By Don Ford

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — The city of San Francisco has joined Concord, Santa Rosa, Pleasanton and San Mateo in opening the one type of entertainment venue that can operate during the COVID-19 pandemic: a drive-in movie theater.

San Francisco prides itself on the high-culture provided by its ballet company, its symphony and its jazz center. And now San Francisco boasts its first ever drive-in theater.

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Nick Kinsey, the Director Cultural Affairs at Fort Mason, was one of the forces behind the new venture, Fort Mason Flix.

“We want to take advantage of what we do have, which is a glorious outdoor parking lot, 13 acres. And we’re inviting the city to come and see their favorite film here,” said Kinsey.

At one end of the lot is a gigantic LED screen. The same type of high-definition display used at Oracle Park, the screen is 20 feet tall, 40 feet wide and 90 times brighter than a regular indoor movie screen.

Cameron Brown, the lead LED engineer for the project, said the screen is tough enough to withstand the elements, but also expensive.

“You can hit it if you want, but if you break it…” he trailed off with a laugh. “But it truly is pretty sturdy.”

Crews are careful monitor the wind during the evening, raising and lowering the screen as needed. In a back room behind the scenes, they use a simple laptop to play out to the display. Audio for the movie is transmitted on a low power FM transmitter that attendees can tune in on their car radios.

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Nearly 100 cars will pay $49 each to see one of the two movies being screened for Friday’s opening night: ‘Minions’ at 6 p.m. and ‘The Matrix’ at 9 p.m. If you can still afford it, popcorn combinations start at $25.

The drive-in has a number of COVID-19 safety rules. Masks will be required by all attendees over the age of two when outside of the vehicle. Masks with exhalation valve are not allowed.

Parking spaces in the lot are distanced by 6 feet to promote and maintain social distancing.

Attendees are advised to remain in their vehicles when not using the restroom facilities or purchasing from concessions. The concessions area is marked with all socially distant signage and enforced and restroom facilities will be regularly cleaned and sanitized.

The whole idea has proven very popular, Kinsey said.

“September dates sold out almost immediately. We released October dates yesterday and those are going quickly. Almost sold out,” said Kinsey.

There may be outdoor screens popping up across Northern California, but Fort Mason Flix is the only drive-in theater with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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More information, a movie schedule and tickets are available on the Fort Mason website.