Want to Go to a Drive-In During the Pandemic? Pack Jumper Cables

Newbie patrons leaving cars on during the movies has led to a rash of dead batteries at drive-ins.
Adobe Stock; Warner Bros./Photofest

Newbie patrons leaving cars on during the movies has led to a rash of dead batteries at drive-ins.

"People have no idea how to operate their fancy new cars," says one film industry veteran who spent the summer promoting his company's new film at outdoor venues.

Forget fancy food menus. The must-have amenity for drive-ins? Jumper cables.

In decades past, drive-in customers listened to audio on a clunky externally powered speaker box that was affixed to a car window. Now, sound is transmitted via an FM channel, which means cars must leave their radios on.

Picturehouse chief Bob Berney — whose new company arranged a dozen pop-up and drive-in promotional screenings this summer for Fatima — quickly learned that dead batteries are a common problem.

It's a phenomenon that's been happening for years, although it wasn't until the novel coronavirus pandemic that drive-ins became headline news.

While a radio can operate while the car is off, it can still drain a battery. Customers may also not realize various lights are still on, which both taxes the battery and annoys others.

“People have no idea how to operate their fancy new cars. They’ve never had to actually turn their lights off,” says Berney, who says he routinely saw staffers helping patrons figure out how to power down. If that didn't work, staff simply put garbage bags over headlights. (Some drive-ins even offer custom headlight drapes.)

Many drive-ins also instruct customers to turn on their cars every 30 minutes to help charge the engine. And one intrepid journalist who covers a growing number of drive-in premieres tells THR she immediately went out and bought a transistor radio after seeing a car in front of her lose its juice.

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.