Sometimes art does, indeed, imitate life.
Jay Daulat knows this full well.
As the owner/operator of Aldergrove’s Twilight Drive-In — the last drive-in movie theatre left standing in the Lower Mainland — his family-run business is often in demand with TV and film productions doing business in ‘Hollywood North.’
Looking for a place to shoot a drive-in scene? Don’t bother constructing a set.
Just head to Aldergrove, where a ready-made, five-and-a-half acre drive-in with a capacity of 424 cars awaits. “When they (film crews) want a drive-in scene, they come to us,” Daulat said.
Cut to early October, 2016, when crews from the Netflix series Riverdale converged on the Twilight for two days of filming.
Based on Archie Comics characters, including Archie, Veronica, Jughead, Betty, and Reggie, most of the 13 episodes of the Berlanti Productions’ drama have a dark tone — think Beverly Hills 90210 meets Twin Peaks.
In episode four of the series, which aired Feb. 16, Jughead despairs over the news that the local drive-in where he works is closing. During the final night at the drive-in, the James Dean movie Rebel Without A Cause lit up the Twilight screen.
The mid-week filming schedule worked out perfectly for Daulat.
“We only operate weekends in the fall,” he said. “So we were closed Monday through Thursday.”
Daulat ran the film projector during the drive-in scene.
“Somebody had to run the film, because we had to get some scenes on the (movie) screen,” Daulat said. “I was around.”
However, Daulat didn’t interact with the cast members.
“The crew, because I was here and all the set decoration people were here during the day, I was here with them,” Daulat said.
“They were fine.”
A thrill for Daulat was the fact the ‘Twilight’ moniker didn’t change for the episode.
“That gave us that added exposure,” Daulat said.
Daulat’s youngest son, Vijay — who works at the drive-in along with brother, Vesham and mom, Camla — said he was bombarded by texts following the episode.
“They said, ‘Do you know the drive-in was on Riverdale?’ Well… yeah! Of course I do,” Vijay related. “They didn’t change anything. The first scene was our sign outside, as is.”
This is familiar territory for the Daulat family. The Twilight has been used for a cornucopia of filming projects, from commercials, to TV series, to a feature-length movie. Among them: Air Bud: Spikes Back, and episodes from TV series including Psych, R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, and Flash Gordon.
Business still good
A total of 52 drive-in theatres remain in operation across Canada, according to drive-ins.com.
And the Twilight, which opened Sept. 1, 2005, is one of just three left in B.C. The Starlight in Enderby and the Park in Prince George are the other two.
That number is down significantly from the 24 that once operated across the province, including in such locales as Golden, Trail, Quesnel, and Westbank.
Among the Metro Vancouver notables no longer in operation are the Cascades in Vancouver, Lougheed in Burnaby, New Westminster in Surrey, Chilliwack, and Tillicum in Victoria.
Meanwhile, the U.S. remains the drive-in capital of the world, with 326 theatres still in operation.
Daulat, who has been in the drive-in movie business since 1969, doesn’t plan on going anywhere.
He loves it so much that he didn’t want to walk away.
He forged on, even after his former business, the Hillcrest Drive-In in Cloverdale, closed Sept. 28, 2003 and was subsequently razed to make way for residential development.
Daulat ran the Hillcrest for nine years before finding a new home for the business in Aldergrove.
The changes didn’t stop there.
The Twilight switched from 35mm film to a computerized digital system in March 2012; it was a move that not only made sense, technology-wise, but also made Daulat’s work life a thousand times smoother.
“Dad got his start in theatres as a projectionist,” Vijay said. “And there was lots and lots to do with it. Then when we got into digital, my dad said, ‘this isn’t projection work, I don’t want to learn.’ But all it is now, is, it’s a little HD drive that we put in the projector and it downloads it in.”
The projection room where Daulat toiled for countless hours during the first seven years of the Twilight’s existence now sits empty most of the time.
“We don’t have to even use the projection room,” Vijay said. “Before we open we turn (the drive) on, then it’s connected to a laptop in the box office and we hit play.”
Daulat said switching to digital simplifies things.
“You don’t have to worry about film breaks, sound problems… anything. I wouldn’t go back to film.”
Looking ahead, Daulat still has faith in the outdoor movie experience, noting that business is “excellent,” considering the nasty late winter weather the South Coast has been experiencing. He believes things are looking up with the promise of spring, and with it, better weather and longer days on the horizon.
“We do expect this summer will be good,” Daulat said. “There are lots of good shows (coming), and we expect attendance to continue to be good.”