Milford Drive-In goes digital
Barry Scharmett, whose family has owned the Milford Drive-In since 1969, said the theater had no choice but to go digital this year and the old-fashioned projectors have been replaced by massive modern projectors. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER)
“Everybody has a choice,” said Barry Scharmett, who runs the theater along with his brother, Steven Scharmett. “Switch to digital this year, or next year. That's it, because all of the companies we deal with are not going to be making film anymore.”
The Milford Drive-In was built 54 years ago by Bob Goodrich. Folks flocked to see their favorite movies on the big, big screen in the middle of a cornfield in the west end of town.
After Goodrich died in 1969, the Milford Drive-in was bought by Bob Scharmett and his wife Fay, whose family owned the Pioneer Drive-in in Athol, Mass., and the Mowhawk in Gardner, Mass.
“My wife loved the drive-in,” said Scharmett, who refused to give up the business after she died 13 years ago because she loved it so much. “I can't make a living on this place, but I would never sell it.”
The day-to-day operations of the theater are handled by his sons, Barry and Steven. They have made a lot of changes this year, including biting the bullet and going digital.
In a room above the concession stand, where large reels of film once fed through projectors that flashed the images on two giant screens, things have gone high-tech. Two monstrous digital projectors that rely on hard drives for delivering the movies have replaced the old film projectors.
“They've all gone to the recyclers,” said Barry Scharmett.
The large, black projectors which are cooled with air filtered into the main boxes from outside, are made by Texas Instruments. Each week, Scharmett gets a hard drive loaded with the movie, delivered through UPS or FedEx. Using a laptop, he feeds the activation key into the machine so that it can read the hard drive and show the film.
The technology has eliminated a lot of work in the projection room — there's no more winding reels or splicing broken film. In all, Barry said there's about two hours less work involved with showing each movie.
The new projectors are expensive, said Barry, costing “thousands of dollars,” though he would not say exactly how much.
He said Milford missed out on two movies last year because they simply weren't printed on film anymore. So instead of falling behind the times, the Scharmetts decided to keep up with them. Barry headed out to California to take classes on using the new digital system, which was installed in April.
Digital, with its sharper images and crisper sound, is only one of the improvements at the drive-in, said Bob Scharmett.
The concession stand has been expanded to offer ice cream in addition to traditional snacks such as hot dogs and popcorn. A new race track featuring remote control cars has been installed where kids and their parents can do a few laps before the shows begin.
And Grammy-nominated children's entertainer Judy Pancoast of Goffstown gets kids dancing and singing with her live shows at the drive-in before the sun sets.
“I love the drive-in,” said Pancoast. “My first job when I was a kid was as the ticket booth manager at the Winslow Drive-In in Maine,” she said. “The Milford Drive-In is my favorite place in New Hampshire.”
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