The Blue Fox Drive-In Theater ‘s Fight to Survive Digital Conversion

Written by Patrick James Quinn.

Neon Sign for the Blue Fox Drive-In

The Blue Fox Drive-In’s iconic neon sign.

OAK HARBOR, Wash. – The Blue Fox Drive-In is has entertained since it first opened in 1959. But with the mandatory switch from 35mm to digital projectors looming after New Year’s in 2013, that all may be coming to an end.

The Blue Fox Drive-In has been owned and operated by the Bratt family since 1988. The Bratts have been working for the whole of 2012 to raise the $60,000 to $80,000 for the new digital projector. If they are unable to raise the funds, the Blue Fox‘s screen will go forever dark.

In the late 1950’s, when drive-ins were at their peak of popularity, there were 4,000 to 5,000 in operation in America. According to, ┬áthere are now only 366 open in the United States today, and those numbers are dropping. The Blue Fox is one of the last of its kind, and without our help it may join many of its closed predecessors.

Movie studios are switching for many reasons. Sending out digital copies of the films is infinitely less expensive when compared to the cost of making and shipping the heavy celluloid prints and repair of any damage. “The price of silver, heavily used in film processing, soared from $5 an ounce to about $25 this year,” says, “The firm says that at one point distributors used 13B feet of film a year, equal to five trips to the moon and back. By 2010, though, film usage was down to about 5B feet.” This is mostly due to theaters progressively making the change to digital.

Other reasons for the digital switch is filmmakers taking advantage of the more flexible format. Christopher Nolan, director of the latest Batman trilogy, often uses the IMAX format for grander shots and action sequences in his films. Peter Jackson, director of the upcoming Hobbit trilogy, shot the films at 48 frames-per-second, which traditional 35mm projectors would not be able to display. The steady rise and popularity of 3D and the new sound system Dolby Atmos also encourage digital conversion.

Major theater chains such as Regal or AMC have mostly, if not completely, switched to digital already. It is the independent theaters or drive-ins that have only a few screens that will struggle with the ultimatum they’ve been dealt.

The Blue Fox Drive-In has been a staple of the Pacific Northwest. Families come from hours away to enjoy the atmosphere and watch the movies. To help save the Blue Fox Drive-In, visit its website at

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