'It felt like we got kicked while we were down': drive-in movies, grad in limbo for PoCo company

Port Coquitlam's Galactic Entertainment, one of the largest event production companies in the Tri-Cities, says its future business is 'up in the air' following a recent order from the province banning the gathering of more than 50 vehicles at a time.

A Port Coquitlam event production company that has pivoted to drive-in movies and graduation ceremonies says it’s struggling to stay afloat even as other parts of B.C.’s economy look to re-open. 

As one of the biggest event and production companies in the Tri-Cities, Galactic Entertainment usually provides events with lasers, lights, rigging and audio gear for all sorts of events, from small weddings to the on-going laser-choreographed shows that lit up downtown Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics.

But, like many production companies, all that business has plummeted with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and cancellation of large public gatherings. Events started cancelling March 12 and within less than a week the company was forced to lay off 19 staff, according to CEO Tanya Robichaud.

“I cried that day,” said Robichaud. “We’re at about 10% of where we should be. It’s scary.” 

The company went from having an “amazing start” to spring and summer to trying to find some way to keep their business afloat. 

Having gotten its start nearly two decades ago in producing graduation ceremonies, the company looked back to its roots to come up with new ways to keep that special milestone alive in the middle of a pandemic — and were one of the first to pitch the idea of a drive-in graduation ceremony.

“I emailed every school from Hope to Whistler with our idea,” said Robichaud.

Unlike many drive-in theatres that use a projector to screen films, Galactic uses a giant LED wall, like a big flatscreen TV, so you don’t half to wait until the sun goes down to see it. That makes staggering events to reduce crowds over a longer period of time possible.

Robichaud’s original idea was to have graduates and their families park in school parking lots. From there, everyone could watch as cameras would film graduates walking across the stage in socially-acceptable groups, the images beamed live on to the big screen. FM transmitters would allow families and friends to tune in the audio on a designated radio channel in their car. 

While a lot of schools have waited to finalize their plans, so far four private schools from Chilliwack, Langley, Abbotsford and Surrey have signed on to the plan, and another private school in Port Coquitlam has also expressed interest. 

“Between this and backyard parties, this is what we have right now,” said Robichaud. “This was just a no brainer for us to be part of the event. Part of the solution.”

Post-graduation, business looks increasingly bleak, though the company is looking for ways to navigate regulations and make-up for the massive decline in revenue.

With all big summer events gone and weddings put off until next year, Robichaud said her company is working with some municipalities to find a way to throw drive-in movie nights and had recently been in conversations with the city of New Westminster to do just that. 

That was before provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued an amendment on restrictions of mass gatherings of no more than 50 people to include gatherings of no more than 50 vehicles and a restriction on the sale of refreshments.

“Anyone attending these events must stay in their cars unless they have to go to washrooms, which must be serviced with running water for proper hand hygiene,” wrote the province in a press release Friday. 

On Monday, Henry clarified that while people staying in their vehicles can be “less risky,” she added, “That becomes a very challenging situation when you have large numbers of vehicles and to be able to monitor and ensure that you don’t have those multiple numbers of connections becomes much more challenging.”

The Starlight Drive-In in Enderby, B.C.
The Starlight Drive-In in Enderby, B.C. - Facebook

That’s prompted pushback from several drive-in theatres across B.C., who, like Robichaud, say the move to restrict their operation during the phase 2 re-opening doesn’t make any sense seeing as they were allowed to operate during the height of the pandemic in B.C. 

One drive-in theatre in Langley has garnered nearly 5,000 signatures in a petition asking for the Ministry of Health to reconsider its decision. 

“It’s up in the air now,” said Robichaud, pointing to the prospect of launching drive-in movie theatres.

“It felt like we got kicked while we were down. We were pretty dismayed. At the end of the day, we can only work with what we’re given and hope for the best.” 

And while Robichaud said she “completely appreciates” what the public health officials are saying, just what it means for their own future as the province rolls out its four-phase re-opening plan is less certain.

“Events are phase 4 and it’s looking like that’s going to be either herd immunity or vaccine,” she said. 

“There's just so many question marks.”

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