Whidbey's Blue Fox needs help entering digital age

Blue Fox Drive-In owner Darrell Bratt shows the projector he has to replace in order to make a digital upgrade. That conversion is going to cost him around $80,000.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Blue Fox Drive-In owner Darrell Bratt shows the projector he has to replace in order to make a digital upgrade. That conversion is going to cost him around $80,000.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

A drive-in movie theater that’s been in operation for more than 50 years needs help entering the 21st century.

The Blue Fox Drive-In, located south of Oak Harbor on Monroe Landing Road, has to convert to digital projection in order to continue offering first-run movies.

The problem is the owners have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to make the transition.

“Who has that just lying around?” Darrell Bratt said of the huge investment. He has owned the venerable drive-in theater, a local landmark, since 1988.

He said he’s heard talk about the transition to digital for the past several years. However, late in 2011, he got the news that he will have to change his equipment to accommodate digital movies by January 2013 or not receive any new films.

The digital equipment will be a big change for the Blue Fox, which has a projector that can be traced back to 1959, when the drive-in theater opened for business. The projector was upgraded in 1979, and it has served the small movie theater reliably ever since.

Bratt sees positives and negatives with the digital system. The digital system will save time because he doesn’t have to connect small reels of film to a large platter. With the digital system, he will receive a hard drive with the movie and then he downloads it into a computer.

However, he is worried that a computer system won’t be as reliable as a mechanical projector.

“The film is pretty foolproof,” Bratt said.

In researching options, he learned that the investment for digital equipment will run around $80,000.

To help defray the expense, he is selling T-shirts, sweatshirts and blankets to customers and he has reached about 20 percent of the upgrade cost.

The Blue Fox Drive-In is one of six drive-ins still operating in Washington. In addition to the Blue Fox, drive-ins are open in Port Townsend, Bremerton, Shelton, Auburn and Colville.

While drive-ins are few and far between these days, the Blue Fox stays open with its combination of first-run movies, go-karts, concessions and arcade.  Bratt said movie-goers will often play in the fields before the movies start.

The Blue Fox offers first-run movies, often two and sometimes three in an evening. A triple feature takes place starting Saturday. Madagascar 3, Brave and Avengers will be shown.

On nights with triple features, people are watching movies until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.

“The sun literally is coming up over the horizon when the last movie ends,” Bratt said.

Since a significant number of people travel from off-island to catch the marathon movie night, they will often sleep in their cars before going home.

The Blue Fox Drive-In merchandise is available for purchase during movie times or on the Internet at


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