwald said.

All the while, the old projector will sit silently against the wall, collecting dust as the rest of the world moves on.

"It will probably stay there forever," Karen Freiwald said. "He won't ever let it out of the building."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.

Comments
Rays journal: Rays shut out by Orioles in opener

Rays journal: Rays shut out by Orioles in opener

By Joey JohnstonTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — Rays LHP Ryan Yarbrough deserved better Friday. But the offense didn't offer much, allowing the Orioles to escape with a 2-0 victory before an announced crowd of 11,354 at Tropicana Field."It ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

ST. PETERSBURG – In January, sure.In July, absolutely.But, now?And, once again, for someone who they hope helps in the future.The Rays made a shocking trade at a surprising time of year Friday, dealing All-Star closer Alex Colome and Tampa...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Steve Yzerman’s summer plans: Make the Lightning better

Steve Yzerman’s summer plans: Make the Lightning better

TAMPA — Captain Steven Stamkos said the Lightning's window for contending for a Stanley Cup championship is not closing."I think it's wide open," he said Thursday, one day after the Lightning lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to the C...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still can’t stop bad judgment

Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still can’t stop bad judgment

It’s human nature in following any tragedy to imagine: How could this have been prevented? On that score, the city of Tampa responded appropriately to the deaths this week of a mother and her toddler whom police say were hit by a teenage driver racin...
Updated: 5 hours ago
In federal trial, jury finds Hernando deputies’ actions justified

In federal trial, jury finds Hernando deputies’ actions justified

TAMPA — Michael Bratt told a story.He said that Hernando County sheriff’s deputies attacked him in his home early one morning eight years ago, beat him severely on his front lawn, and continued the assault as they took him to a hospital.But another s...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

The 18-year-old who was arrested this week after police said he was racing when he fatally struck a young mother pushing her stroller across Bayshore Boulevard was back in jail on Friday night.Cameron Herrin, 18, was arrested on a second count of veh...
Updated: 5 hours ago
The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Stanley Cup final begins Monday in the unlikeliest of places: a city new to major pro sports and suddenly the center of the hockey world, Las Vegas, whose Golden Knights could become the first first-year expansion team to win a championship.And t...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Before we even get going, let me be clear about something.This is not a column making an argument about whether or not NFL players should be able to kneel in protest during the national anthem.That topic has been debated repeatedly, loudly and passio...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

The Rays made a major trade Friday afternoon, sending All-Star closer Alex Colome and OF Denard Span to the Mariners.The return is two minor-leaguers, RHP Andrew Moore and RHP Tommy Romero. The Rays also sent cash to the Mariners.Span, a Tampa produc...
Updated: 7 hours ago
For starters: Sergio Romo on mound tonight as Rays open series against Orioles

For starters: Sergio Romo on mound tonight as Rays open series against Orioles

By JOEY JOHNSTONTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — For openers, the Rays will use RHP Sergio Romo, the 35-year-old career reliever, as tonight's starter against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field.Romo is making his third career "sta...
Updated: 8 hours ago