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September 18, 2018

Midway Drive-in celebrates nostalgia, embraces the digital age


John Nagelschmidt wanted to do something different to mark 80 years of drive-in theaters in America.

John Nagelschmidt has worked at Midway for 52 years, starting as a cashier and now as owner. "I haven't stood back here in a while," he joked.

John Nagelschmidt has worked at Midway for 52 years, starting as a cashier and now as owner. “I haven’t stood back here in a while,” he joked.

This Friday night, Midway Drive-In in Minetto will show Going Attractions a documentary film directed by April Wright as part of a triple feature.

The documentary will screen between family-friendly Epic and comedy classic Young Frankenstein.

Wright will also be in attendance on Friday.

Wright frequented drive-in theaters growing up and made the film to answer the question: what happened to them?

According to Wright, “Overall the film is a biography – the life story of the drive-in, which isn’t over yet.”

The new digital projector provides a brighter, crisper, picture and also allows Midway to begin their screenings a little earlier.

The new digital projector provides a brighter, crisper, picture and also allows Midway to begin their screenings a little earlier.

There are currently 366 drive-in movie theaters in the US, which is a much lower number than 80 years ago.

Wright’s film explores the rise and fall of drive-ins, and also options for the industry making a comeback using new technology.

Midway is the perfect example of this, as they just converted to digital projection this year.

“There was little choice,” said Nagelschmidt. “35mm film is going to go away.”

With the switch to digital there are more options for Midway when it comes time to choose which movies to screen.

“With digital projection the picture looks amazing because it takes care of any issues of residual light or lamp brightness,” said Wright. “So the quality of the experience is better than ever.”

“We’ve had comments the picture looks a lot brighter and crisper,” said Nagelschmidt.

The concessions stand keeps Midway alive and also takes patrons back in time. "We have pretty good food at a reasonable price," said John Nagelschmidt.

The concessions stand keeps Midway alive and also takes patrons back in time. “We have pretty good food at a reasonable price,” said John Nagelschmidt.

Even though the switch to digital has gotten positive reviews so far, there was apprehension.

Midway is known for its nostalgic feel, from the retro concessions stand to that dancing hotdog singing the intermission jingle “Let’s all go to the lobby.”

“A lot of people say that’s the highlight of the drive-in, and they were afraid that is was going to go away,” said Nagelschmidt.

There’s no need to fear though, the dancing hotdog has been converted to digital and still screens at Midway.

When the film was converted they “intentionally didn’t correct them, so they still have the scratches,” Nagelschmidy explained. “They still look pretty much original.”

The dancing hotdog is just one aspect of the drive-in experience.

Even though the first film of the night doesn’t begin until dusk, Nagelschmidt said there are cars that arrive as early as 5 o’clock looking for that perfect parking spot.

“We have a dozen people with specific spots, and if they don’t get it they’re not happy,” he noted.

“And ‘experience’ is the right word,” said Wright. “Because going to a drive-in isn’t about seeing a movie, it’s about having a fun experience with your family or friends, something that you can’t create at home.  And the types of movies Hollywood is making right now…are exactly the types of films that play very well at a drive-in.”

Midway’s main audience is families and Nagelschmidt always tries to choose films aimed at this group.

“In the summer I try to go for the more family friendly films,” Nagelschmidt said. “In fall and spring we run more adult stuff.”

John Nagelschmidt has had his picture taken in front of Midway's marquee more than 100 times!

John Nagelschmidt has had his picture taken in front of Midway’s marquee more than 100 times!

Midway has its best weekends when they screen films with a G rating, PG rating and finally PG-13 or R. Nagelschmidt also likes to do theme shows where the weekend will focus on horror films or comedies.

“The favorite here is horror,” he said.

Midway will show its weekend features no matter if it’s raining or a clear night, and have even screened films in the snow before. Spring, summer, and fall the drive-in is the place to be for many people.

“We probably have a core group of between 100-200 people,” said Nagelschmidt, “who’ve been coming for years and are responsible for keeping the theater alive.”

In the midst of celebrating 80 years of the drive-in tradition, Midway will also be celebrating its 65th anniversary on July 18th. Keeping up with current trends in technology, blended with the nostalgia of the drive-in movie experience Nagelschmidt hopes for many more years of Midway success.

The drive-in is located on Route 48 – midway between Fulton and Oswego.

For more information and offers, visit http://www.midwaydrivein.com/

One Response “Midway Drive-in celebrates nostalgia, embraces the digital age”

  1. June 5, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Thanks for the story. I’m looking forward to seeing Going Attractions. I am curious about one sentence, though.

    “There are currently 366 drive-in movie theaters in the US, which is a much lower number than 80 years ago.”

    When the “Automobile Movie Theatre” opened 80 years ago, it was the first and only drive-in theater, which is why we’re celebrating its anniversary. Today’s drive-in population is much larger than one, though it is much smaller than in 1955 (for example), when there were 4,340 drive-ins operating the US, according to the 1956 Theatre Catalog.

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