As taking advice from 80s glam-metal band Poison might lead to being ejected from the venue (Cause baby we’ll be/At the drive-in/In the old man’s Ford/Behind the bushes/Till I’m screaming for more), here’s what we’ve learned from several trips to one of London’s most exciting film experiences: Drive In Film Club.
From the lovely people behind Rooftop Film Club (also worth a visit), Drive In Film Club is – as the name suggests – a drive in cinema, currently hosted in a car park at Alexandra Palace (last year it was at Brent Cross Shopping Centre, the palace is without a doubt a better venue). It’s deceptively simple: on arrival signs guide you to the right car park, which features an inflatable screen at one end, a shack with the projector in the middle and a couple of food stands off to the side. Sound is pumped in over a radio frequency you’re given on arrival, and the film tends to start just after dark.
Snacks are delivered right to your window by signalling with your hazards and waiting for a roller-skate powered waiter to roll on over with a selection of popcorn, sweets and drinks. Proper food choices are a bit more limited: there’s a lovely hot-dog stand and there was a tea and brownie stand that wasn’t there the last time we went, so my only suggestion to the organisers would be to get a bit more variety in- even if it’s just a burger van.
The film choice is quite strong. Grease – including a sing-along version – understandably plays frequently, but we’ve seen quite a range ourselves: Toy Story, The Notebook, The Imitation Game and Casablanca. Priced at £22 plus £2.20 in fees for as many people you can fit in the car, it’s a great way to see some fantastic cinema.
Below are a few things we’ve picked up on our visits.
1: Book In Advance
The popular films do tend to sell out quite quickly, what with there only being space for 100 cars. To avoid disappointment it’s worth following Drive In Film Club on your choice of social network, either Twitter or Facebook, for when the next month’s tickets are announced.
2: Time to Give the Car a Wash
Nothing’s worse than trying to watch a film through dust, pigeon presents and dead bugs. Give the window quick clean before you leave, or treat the car to a wash on the way.
3: Leave Plenty of Time to Get There…
Given driving across London can be an event in itself at times, consider you may find yourself travelling at the tail end of rush hour to get to the film in time. On the way there our last journey was an hour and a half, this went down to half an hour on the empty roads on the way back.
4: …And Still Arrive Early
Each arriving car is guided by stewards into a space, they tend to fill up from front to back- so the earlier you arrive the closer you are to the front. Normally I’d advocate sitting further back at the cinema, but in this case as the screen isn’t massively big, the closer the better.
The venue officially opens an hour and a half before the film starts, but last time I arrived at exactly one and a half hours to go and the first row two rows were already full!
Also ask politely if you want a better spot- we arrived at one show and were chaperoned off to the side of the screen as we were the first on a new row, we asked if we could park towards the middle of the screen on that row.
5: Leave the Chelsea Tractor at Home
4x4s and other large cars are asked to park at the edges of the car park- still pointing to the screen but at an angle. Depending on the steward this also seems to be the case if you’re in one of those modern 4x4s that are smaller than a regular car. If you have the choice, bring a normal size car.
Also assuming the weather is good, convertibles seem to be popular. I’m not sure if they ask you to put on headphones if you are in one, as the last time there was an announcement to return any headphones. Car acoustics are surprising good, if you’re sealed in.
Shame though, if you’re like me it’s a Ford Focus or nothing!
6: Don’t Worry About Food and Bring Cash
With both the hot-dog stand and the roving roller-skate powered waiters you’re covered for dinner. Outside food is banned (though we’ve never been checked), which is understandable if they want to make a decent profit. The food prices are okay (for London), but cash only.
The nearest cash point is inside the palace itself and charges a fee, so make sure you visit a hole in the wall before setting off.
7: Get Comfortable
If you’re like me and drive an aforementioned Ford Focus, sitting in a car seat for more than an hour might not be the most comfortable seat ever. Bring pillows and adjust your seat. If you’re the driver though, don’t forget to put your seat back again at the end of the evening!
Also remember that though the ticket price is regardless of occupancy, rear passengers aren’t going to get the greatest views.
8: Stay Warm
Even in the summer it can get surprisingly cold once the sun goes down if you need to dash to the loo or grab some food. Bring a jumper or hoodie and a blanket.
9: Get Your Food Orders In Early
The hot-dog stand tends to get a decent queue in the half hour before the film starts, and everyone seems to decide they need some Haribos as the opening credits roll. Plan ahead if you get the tangfastic munchies.
10: Turn Off Your Damn Lights
In the opening announcement you’re reminded to turn off your headlights. Also remember to switch them off properly if you have night sensors- it’s common to see people turn on their engines to de-mist their windows or heat the car, only to blast everyone’s mirrors with a dose of daylight.
Just remember to turn them back on again at the end of the evening.
11: Visit the Bathroom Before The Main Event
The toilets are a good few minutes walk away in Alexandra Palace itself. Just like your parents told you before long car journeys, do your business before the film starts lest you miss ten minutes of the film walking in the cold! I’m also reliably informed that a queue develops for the ladies in the immediate lead-up to the film, so leave plenty of time!
And that’s about it. I hope we’ve inspired you to pay the drive in a visit, and I also hope you’re able to convince your significant other to see something more inspiring than The Notebook!