In October of 2001 I was working on a project in rural Pennsylvania when I encountered a drive-in theater that was closed, but in good condition. I’d photographed an abandoned drive-in several years before and the picture proved one of the most popular in my portfolio of twenty 8×10 platinum/ palladium prints. While I made 8×10 pictures of the new theater a plan began to form. Every one of these iconic American structures is unique. Although there are no cookie-cutter stock designs, the main elements of a giant white rectangle and other simple buildings have appeared in every corner of the country, in every element of the North American regional landscape. The project idea was to photograph surviving, or at least standing, theaters in every region of the country, in a full range of landscape settings.
Over the next decade I made road trips to work at drive-in theaters in 27 states. But a really big trip was needed to reach the far southeast, the west through Oklahoma, Texas, the southwest, the entire west coast, then back through the Colorado Rockies. I kept putting this off because of the expense. Last year, I learned that the theaters were under a grave threat. Film distribution companies planned to switch entirely to digital by sometime in 2013, but the cost of digital projectors is $70,000 to $100,000. Drive-ins are often seasonal, part time secondary businesses. Many might not be able to make the transition. I had to finish shooting the project right away.
To help with expenses, I decided to do a Kickstarter (KS) crowdsourcing campaign, which proved successful (www.kickstarter.com/projects/1530433688/the-american-drive-in-movie-theater). With this limited experience I have two pieces of advice about using Kickstarter. First, you need a compelling project. Your video and text description should be all about the project and why it is important. Pitches that are “all about me” tend to fail. Second, KS just provides a platform, it doesn’t bring in eyeballs. You’ve got to find ways to do that yourself. For me, I write for the prominent photo enthusiast blog The Online Photographer (TOP), and they featured my project as soon as it was announced. We met the bare bones funding goal in twenty hours flat.