John Young is a nerd. And if you don't want to take his word for it, then how about the WCAU news team's?
"John Young is a typical camper," began Cherie Bank's piece on The Hill School's summer computer camp, accompanied by the image of a then 10-year-old Young sporting a Doctor Who baseball cap with a pedometer clipped to it.
"You can't really get any further along the nerd scale than that," Young admits a couple of decades later.
The nerds, of course, have inherited the earth since that Pottstown camper was humiliated on local television. By day, Young builds Web sites in West Chester, but by night he organizes the much more old-school, slightly clandestine Guerilla Drive-In.
Most drive-in movies are so named because their audiences pull their cars up to a stationary screen. Young's Guerilla Drive-In is just the opposite: It's the film itself that's on wheels, mounted to a 1977 BMW sidecar rig. Though it began in Young's backyard, GDI has morphed. Starting with a 2007 screening of the Rock Hudson-Doris Day vehicle Pillow Talk at a local cabin with a '50s-era ambience appropriate to the film, each event is scheduled at a themed site Meatballs at the Northbrook Canoe Company, Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic at a diving supply store, Caddyshack at a driving range.
GDI began in 2001 when Young's wife, Kate, found an article on a Santa Cruz-based operation with the same name one of several around the country. "I put together my own LCD projector out of some odds and ends. That didn't work all that well, so I just picked up a 16 mm projector for 80 bucks on eBay," Young recalls.
Young's interest in the GDI seems to be at least as much about that tinkering aspect as it is the movies. His hardware hacking began in junior high, when he and his friends would stick the guts of water-gun Uzis into hollowed-out books to squirt each other in the hallways. He's since engineered a helmet-mounted water-gun, created machine-readable URL bar-code patches that can be sewn onto jackets or backpacks and fitted iPods into old yellow Sony Sports Walkmen. That last innovation earned him a cease-and-desist letter from the corporate giant
"It's not capital-E Engineering," Young shrugs, "and it's not useful by any stretch. But as a computer guy, you sit down at a computer at 9 a.m. and when you stand up at 5 p.m. you haven't changed anything in the real world. So it's kind of cathartic it's nerd therapy. That's also the reason I get excited about doing the Guerilla Drive-In. Unlike a DVD, you can look at 16 mm film with a magnifying glass and see that, by God, this frame has Dom DeLuise in it."
The next GDI happens on Oct. 25, but the details, as always, remain veiled in secrecy (it can be said that the film will most likely be an '80s horror flick, directed by a master of excess and starring an actor later to become famous for rom-coms and an unfortunate run-in with a prostitute). Interested parties must locate an AM radio transmitter stuffed into an orange pelican case sporting the image of Che Guevara in 3-D glasses, what Young calls the MacGuffin. Find it with the help of Guerilla Drive-In Web site clues and tune in to its frequency for an access code. Then send Young a picture of yourself at its secret location and you're on the e-mail list.
Young's GDI is the only one to include the element of a MacGuffin. "The MacGuffin is partly just a way to add a fun scavenger hunt element," Young explains, "and partly it's because West Chester is a college town. We want to be secretive enough that we don't suddenly get 400 frat boys and a keg in the back of an El Camino, but not secretive enough that it's actually hard to find if you're interested."
Besides, he says, "Netflix makes things too easy. If you have to get up off your butt and go out to where you're going to be cold and uncomfortable and maybe get rained on, somehow the movie just seems better. The Guerilla Drive-In is all about bringing inconvenience back to the movies."