Blue Starlite at the Studio
Austin's own mini-drive-in heads to Austin Studios for the summer
By Richard Whittaker, 12:36PM, Mon. May. 14, 2012
Austin Studios is always on the lookout for more tenants, and now they have an old friend moving in: East Austin nouveau institution the Blue Starlite Urban Drive-In is revving its engine for a summer season of drive-in fun at the studio.
The partnership was announced this morning (although Blue Starlite entrepreneur Josh Frank let the cat out of the bag with a teaser image on his Facebook page last night.) The studio provides the space on its site at 1901 East 51st: The Blue Starlite will re create the drive-in movie experience, complete with vintage window speakers; And Austin Film Society will handle the programming. According to this morning's announcement, the AFS will curate a Summer series mixing indie films by Austin icons and up-and-comers, plus a bunch of drive-in classics. For Frank, this is "a really special experiment."
It's also a huge relief. The drive-in has to move out of its current home on East Sixth on May 27, but Frank had nothing but praise for his landlords for letting him use the property while it was on the market. The end of the lease was well timed, as he was actually considering a hiatus. He said, "It's been wonderful renting the drive-in for two years straight, but when the weather is bad it can be a real bummer."
However, he was always planning to bring the screen back. He had spent the last year spending his nights running the drive-in and his days fretting about how and where to keep it open. He explained, "I just drove by the studios on one of my days of driving around East Austin and saw they had a lot of space." Through mutual friends over at the Slackerwood blog, Frank connected with AFS programming and operations manager Ryan Long, and they started looking around the back lot. Admittedly, that's not ideal since productions will be using that space, but "we walked out of the gated area to the front, and there's this giant parking lot in front that was empty." The space was perfect for Frank, and it really helped the studio, which is looking for ways to increase visitors without disturbing productions.
AFS and Austin Studios already have plans to expand their own permanent screening capacity when they take over the National Guard Armory in October (see more about that in the current issue and details on how they will pay for it here.) By contrast Frank compared his mobile movie mecca as more like an Apple pop-up store, and is already thinking about some innovative concepts. For example, what if a film maker is shooting on the back lot: How cool would it be for them to screen one of their earlier movies at the drive-in? Or what about a high-profile Austin debut for a new film maker? Frank said, "Maybe we can find space for the next Richard Linklater."
The projection booth is ready to roll (literally, since it's built into a trailer) and now Frank and his staff are working on the best solution to building the best screen possible. However, it's the potential for new collaborations that has Frank most excited. While his drive-in has built up a loyal audience, he said that AFS will bring "a whole new audience who are interested in seeing independent films." This first round of films (and, yes, if this works there will be more) is intended to mix Austin-centric classics with new films with an Austin connection, as well as the tried and true drive-in selection. Frank said, "It's going to be a very Austin summer."