While film projectors are silent throughout Williamson County, a big LED screen is about to bring movies back to the county in a big way.
AP Live, a Franklin-based company that provides audio-visual support at live events, will be throwing up its massive LED wall in the field by Rolling Hills Community Church in Franklin and inviting the community to the drive-in experience.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the drive-in theater has seen a noticeable resurgence, providing moviegoers with a distanced venue to take in the stars under the stars without running a major risk of contacting the virus.
There are no formal drive-in theaters in Williamson County, with the Pink Cadillac Drive In off of Highway 100 in Hickman County just about the closest location to enjoy.
Movie theaters have been closed in Williamson County since March, with The Franklin Theater opening very briefly in June before spiking all film showings and live events through the rest of the year.
AMC, which owns the Thoroughbred 20 in Cool Springs, is slated to reopen July 31, but this feels unlikely at the moment with studios continuing to remove tentpole films from the 2020 calendar. Tenet, the Christopher Nolan espionage film thought to be the bellweather for theaters returning this summer, was delayed indefinitely Monday by Warner Bros.
Some think theaters could be closed through 2020 altogether and not return until an unknown time in 2021.
AP Live and its owner and CEO Tom Atema Jr., for now, will have the only way to watch a movie on the big screen in Williamson County until theaters return.
Atema's company has been hit by the pandemic, with most all live events as a virtual standstill. In-person concerts, corporate meetings and events and the like all vanished in an instant due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings of multiple people.
"All that came to a halt," Atema said of AP Live's traditional business. "We had to figure out what to do with our gear and our people."
Atema is a member at Rolling Hills, and he was invited by the church to turn its big field into something that could help other people.
"It's definitely a drive-in movie theater, but it's more than that," Atema said of the venture. "It's set up that you can do drive-in concerts and shows, and can even do drive-in corporate events.
"When it's cooler, you could have your annual fall meeting out there, but in a safe way because everyone stays in their car. You can still have a stage and project."
Atema said that, while drive-ins weren't a big part of his upbringing, he saw the format as a way to help both his business and a community he loves in a difficult time.
"I couldn't go to movies at all much growing up," Atema said, "but my wife did, and my kids did, and having a business here in Franklin, it just breaks my heart that there aren't enough things for people to do in a community that used to be chocked full of things to do.
"It's like, how can we provide something that, yeah, helps us, but also helps our community. Williamson County is amazing. I love everything about Williamson County. And the fact that there is so much empty field just sitting here, right off [Highway] 31, is pretty impressive."
Part of what makes The Field at Franklin unique is its use of LED technology. Most drive-ins use digital projection, making it necessary to wait for "the lights to go down" outside like it would in a movie theater.
LED technology can broadcast in daylight with the same clarity as it would at night.
"I don't need to wait for it to be dark outside," Atema said.
The screen itself will be a 22-foot-by-41-foot LED wall. He likened it to one of the jumbotrons at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
"It'll be a nice little size," Atema said with a laugh. "It's a really big ass T.V. ...it wouldn't be financially doable [to have a screen like this] if I didn't already own the gear."
Atema says he could show a movie at noon at The Field at Franklin, and it would be totally visible.
"It's pretty incredible," he said.
Atema mentions the space is available for rental, widening its potential for communal use.
The Field at Franklin will differ from other drive-ins in that it will host technically free events (patrons are welcome to make contributions at the time of a ticket reservation), and that it will allow carloads to bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages with them to events.
Most drive-ins charge per person for tickets and have a restriction on bringing food and drinks without a pass, and some restrict them altogether.
He hopes the special modifications widen the ultimate goal for The Field, to be a place where, no matter what your experience has been in this pandemic, or whether or not you could afford a ticket right now, you can come and enjoy the night's entertainment.
"We want it to be open to everybody," Atema said. "I want it to be accessible to everybody that has a car."
Atema says he wanted to create a safe space for people to enjoy things during the pandemic and help save jobs with his company.
The curation for films on The Field's "marquee" will skew toward family-friendly entertainment, per Atima, with the 1993 coming of age film The Sandlot kicking things off Thursday. A friends/family ribbon cutting will christen the event space before the movie.
Each week after will accompany some sort of event, whether it be a movie, concert, what have you. The space will mainly be open toward the end of the week on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Atema says plans now are temporary for The Field at Franklin, with the designed set-up leaning toward that time frame, but he said he could see it lasting beyond the year.
The interest has certainly been there for its start, after all.
"There has been a tremendous amount of interest, just in the past four or five days we've put word out that we were going to build this little temporary drive-in, which is awesome," Atema said. "I think there is a whole pent-up need to do something different, but it's got to be done in a super safe way."
While he expected there to be a fair amount of interest, Atema said he's been pleasantly surprised for the amount of community support the pop-up drive-in has already received.
"When you launch something new, it's kind of like, you hope for the best, but this is awesome," Atema said. "This is exceeding some expectations, some the amount of buzz we're getting about it and how much the word's going, and who's repeating our Tweets. So, that's cool."
Atema says that he think the space will eventually add food trucks to its offerings as well.
One thing he'd love to show at The Field at Franklin? Disney's live recording of the smash Braodway hit Hamilton, which was released on Disney+ this month.
"I'm an arts lover, so I think that would be really, really cool," Atema said.
In the future of live events, Atema's not sure what things will exactly look like down the road as the pandemic continues and when it concludes, but he knows those who hold events will need to be conscientious to keep people safe.
"I think live events, as we remember them, will not come back this year," Atema said. "I just think that's a given. I do think that these [concert] drive-in movies, like Garth [Brooks] did a couple of weeks ago, I do think that's a temporary solution, but it is not a long-term solution.
"I think that, in 2021, we'll have to be creative as an industry...and we want to be a part of that, and we are a part of those discussion on how to do that, but it's not just the touring. It's also the trade shows and corporate learning and the instructionals that's all done on live events....I think people learn better in groups, I think instruction is better in groups.
"I think conversation is better, industry is better. Everybody's better when we can meet face-to-face and talk. We just have to figure out a way to do that that's safe in the new world that we're in."
Read more about The Field at Franklin, check showtimes and purchase tickets on its website.