Luna Drive-In Cinema: A Q&A with Founder George Wood



As Drive-In events surge in popularity we catch up with George Wood, founder of The Luna Cinema. Tickets for the Luna Drive-In Cinema went on sale in May and to date sales have been strong.

Tell us about how Luna Drive-In came about. Was it as a result of recent obstacles in the events industry, or was this something that was already in the pipeline in addition to the main season of Luna Cinema, and the Luna Beach and Luna Kids editions?

In all honesty, if the current situation hadn’t occurred, I wouldn’t have even thought about drive-in cinema. It wasn’t something we were actively planning for Luna, but is very much a reaction to the COVID situation and the fact that we have to adapt and be agile in order to bring back any form of big screen presentation.

We’d actually spent 2019 planning our biggest ever Luna outdoor cinema season to include Luna Kids, and Luna Beach, on Brighton Beach, where we had planned to screen the Euros. The football getting cancelled was a turning point as that meant no Luna Beach at all for 2020, so we turned our attentions to how we could adapt our model.  At that point I started to look at how the drive-in format was working in Germany and Denmark which have both been a few weeks ahead of the UK during this situation.

Luna traditionally specialises in outdoor, communal cinema experiences and for years we hadn’t thought of drive in as a model we wanted to explore for the very reason that people feel quite separated from their fellow audience members and therefore it’s less communal and sociable.  Of course now in 2020 it’s for that very reason that it’s the perfect form of cinema to be offering as people will feel completely safe, cocooned in their cars.  So funnily enough I have done a complete U turn on the merits of drive in and am now a big fan!

In many ways I see drive in now as having a vital role as being the gateway back to not only cinema but to all forms of out of home experiences and entertainment. The data suggests that people are more confident to attend drive in than anything else, so we have a real responsibility to do drive-in cinema well and safely, so they can get back to out of home activities and as a consequence regain their confidence in going to theatres, cinemas, and other entertainment forms. If we can help people to get back out there in a safe way, and have a great night out by watching films, that supports theatre and cinemas when they reopen.

Drive-In Cinema has a certain nostalgic feel to it - people tend to think of 50s and 60s America. Is it possible to recreate that in the UK in 2020?

Drive-in is so right for the needs of 2020 with its social distancing credentials, but I love the fact it carries that nostalgia of the old 50’s Americana.  People’s first thought is often John Travolta at the Drive In in Grease. The vast majority of our audience will never have been to drive-in cinema before, so there’s a level of intrigue and novelty there.

As the Luna Cinema for the last 12 years we’ve traded on nostalgia by showing films like Dirty Dancing, Top Gun and Back To The Future, among others  – films that people have a warm connection to. Nostalgia is nothing new to us – we’re always keen to embrace it.   The key with drive in is fusing it with 21st century technology and so presenting the films on state of the art screens with incredible sound.

Aside from the film screening, what can we expect from The Luna Drive-In Cinema experience?

It’ll be Americana and 21st century technology merging.  We had the screens we needed already so our focus has been on perfecting the sound.  Rather than look at the old fashioned FM frequency option where you tune your car radio in, we have developed what we believe to be a much better solution with individual speakers that you collect at the entrance and put on your dashboard.  They are disinfected between each screening, and mean no need to worry about fiddling with your radio, or worse draining the car battery.  Most importantly the sound you get will be infinitely better than through the radio.

The way the experience will begin is that we have number plate recognition so that when our audiences drive in, they won’t have to leave their cars to check-in with us or have tickets scanned, as we’ll be able to see from the number plate what ticket type they have, whether they have pre-ordered food etc.

I want it to be more than a screening – everything from the background music on arrival to how customers are communicated with and informed about safety measures – it has to be a fun, safe, experience for people.

Do you think there are other types of events which would naturally lend themselves to a drive-in format?

In the current time I think we should be open to seeing how drive-in can work in other event formats, the popularity of our events has made me think ‘why not?’

We are going to launch with films and then introduce a diverse programme of drive-in events including live music, comedy, theatre and even art exhibitions!  The potential is endless.

There are people who want to get out there and drive-in is an adaptable form we need to explore.

What do you feel will be the biggest challenge in putting on these screenings?

The Luna team spend every day going over the finer details of the events. With everyone being inside cars we have a head start on social distancing, but there are other safety measures we need to look at e.g. people going for toilet breaks safely. This involves looking at the configuration of the site, creating socially distanced walkways, providing access to sanitise stations etc.

That side of things we can sort but I think the biggest challenge is that people can book hot food and drinks from their phone at the screening. The food gets delivered to them and placed on the bonnet, it’ll be American food like pizza and hot dogs.

Our staff need to move around the sites to deliver food but the spaces are vast – we’re at places like Knebworth House. So, they might need to be on roller skates or an electric scooter to get around safely and quickly and deliver food that is hot – but we are good at adapting so we’re confident we can make it work.

Do you think that once normality returns, we will still see a demand for drive-in cinema?

Drive-in is a positive opportunity that has come out of the current situation, and for cinema I genuinely believe it offers a new and exciting way for people to come and experience a film on the big screen.  Long terms I’m not sure music and comedy will exist in this form once things return, and as soon as we are safe to do so we will get back to the Luna outdoor season but we will keep drive-in going for as long as the demand is there. I have a feeling that we might continue it every year in the future, and hopefully be able to look back on it as something positive that came out of this whole situation!

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I’m Georgia & I’m on the Marketing team. Depending on which month you ask, you will find me either at a Festival, in the sea, with a camera in my hand or in full on hibernation mode.

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