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Reimagination of the drive-in movie theater

— by LYNETTE CARRINGTON —

The movie and entertainment industry has been hit incredibly hard by the fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Movie and television production has been shut down across the globe and, along with it, movie theaters have gone dark. In the wake of the downturn of the industry, one enterprising event company in Arizona has found a way to bring back the magic of the movies to the public while being responsible in the area of social distancing. Steve LeVine Entertainment (SLE) has reimagined drive-in movies in an innovative way, showing nearly first run and classic films.

“The idea actually came from a few people,” says Steve LeVine, chief entertainment officer of Steve LeVine Entertainment. “It was something my team had been looking into starting with one of our A/V partners, Inter Technologies as soon as the shutdown began. Not knowing if it would be possible, my family and I also started discussing it simultaneously as we were watching some of my favorite movies from when I was a kid. My wife, Jamie LeVine, and I said how fun it would be to do a drive-in in our cul-de-sac and invite some of our friends over and have everyone sit in their cars.”

The right kind of location was necessary, and LeVine reached out to YAM Properties, which has many properties in and around the greater Phoenix area. Without hesitation, YAM embraced the idea, pinpointing a Scottsdale location at Sonora Village as well as Westgate in Glendale, just west of Phoenix. LeVine explains, “Safety was the next hurdle as we wanted to make sure everything was in accordance with all CDC and health guidelines and that we took every precaution necessary to ensure a safe environment for all attendees and staff.”

Safety measures include the social distancing and spacing of all cars remaining 10-feet apart, keeping people in their cars or immediately in front or back of them as guidelines now allow for this, the use of contactless payment and requiring all staff to wear face masks. “All in all, we put the entire project together in about two weeks,” he said. “It was a ton of work, but totally worth it when we saw how successful opening weekend was, and the feedback we continue to receive weekly.”

Moonlight Movie Night now occurs Thursday through Sunday each week in two locations in the Phoenix area. Essentially, the drive-in takes place in the shopping center parking lot with a large event-style screen constructed and set up for all to enjoy. Similar style drive-ins have also been popping up in other states including New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin and even Alaska.

“YAM Properties was immediately on board with the idea and has been the best partner we could have asked for. In fact, they’re the ones that came up with the amazing restaurant promotion idea,” says LeVine. The restaurant promotion includes several of the restaurants located in the immediate vicinity. Moviegoers who would like to order food for their movie enjoy delivery to their car directly from the restaurant. They then upload the receipt from their food purchase ($20 minimum food order required) into the AZPopUpMovies.com website and are reimbursed the cost of their movie ticket. Such a tasty deal!

Photos by Emily Piraino


Marketing director for YAM Properties Jessica Kubicki explains, “YAM Properties collectively connected with all restaurant tenants at both Sonora Village & Westgate Entertainment District to gauge participation. YAM then worked with each tenant individually to ensure the process (customer communication, delivery directions, etc.) was executed properly.”

Kubicki continues, “Moviegoers have enjoyed the drive-in experience at both Sonora Village and Westgate Entertainment District. They are able to revel in the nostalgia of an outdoor motion picture while still tasting a bit of familiarity with dinner delivered right to their seats. The comfort of socializing with caution has been a moment of relief during this time. Attendee feedback thus far has been extremely positive.”

LeVine says, “Ultimately, YAM gets it. They understand events and working with their marketing team and properties has been a blessing. We’ve only worked with YAM Properties a couple of times on past events but because of COVID, and seeing how they’ve operated and handled things, we sure hope to do a ton more with them. We’re truly grateful to have them as a partner for this project.”

LeVine indicates that his company will keep running the drive-ins as long as they are allowed. “Scottsdale does have some special event parameters as to length of any given event at one location, but we are working through that now,” he explains. “As the economy opens back up and things start to return to normal, we’ll have to adjust. But as of now we’ll continue to put out great movies and create a safe event for people to enjoy every week.” Indeed, it is a thrill for kids and teens to experience movies drive-in style in the greater Phoenix area since traditional style drive-in theaters are pretty much extinct, except for one location.

Singles, couples and families especially have been anxious to get out of their houses and do something fun and safe. LeVine says, “I think our drive-in has been a great escape from quarantine for a lot of people. It’s truly amazing how many people just say, ‘Thank You’ and are so kind. Not that the world was a mean place before, but if everyday kindness becomes more of a part of this ‘new norm’ I’m totally good with that.”

Some of the films screened have included “Call of the Wild,” “The Sandlot,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “The Fault in our Stars,” “Free Solo,” “Ice Age,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” and even special screenings on May 4 (aka Star Wars Day) of ‘Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” and “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.”



LeVine and his team had their entertainment, events and public relations business get thrown into uncharted waters a few months ago when the pandemic took a stronghold and the economy started closing. He explains, “Within a matter of three days we had hundreds of events removed from our calendar and our biggest event of the year, Ostrich Festival, was shut down an hour before gates opened. At first, we had to play ‘defense’ and clean everything up, and there was a ton of cleanup to do. We immediately identified values that would guide us on how we would operate for the immediate future — resilient, transparent and flexible. I’d like to point out that the word ‘resilient’ doesn’t exist without the letters ‘SLE.’”

LeVine points out that the events industry was the first and hardest hit and will most likely be the last to come back from the crisis. “Knowing that we were completely shut down, it was important for us to come up with something that filled a void,” he says. “People need to take care of their mental health. We were able to provide a safe place for people to get out of their house and connect. We were also able to bring business to local restaurants and directly impact them as they were able to begin rehiring immediately for movie nights.”

LeVine was thoughtful in the creation of Moonlight Movie Night. He understood that the messaging was extremely important as SLE wanted to create something in its own community that could be shared with everyone. He says, “As for what is next, I am referring to it as, ‘SLE 2.0.’ I love sports and realize you can‘t score without playing offense, so that’s what we are doing. As part of the immediate future you can expect to see more drive-in and social distance events like movies, graduations, seminars, concerts, etc.” SLE is also booking all kinds of entertainment for virtual get togethers – virtual national, regional and local entertainment and celebrity drop-ins to Zoom calls, plus some fun game show options with live hosts.

As live events begin to come back, SLE is planning for all its events to return in the fall including, Ostrich festival, Scottsdale Fashion Week and Fashion Week for Kids, among others. “I also want to give our sincerest thanks to those who continued to support us during this time,” LeVine finishes. “It was the single hardest thing that I have ever endured in regards to business, but I know something great will come from all this. I’m actually already seeing great things I would have never witnessed if it wasn’t for what we have gone through. Words cannot express the gratitude we feel and how thankful I am for the people that have been there for us – the Chandler Chamber of Commerce (Terri Kimble and Ralph Guariglio), the Entrepreneur’s Organization (Arizona and western region), Purely Sedona (Cady Gokey), our family friends, our parents, our entire SLE family and my wife, Jamie, for her unwavering support through this all.” Learn more about Steve LeVine Entertainment at slentertainment.com.


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