To that end Mr Kilderry had rostered on a full contingent of 34 workers, with staff positioned at toilets and throughout the Lunar Cafe – a new $3 million facility completed during lockdown, the seats and tables of which are strictly off-limits for the time being – to ensure safe distancing.
Even if the skies hadn’t opened, he’d have been patrolling the six-hectare site in his fluoro vest, megaphone in hand, reminding people to stay inside their vehicles while Singalong Grease and the other movies are playing (in pre-COVID times, he says, “80 per cent of people would be on deck chairs or bean bags beside the car”; on this night, only the brave have lifted the tailgate to watch from beneath doonas).
Cinemas have been given the go-ahead to open in Victoria from June 22 (whether the majors choose to do so remains to be seen), but the operators of the state’s three drive-ins argued they ought to be allowed to reopen sooner because they are safer.
“Who would have thought people stuck in cars two metres away from the nearest person would be such a godsend,” Mr Kilderry says.
Queensland’s Yatala Drive-In was the first in Australia to reopen, on the first weekend in May. The Skyline, in Sydney’s Blacktown, opened last week. Victoria’s Coburg will reopen on Wednesday and Dromana on Thursday.
For a brief moment at last, this almost forgotten way of watching movies has the stage all to itself.
“It’s like when Forrest Gump is out at sea but he can’t catch anything,” Mr Kilderry says, perhaps inevitably reaching for a film scene to sum up this surprise turn of events. “And then the storm comes and destroys all the other boats that have stayed in the harbour, so he’s the only boat left that’s able to go out and he catches all the shrimp. I think drive-ins are the Forrest Gump of the movie world. They’re doing phenomenal business.”
It might be wishful thinking, but Mr Kilderry wonders if there might not even be a silver lining in this moment, with older film lovers being reminded that drive-ins still exist, and at around $30 a car are a more affordable way of taking the family to the movies than the multiplex. Meanwhile, some younger people are perhaps discovering them for the first time.
“Drive-ins have had a rough old 30 years,” he says. “But man, the ones that have survived can have the spotlight again for a short period of time at least.”
How to get the most from your drive-in experience
If you’re in an SUV or wagon, park backwards, and open your hatch so you don’t have any glass between you and the screen, and enjoy shelter, open air and the movie without distractions.
Bring a mattress or bean bags for the back, and wrap yourself in a doona or sleeping bag to enjoy the show.
Before you go, learn how to use your FM radio to receive the sound without having the lights or engine on. You can google it or read your manual, though the drive-in staff can also help.
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.