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VOL. 41 | NO. 9 | Friday, March 03, 2017

Drive-in project is 'bet the farm endeavor'

By Vicky Travis | Correspondent

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Since announcing plans in early February for an indoor, ideal drive-in experience called August Moon, the great imaginer behind it has enjoyed a deluge of media coverage and supportive emails and messages from potential customers and interested investors.

“We thought, ‘Let’s do a press release, maybe we’ll get a little coverage,’” says Michael Counts, New York-based immersive entertainment entrepreneur.

Along with lots of local coverage, the project got the attention of Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The London Times among others.

“I bet I did 20 interviews last week,” he says.

Hundreds of email messages he has received have ranged from anecdotes about drive-in experiences to some interested in investing.

Counts calls this East Nashville project the culmination of his 20 years of work.

“This is a bet-the-farm endeavor,” he explains.

His previous projects have included The Ride, The Walking Dead Experience, The Beacon at Tavistock Group’s Lake Nona and Paradiso: Chapter 1.

He has also been a designer and director of productions with the New York City Opera and New York Philharmonic.

Lead investors are Nashville’s Ken Levitan of Vector Management, James Diener, co-founder of Freesolo Entertainment, Michael Solomon of Brick Wall Management; and Broadway producer Daniel Frishwasser who backed Counts’ The Ride.

The group chose to go public with the plans to pique the interest of more investors for the $6.5 million project, Counts adds.

“We needed to build momentum,” he says. “This has to be all equity and not debt because the concept is untried.”

“We are well on our way to raising the money,” Counts points out, adding that they hope to have all investors on board by April.

The Nashville Mayor’s Office has not been approached about any incentives, says Michael Cass, communications advisor.

“Mayor Barry believes August Moon is an interesting concept, and she always appreciates when investors want to invest their money in Nashville,” Cass explains.

Counts and his partners expect to open August Moon Drive-In during the second quarter of 2018 at the intersection of James Robertson Parkway and Interstate 24. An initial schedule of 18 showings a week will be a mix of first-run movies and favorites that are no longer widely screened.

Mark Courts

Moviegoers are promised the ideal, nostalgic drive-in experience and may sit in real antique cars or a grandstand among full-sized trees, grass, hammocks and a starry sky overhead in a 40,000-square-foot, air-supported dome.

“This will be the idealized version of a 1965 perfect summer night,” he explains. “It’s the wild exception to what drive-ins were. Nostalgia polishes the edges.”

“The level of authenticity is second to none,” he adds. “People will be shocked how much they feel the level of detail. It will surpass expectations.”

August Moon will also feature full bars, artisanal American comfort food, private “tree house” event and party spaces, and a separate lounge with live music before and after the movie.

When the concept germinated about three years ago, Las Vegas was a potential location. So was New York. As connections go, Counts’ manager Solomon connected with Diener, who is a long-time friend of Levitan.

“Ten minutes into my pitch, Ken said, ‘How can I help?’ ” Counts recalls.

Counts credits Levitan with bringing Nashville into the discussion. After a visit, Counts was hooked.

“I got a sense of how vibrant it is, how young and vital, and I could see all the growth firsthand,” he says.

“Ken showed us how hot the town really was. There was growth and a need to add entertainment that wasn’t music based. Tourism and newcomers need more options.”

Eventually, the holding company may be based in Nashville. If August Moon succeeds, it could be the birthplace for similar developments around the world.

“I couldn’t have envisioned better place than Nashville,” he says. “This is the brand, the best aspects of Americana.”

Counts loves the idea that this could spread from Nashville.

“There’s a poetry to that, an alignment to that,” he adds. “I’ve thought about bringing a 50-gallon drum of Nashville dirt to everywhere we do this in the world.”