Drive-in movies in Minturn: Guide to attending summer films | VailDaily.com

Drive-in movies in Minturn: Guide to attending summer films

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily

The sun is starting to set, alighting the cliffs that surround Little Beach Park in Minturn. There is a sense of conviviality as camp chairs are set up and people chat with the folks from the car next door. Popcorn is munched and a few can tops are surreptitiously popped. The opening music starts to play through the FM radios and Jake and Elwood Blues are once again on a mission from God.

The Blue Starlite is a "mini urban drive-in," the country's highest drive-in movie theater at 7,861 feet above sea level, enjoying its second season in the Vail Valley. A maximum of 40 cars are allowed at each movie, keeping the experience much cozier and intimate than classic drive-ins, which is exactly what co-owner and Blue Starlite operator Josh Frank wanted.

A new twist on a classic

The idea blossomed from an experience that he created for his then-girlfriend, now wife and partner Jessica Shapiro. For their six-month anniversary, Josh projected a movie onto the alley wall behind his business in Austin, Texas, and created a tiny drive-in movie for one car. That's when the light bulb came on.

"It started as a question," Frank said. "Why aren't there more experimental drive-in movie theaters?"

Frank said that he still loves the classic drive-ins, but they take hundreds of cars. It's still a different experience than a movie theater and you still have more privacy, but it's an impersonal experience.

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"What I was interested in, when I was sitting with Jess in the car in the alleyway, was how can I create a sustainable business model from this that doesn't require hundreds of cars a night?" Frank said. "It's not about how many people we can get in it, but how intimate and special an experience we can create for a certain number of people."

The first Blue Starlite Drive-In opened in 2010 in Austin, espousing the idea that smaller is better — and people agreed. Then, a few years ago, Frank and Shapiro decided to try out the idea in the Vail Valley.

Magic in Minturn

Both Frank and Shapiro have ties to the area: they got engaged here, they took their honeymoon here and Shapiro's parents have a second home here. Frank said that he wanted to figure out a way to spend more time in the valley; opening up a mountain version of the Blue Starlite seemed to be a good option.

Finding the right location, though, proved to be more challenging. After a few years of trying to make things happen in bigger towns such as Avon, Frank said his friend Jake Wolf introduced him to Michelle Metteer, economic development coordinator in Minturn.

"Within 24 hours, I had the approval from the town of Minturn to do it here," Frank said. "Seven months later, we opened."

Located in Little Beach Park in Minturn, the Blue Starlite projects movies onto a 30-foot pop-up screen with the mountains as a backdrop. The films run the gamut, from newer releases such as "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" to the have-to-watch-it-at-a-drive-in classic "Grease." This summer's lineup includes 35 screenings, a marked increase from last summer's 23.

'Totally Minturn'

New this summer is the collaboration between the free Thursday concerts in Minturn and the drive-in. After the concert on July 6, the Blue Starlite continued the music theme by showing "Blues Brothers" and offering half-price walk-in tickets to anyone who comes for the music prior to the show.

"We've only done one, and it's great," Frank said. "It just makes so much sense. It creates a bigger night for everybody."

Other music-themed movies have included "Footloose," "Labyrinth" and "The Wizard of Oz," featuring Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."

Minturn has embraced the Blue Starlite and so has its many fans. Minturn Mayor and season pass holder Matt Scherr said that though he and his wife have had experiences at drive-ins, it's a new thing for his kids.

"It's so totally, uniquely Minturn," Scherr said. "If you go to a drive-in anywhere else, it's not the same. We have the view of the cliffs at dusk, the cool things they sell there — they'll be disappointed if they ever go to a regular drive-in."

Scherr and his family have been season pass holders at the drive-in since its inception and have already seen three movies this summer.

"The pass was great," Scherr said. "Once we hit three movies, it had already paid for itself with two kids."

How to drive-in

Going to the drive-in is a simple affair — get in the car and go — but there are ways to improve the experience.

"Arrive at least 30 minutes before show time," Frank said. "One of the first movie moguls from the 1920s said, 'We don't sell movie tickets, we sell theater tickets.' That quote defines what we are about: yes, we show great pop culture movies and it's awesome and you get to experience them in a way you never have before, but that's only a small part of why you come to us. You come to us for the theater that we are, for the theater that we create — the show that we give. When someone shows up two minutes before, they're missing out on what they paid for. The experience starts as the gate opens."

The experience includes vintage ads playing on the big screen and concession options including Northside Kitchen & Coffee doughnuts, vintage sodas and s'mores.

Consider your car size, too. Larger cars are parked in the back to allow for better viewing. For those who want to sit in the back with the hatch raised, Frank said that there was space for that, too, but it's limited.

"Watch from inside your car," he said. "That's the way they used to do it. If you're sitting in the back, the sound might not be as good."

For those arriving by foot or by bike, bring chairs or blankets for comfortable lounging and an FM radio so that you can hear the movie.

But no matter how you choose to experience the drive-in, you're sure to have a memorable evening.

"Today there's so much mass entertainment, we wanted to create something that felt like a very special experience for each person involved," Frank said. "With all the technology and fast-pacedness, we thought it would be cool to create something more intimate and personalized and warm but that also was easy. That's what people are looking for — easy."

In an era where IMAX theaters with nap-worthy lounge chairs reign, going to the drive-in is more than a blast of nostalgia: it's a way to reconnect, an excuse to snuggle with your sweetie or hold your kids a bit tighter. So pick a movie, buy your tickets in advance and make a night of it. You may not remember every movie, but you'll always remember the drive-in.

Remaining Schedule

Here is the remaining lineup for the Blue Starlite Drive-In. Tickets start at $8 per person, with car spots starting at $10 for small sedans. Visit http://www.bluestarlitedrivein.com for more information.

July 22 – “Grease” Sing-a-long and “Pulp Fiction” (11 p.m.)

July 23 — “Back to the Future”

July 27 — “Labyrinth”

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