The State of the Sunset, Pt. 1

Middleport, NY is one mile by one mile square. It has, generously, 1,800 residents. It’s a Rust Belt town with a pension-based economy. There haven’t been decent jobs on any meaningful level here since the early Reagan years.


And yet it has one of the few remaining fully functional drive-in theaters in the U.S. The Sunset has been in continuous operation for almost 67 years. Far more affluent parts of the country haven’t been able to make drive-ins work, partly because they need large swaths of land that tend to get gobbled up by big-box stores, McMansions, and condos. The land around Middleport isn’t worth much, so the drive-in survives.


But its survival has a lot more to do with the focus and tenacity of its owners, Denise and Mario Stornelli, than it does with piddling real-estate values. This year threw them a couple of big curves, though. It rained almost every day during the prime of summer—and not just passing showers but steady downpours and violent storms, which used to be unusual in this part of the country but are becoming more and more common.


And the box office sucked—not just at the Sunset but everywhere in the U.S., where it was down 16% overall. 


I talked to Mario and Denise about how they fared.



How has your box office been?

Mario  It’s down a little bit. About a quarter.

Denise  At least 25, 30 percent.


Was that due to the weather or the quality of the movies?

Mario & Denise  Both. (Mario laughs)

Mario  Weather less than movies.

Denise  Because if the weather’s bad but you’ve got a good crowd, it doesn’t matter. The weather’s never been that much against a good product.


Has anybody said anything about the quality of the movies?

Denise  The clientele, they’ll talk to us about weather and the movies, because they’re avid goers. And they themselves knew there was really no big blockbuster out this year—nothing—no one picture you could put your finger on.


Were there any standouts?

Denise  Wonder Woman did better than they anticipated.


Anything else?

Denise  There was War for the Planet of the Apes, but I don’t remember that doing that well. But we just had it a lot. This has probably been one of the worst Labor Day weekends we’ve ever seen. The weather was good, so it wasn’t the weather, but the movie choices were really not good—not at all.


What kinds of movies do you think do best? Who do you have to appeal to?

Mario  Kids.

Denise  Kids movies—kids rule.

Mario  Then we get both the parents and the kids.

Denise  Yeah, the kids want to come, the parents have to bring them. They make it, sometimes, a family affair. A woman approached Mario and I. It was her little girl’s 3rd birthday. And they made a whole Sunday out of it.

Mario  They put up a tent.

Denise  They paid for the people who they had invited to come for the movie, because it was her daughter’s favorite movie.

Mario  Annabelle?

Denise  No, not Annabelle—that’s not a kids movie.

Mario  Leap.

Denise  Was it Leap? But I don’t know what that was about. They invited the family, they set up a tent, they had it all decorated with balloons and bought a cake. It was a really nice thing to see.


I see you’ve got the new Lego movie. That should do well.

Denise  I saw that today, and it’s really cute. 

Mario  It’s unusual for them to give us first-run this time of year. I was surprised they gave me two new ones this week. And we’ve done OK with them—it’s helped us out, you know.


The distributors are probably loosening up because they have to make up for the lousy summer.

Denise  Normally when school starts, they start recycling over and over the ones we’ve already had. And when you’ve got people that patronize you regularly—I mean, they can only come and see the same movies—

Mario  This is a small town. And all the towns around this are small, so we want to change the movies frequently. When we only had the one screen, it was hard to play movies and hold them too long, because then you lose your steady customers. But with three screens, at least it gives you a change.

Denise  You know, Mike, you got to remember two things. The business has been here 67 years, the same family. Second generation. But it’s a business that depends on variables we have no control over. You’re against weather, and you’re against product. The thing you have to remember is, it’s not new. You have good years, you have bad years. And you just take what comes. You don’t want to make a big gripe about a bad year. It’s a bad year. But we’ve had good years. And that’s the other point. You know what? You look at the news, and you look at other areas of the country—it could always be worse.

drive-in movie theaters

There’s probably no one secret to it, but how have you managed to stay in business when thousands of other drive-ins have failed?

Denise  I can tell you the reason. (she gestures toward Mario) It’s ’cause of him. It’s a lot of sacrifice, and you’ve gotta have self-discipline.

Mario  She’s just being nice.

Denise  No, no—really, Mike—if it wasn’t for Mario. When you’re working 7 days a week, in the best season in this area, and you’ve been here every single year—you’re giving up a lot of family time, and there’s a lot of sacrifice that you make—honestly. Because if this business is open, we’re here. We need no one else to run it. You can lose too much. It takes a lot of self-discipline. And if it wasn’t for him—I’ve gotta tell ya—the best of any of the rest of us would have buckled. Because even my son, who might be the next one—it’s not so much the sacrifice for Chris, but he doesn’t know if he can be what his father is.

