McHenry Outdoor named a recipient of new digital projection equipment
By Dan Moran email@example.com September 17, 2013 11:14AM
Sunset arrives and brings showtime that much closer at the McHenry Outdoor Theatre on Aug. 23, when a superhero-themed double-bill featured "Man of Steel" and "The Dark Knight." | Dan Moran~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 19, 2013 6:54PM
Among the tales from the trenches at the McHenry Outdoor Theatre is the one about the night “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” caught fire.
“The movie just stopped,” employee Amanda Arient recalled, standing in the projection house before a recent screening of “Man of Steel.” “I ran in here and it was smoking — if the film stays in front of the projection lamp too long, it will literally burn a hole in it.
“This film was from the ’70s, it was super old and it must have crinkled up because it was so old. It had been spliced so many times that the kept catching (in the projector),” she added. “It happened twice. It was a rough night.”
But on Saturday, Sept. 14, fans of the McHenry Outdoor found out that fiascoes with 35mm film will become a thing of the past — the theater was named one of five winners of Honda’s Project Drive-In, a nationwide contest offering digital-projection equipment.
The winners in online voting were announced one day at a time starting last week, and McHenry Outdoor owner Scott Dehn said the suspense ended in surprise fashion on Saturday morning. He got a call from a purported web-based publication looking to do a feature on the McHenry, and Dehn agreed to meet a video team on site.
“They came in and interviewed me, and then they go, ‘One last question — how does it feel to win a digital projector?’” Dehn said on Monday, Sept. 16. “I thought they didn’t understand me right, so I said, ‘No, we’re in the running for one.’
“They said, ‘No, we’re from Honda, and you’ve won,’ and they started laughing,” Dehn added. “When the reality set in, I just fell to my knees.”
Backers of the McHenry Outdoor have known for at least the past two summers that they would need digital projection to stay in operation, with Hollywood moving slowly but surely away from film. Efforts to secure the estimated $80,000 through web-based fundraisers Kickstarter and Indiegogo fell short, and Project Drive-In became the focus as summer 2013 wound down.
Internet balloting for the contest ended on Sept. 9, and the first winner announced on Sept. 11 was the Saco Drive-In in suburban Portland, Maine. The next two days saw the Cherry Bowl Drive-In in Honor, Michigan, and the Graham Drive-In in north Texas enter the winner’s circle.
After Dehn was given the news on Saturday, he posted an all-caps bulletin on the McHenry Outdoor’s Facebook page:
“Well, everyone, there really is no good way to put this,” he wrote. “YOU DID IT!!! WE WON A NEW DIGITAL PROJECTOR AND THE THEATER IS SAVED!!!”
This week, Honda announced that four more sets of digital equipment will be awarded at 4 p.m. Central Time on Sept. 23, and voting is open through Sept. 21. Dehn encouraged McHenry fans to vote for regional drive-ins that are still in the running, including the Keno in Kenosha and the Midway Drive-In west of Dixon.
The plan in McHenry is to install the equipment as soon as necessary utility upgrades can be made to the projection house, which currently boasts film projectors that date to the 1960s and early 1950s. Dehn said enough money was raised from donors through previous campaigns to cover those expenses, along with repainting the screen and repairing the theater’s worn-out sign on Route 120 at Chapel Hill Road.
According to Dehn, all improvements should be in place for a 2014 season-opener that will likely feature “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” on the first weekend in May. For the 2013 season, the McHenry is scheduled to be open for two more weekends, including a Sept. 27-28 double-feature of “The Big Lebowski” and, yes, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“We saved the messiest one for last,” said Dehn.