As a lover of all things nostalgic, Adam was always drawn to the classic American drive-in. At the start of the summer of 2014, he decided to create a film, and scouted theater locations throughout New York with co-director Tansy Michaud (full disclosure: these two are also a dynamic couple).
Once the duo met Roger and Sharon Babcock, owners of the Hi-Way for almost 20 years, they were inspired by the warm family feeling and sense of loyalty the staff had for the theater. Combined with the fact that Hi-Way was still using 35mm film projectors, the filmmakers knew they’d found the right theater for the documentary. Adam and Tansy spent the rest of the summer getting to know the theater crew, the vintage projection system and the loyal moviegoers during filming.
This was not Adams’ first short documentary; however it was certainly the most personal. He and Tansy spent many weekends upstate, joking and talking with the employees. Slowly but surely, they started to bring film equipment with them too. The relaxed approach allowed them to gain the trust of the interviewees, and ultimately made the employees feel more comfortable with being on camera.
This approach is most apparent during the interview with John, a longtime security guard. The noticeably introverted man easily opens up, not only about what film means to him, but also about the sense of belonging and community he has found at the Hi-Way.
The same sentiment is seen in each and every interview. The family owned shop is beloved by ticket sellers and viewers alike. One couple commutes there two hours from the Bronx every weekend as a weekly tradition. The theater is a cherished part of life for many in the surrounding area.
Unfortunately, the Hi-Way’s future at the time was questionable. With film studios switching over to digital files instead of 35mm film rolls for new releases, Roger and Sharon faced a difficult decision: raise $300,000 to update their four screen projectors or sell the theater. The documentary captures a snapshot of their lives on the cusp of change, before making this tough choice facing drive-in theaters around the country.
After production was completed, Tansy delved into each sit-down interview and transcribed every word. It was a laborious process but allowed the team to draft a “paper edit” of the film. This script served as the initial map through the hours of footage and interviews and gave Mill editor, Alex Trierweiler, a jump-off point to structure the picture edit.
The hope was to make the film as concise as possible, while still retaining a methodical pace. The co-directors went through many versions of the edit, rearranging scenes, and adding and removing shots to craft the story. Once finalized, Mill colorist Ashley Ayarza created a warm and gentle look, while balancing the look of footage shot over multiple days.
Ironically, the documentary about 35mm film was shot on digital. Shooting digitally allowed the filmmakers to make the film on a low budget, which would have been impossible, had they shot on film. This accessibility was directly at odds with the romance of true celluloid and the sad fact that it is disappearing in the industry.
Adam adds: “Having witnessed the organic and mechanical nature of Roger’s projector booth, it’s really saddening to know that all of his half-century, noisy machines are going to be replaced by sterile, quiet digital projectors. There’s less character in digital, and like Roger, those film projectors each had a personality all their own.”
And yes, Roger and Sharon have seen the short documentary about their charming theater. They told the co-directors that it completely succeeded in capturing the spirit of their beloved drive-in experience and that there may have been a tear or two shed. It’s the kind of impact and honesty only close friends can create.
Since filming, the drive-in has converted three of the four screens to digital. The Hi-Way did experience a few digital malfunctions, like any transition to a new technology, but thanks to the loyal support from the community and dedicated staff, the theater is still going strong.
Adam and Tansy have already begun filming the subject of their next documentary, a family-run ski resort in the Catskills of New York. You can find out more about the co-directors and their work outside of 'Enjoy Your Intermission' on Adam's website and Tansy's website.
AND the next time you find yourself in the Catskills, make sure to catch a film under the stars with Roger, Sharon and the Hi-Way Drive-In family.