Because, honestly, it’s really hard. A lot of vacations and celebrations are this time of year—you don’t go. I mean, my kids graduated, I went—I came right back to work. It was on a Saturday. It’s just the way it is. The flip of that is, nowadays, it makes a good living, OK? It really does. And to have a job that does that, and seems appreciated, nowadays—then you just are grateful for what you’ve got, and you do what you’ve gotta do, right?

Michael Gaughn


In Pt. 2, we speculate on whether the drive-in experience can survive the
steep decline in theater attendance & the rise of streaming

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Mario Makes a Sub

Sunset Drive-in owner Mario Stornelli has prepared
every piece of food that’s come off the snack-bar
grill for over 40 years. In this short video, he talks
about some of his experiences while whipping up his
signature cheese burg sub.


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The Heartaches of Movie Collecting & Streaming

John Sciacca’s piece about his problems streaming movies on Netflix really struck a chord with me, so I’ve decided to share some of my own experiences.


I’m an avid collector of movies. (The video above will give you a good idea of exactly how avid I am.) Over the years, I’ve bought enough DVDs and Blu-ray discs that I’ll never have to worry about running out of movies to see. Instead, I’m worrying about running out of space! There’s no more room left on the shelves of my storage room. 


To solve the problem, I got a Kaleidescape player and transferred most of my DVDs onto it. This not only alleviated the storage problem, it also made my whole collection instantly accessible. With my entire collection at my fingertips, I started watching movies I hadn’t seen in years.

movie collecting

I’ve also started discovering various streaming services and, in the process, have became less dependent on physical media. I’ve found titles for streaming that I’ve always wanted to see that aren’t available on DVD or Blu-ray.


And as a diehard collector, I don’t rent themI buy them. Not because I have money to burn, but because whether on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or any other streaming service, a title can be available one day and gone the next. So, to make sure I can always see a movie when I’m in the mood for it, instead of renting, I buy.


But that doesn’t really solve the problem. Buying a movie from a streaming service instead of renting doesn’t guarantee you’ll always have access to it. A service can lose the rights to a titleor group of titlesor even go out of business completely. The only way to avoid losing what you’ve bought is to download and store the movies on a hard drive so you’ll always have them. That’s the ultimate protection for anal collectors like me. 


Now, if I could only find the time to start downloading all those titles . . . It never ends.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

Netflix, Where Are My Movies?

Netflix movie streaming

If you follow the news, you might have heard a fairly big announcement from Walt Disney Studios earlier this month. At the company’s latest earnings report, Disney announced plans to remove all its movies from Netflix’ streaming service at the end of 2018. This will include all Pixar titles and likely Marvel films, though Marvel TV shows will remain. (Lucasfilm titlesnow owned by Disneyhave never been available for streaming on Netflix.) The announcement caused Netflix’ stock price to drop more than 6%.


Beyond the loss of film content for the streaming giant, this brings up another perfect argument for downloading and owning a beloved film instead of trying to stream it. Forget about all the quality and performance issues—the transitory nature of streaming licenses means content can definitely be here today and gone tomorrow. And try explaining contract shifts, licensing agreements, and content negotiations to your 5 year old when she’s crying out to watch Frozen for the umpteenth time!

Netflix Movie Streaming

Further, the illusion for many users is that they’ll be able to watch any movie they desire when streaming on Netflix. While that’s true for Netflix’ enormous disc-by-mail rental library—a service I’ve used since the company’s inception—it’s decidedly not the case with streaming.


In fact, perusing the AFI Top 100 Movies list reveals that Netflix only has 7 of the movies available for streaming. No Citizen Kane (No. 1), no The Godfather or The Godfather Part II (No. 2 and No. 32), no Jaws (No. 56), no Shawshank Redemption (No. 72), no . . . You get the point.


You know what never goes away? Films owned in your disc library—or stored on a hard drive on a Kaleidescape server. Those cherished movies are always there, instantly available for consumption in the best quality possible.

—John Sciacca

Netflix movie streaming

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at

Dunkirk, IMAX & the Power of the Image

Since Christopher Nolan’s new movie Dunkirk is just playing in theaters, it’s going to be a while before it makes it to video. But because the movie puts tremendous emphasis on the proper presentation (which is what Rayva is all about), I thought it would be worth catching on the big screen. I wanted to see for myself what Nolan is talking about in the video clip above.


“I wanted to give people a really intense ride,” he says, and he accomplishes it in two waysfirst through superb storytelling, with the viewer placed front-seat center during the tragic evacuation of the Allied Forces from the coast of Dunkirk. Second through shooting the movie in the IMAX format, resulting in breathtaking cinematography.


About 70% of Dunkirk was shot in full IMAX while 30% was shot in 70mm, so it gave me an interesting opportunity to compare the two formats. The IMAX aspect ratio is 1.9:1 while 70mm uses the slightly wider 2:1. But the main difference between the two formats is that 70mm has 5 perforations per frame, while IMAX has 15.


