In some ways, the pandemic has driven us toward technology, like Zoom meetings, which allow us to meet when we can’t be physically together. In other ways, it’s driven us toward old-school vibes, including the return of the drive-in movie theater.
And now, here comes El Toro Flicks—an old-school-style drive-in movie theater using new technology. El Toro Flicks is a “Carpool Cinema” experience, and it’s making its Coachella Valley debut this weekend at the top level of the Westfield Palm Desert’s parking garage.
“The company was born in Arizona, where we have two locations that have been fully operational since the end of April,” said Justin Finn, producer of El Toro Flicks, during a recent phone interview. “With everything that’s going on with COVID, we are able to go back into the future, and revitalize this drive-through concept. One thing that we’ve done with newer technology is have our screens be LED walls. They’re not your typical projection; they provide for better visibility and clarity, as well as being able to withstand our climate. We don’t want things to be overheating or shutting off.
“We decided to bring this out to Palm Desert, where I live now. We began a partnership with the Westfield mall and are going to be hosting it on top of the parking structure outside of Macy’s.”
A peek at this weekend’s movies reveals two classics (Jurassic Park for Friday’s sold-out show, and The Goonies on Sunday) and the more-recent Toy Story 4 on Saturday. I was curious about the movie-selection process.
“It’s a combination of a few different things,” Finn said. “First of all, we do market research. We take movies that are in high demand and put them out over the course of the week. We’ll (eventually) be operating Tuesday through Sunday, and we’ll be showing a variety of different movies. We do take requests, so anyone can let us know, and it’ll take us about a week to get approval.
“We also are going to try to incorporate different events at the space. Drive-in concerts are something we are looking into, and they have been successful at our Arizona locations. California has some different laws than Arizona, but once we get the movie element up and rolling, we are definitely going to do what we need to do to try to host different events like concerts and private events. There’s a lot of community involvement that we want to inject into this.”
Finn said this team is even looking into the possibility of broadcasting sporting events.
“We’re actually broadcasting a soccer game in Arizona this week,” he said. “The licensing for sports is a little bit different than general movies. We’d love to be able to show some football or some basketball games if it fits and if we can do it safely.”
Hosting any real event during this era of SARS-CoV-2 can be a challenge. However, Finn said El Toro Flicks’ biggest problems at the two Tucson-area theaters have not involved the coronavirus; they’ve involved weather.
“My team and I have a background in producing events, so we had some knowledge as to what was needed as far as logistics go,” Finn said. “One of the most difficult issues we faced in Arizona was dealing with the monsoon season. The weather has been the toughest element; there was even a flood in one of the areas. The things that you can’t control, like Mother Nature, have led to some cancellations. Our main priority has been to keep everyone safe at the venue. If there’s anything that will put anyone in danger, then we will cancel the show for that day.”
The safety efforts even extend to the ticketing process.
“One of the main things we wanted to do was keep it innovative,” Finn said. “We’re going 100 percent contactless: Ticket purchasing and arriving at the venue will all be contactless. We wanted to abide by CDC guidelines and social distancing as much as we possibly can. Another thing we are trying to incorporate here is keeping a similar element to a family-fun night. On Tuesdays, we’re going to try to bring in a taco truck, if the Department of Health will allow it, and do Taco Tuesdays. On Thursdays, we’ll do Flashback Thursdays, and even have some Chick Flick nights. There’s a lot of things we’re trying to incorporate into our weekly programming.”
On top of creating fun, Finn and his team are hoping to create jobs.
“We are fully staffed at the moment, but we will probably always have job availability posted,” he said. “We’re aiming to create 10 to 15 jobs within the community until the end of the year. If anyone is interested in getting some work, just let us know, and we will look into it.”
El Toro Flicks currently takes place Thursday through Sunday at the top of the Westfield Palm Desert parking garage, 72840 Highway 111. Gates open at 6:45, and parking is first-come, first-serve; movies start at 7:45 p.m. Car passes start at $26.99. For tickets or more information, including a complete schedule, visit www.eltorotickets.com/coachella-valley.