The difference in picture quality between the formats was very noticeable. The full IMAX image was impeccably smooth and sharp, delivering long shots of stunning clarity. The 70mm was impressive but less overwhelming, with less dynamic range in the dark scenes and with a subtle grain that was completely missing from the IMAX segments of the movie. If you haven’t seen Dunkirk yet, do yourself a favor and see it in IMAX, not just in 70mm. You’ll be glad you did.


It will be interesting to see how the movie translates to video. I know it will be sharp. It will probably set new standards for home theater presentation. But will it have the emotional pull of seeing it on the huge screen of an IMAX theater? Maybe, if your home theater screen is big enough.


But the truth is that Dunkirk is so emotionally involving that after a while you’ll probably forget you’re watching a movie on video. That’s the power of great storytelling combined with brilliant technology.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

The Top 5 Movie Streaming Sites

Top 5 Movie Streaming Sites--FilmStruck

Forget about Hollywood blockbusters—here are the Top 5 streaming sites for real movie lovers.


You can find Transformers, Star Trek, and Guardians of the Galaxy on every popular streaming site, from Vudu to Netflix to Fandango. And you can find them on iTunes too, but the site also features some of the most desirable recent independent movies too—some of which didn’t even have a theatrical release. Here are two of my favorites that did have a theatrical run:

Toni Erdmann

Last year’s Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film is a both heartbreaking and hilarious exploration of the relationship between a straight-laced executive and her non-conformist, practical-joker father. Not to be missed. (Directed by Maren Ade)

The Lobster

Another Best Foreign Film nominee for 2016. A thrillingly ambitious dark comedy about the pressure society puts on us to find a soulmate. The Lobster sets itself apart from other movies by refusing to cater to our expectations. (Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos)


Usually residing inside Amazon Prime Movies (and requiring an extra monthly fee), Fandor is the site for completists like me—cinema lovers who can’t have enough of one director after they discover their work. Having seen Toni Erdmann for the first time in Europe, I looked at Fandor for more movies by Maren Ade. To my surprise, both of her previous movies were featured on that site:

The Forest from the Trees (2005)

The story of a young idealistic teacher who tries to connect with her neighbors but with unexpected results.

Everyone Else (2006)

An emotionally compelling drama about a couple vacationing in the Mediterranean who see themselves drifting apart.

Warner Archive

This site is a true Nirvana for lovers of old Hollywood cinema. It offers a rotating repertory of some of the most sought-after titles of the Golden Age of American movies. As a bonus, a great number of classics can be seen in high-definition for the first time. For example:

Busby Berkeley

You can always find Busby Berkley movies in rotation at Warner Archive. The legendary director who revolutionized musical films in the ’30s and ’40s is currently represented with Dames and Gold Diggers of 1937.  Warner lets us see these movies in HD with image quality as sharp as when they were first shown in theaters.

Andy Hardy movies

Many of the Andy Hardy movies starring a young Mickey Rooney (with Judy Garland co-starring in Andy Hardy Meets Debutante) are shown in sparkling black & white prints and HD.


A brand-new streaming site that’s home to the most celebrated American and international movies of the past 50 years. The prints are stellar and the resolution is always 1080p. Very often, the movies are neatly bundled by theme, director, or genre. This month, I single out one of my favorite bundles.

Auteurs and Directors That Changed the Face of Cinema
Click this link and you’re faced with the improbable task of having to choose films from some of the most celebrated directors of the 20th century: Godard, Fassbinder, Tarkovsky, Lynch, et al.

If choosing among the many movies of a famous director is an impossible task, try some of the individual titles that rotate often and include some of the best-known arthouse favorites, such as Wim Wenders’ Alice in the Cities, Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito, Bergman’s Autumn Sonata, De Sica’s Bicycle Thief, Renoir’s Elena and Her Men, and hundreds of others.

Amazon Prime

Most of us think Amazon just caters to very popular tastes. Not true. When I can’t find a rare movie I really want to see on Blu-ray disc, I’ll often find it being streamed on Amazon Prime instead. You can rent most of these movies for less than two dollars—but what if I’m not in the mood to watch a particular title on a particular night? I can put it in my list of favorites—but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be available when I’m ready to watch it. If you don’t own it, a title can disappear as fast as it appears—and I’d rather pay to own a movie than run the risk I won’t be able to see it when I want to. I recently bought these rarities:

Like Cattle Towards Glow (2016)

Amazon describes this movie as a complex, intimate, strangely serene, and challenging exploration of sexual desire as a hiding place. I found it confounding in parts but always mesmerizing to watch.

Archipelago (2010)

The story of a family in an emotional crisis vacationing in gloomy Northern England, starring Tom Hiddleston and directed by Joanna Hogg. Hogg uses extended takes, minimal camera movements, and you can describe her style as a new kind of social realism. I had never heard of her—let alone her films—before. Ah! the pleasures of streaming. I was so impressed with her detached style of directing that as soon as Archipelago was over, I ordered her next film, Exhibition (2013), again starring Tom Hiddleston and also available on Amazon Prime. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.