This story begins with a bar napkin. In it, two friends from Granada wrote three words in 2016: plot, projector, canvas. Six years later, on a May night in an industrial estate in the Madrid neighborhood of Chamartín, a giant screen projects the meeting of Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson on a beach and 350 cars tune in to the radio to hear their voices. Of a diner bright red Americano, located behind the cars, pours popcorn and hot dogs.
In one of those evenings in which one lets one daydream out loud, Tamara Istambul (41 years old) and Cristina Porta (42) played at releasing business ideas. Porta then worked in foreign trade and Istanbul in banking. “We were both at that point of wanting to break the lathes, tired of going to work on autopilot and dragging our feet. We wanted to set up something that did not exist in Madrid”, they explain.
In the middle of that brainstorm, a Brazilian friend pronounced the word that made them start writing on a napkin: motorcycle movie. So, although none of them had ever been much of a movie buff, their company Autocine Madrid was born in 2017, and last October they opened the Málaga Metrovacesa Autocine. Two of the eight drive-ins that currently exist in Spain. Istanbul and Porta now plan to expand to Valencia and Barcelona. They also include Lisbon, Miami and Dubai. “Our favorite word is impossible,” says Istanbul.
On the way to mount the first, they encountered all kinds of obstacles. They were told that there was no license for a business model that had not existed in Madrid since the Motocine de Barajas closed in 1959. That this plot with which they had fallen in love was unattainable. That it was crazy to bring from New Jersey the diner that they had seen on YouTube and without which, they said, “we couldn’t set up a drive-in theater!” They brought it by boat. Today it is the heart of your business. “We are going to the difficult part because there is a queue in the easy part”, laughs Porta.
The concept was foreign to the public: what was being done in that place: were you going to see other cars or were you going to see movies? “Our partner at the time used to say how could anyone bring his children to this estate”, recalls Porta, “but it has been a success, largely through word of mouth”. The pandemic reversed the winter low season and ended up consolidating the business: “People, by watching the movie from their cars, could avoid coming into contact with other customers. That was a boom.”
The term drive-in falls short for this theme park. Afternoon movie nights are linked with concerts, established daytime festivals such as Rita’s Lunch and After Brunch, and private events. “The film industry has very narrow profit margins,” explains Istambul, “we have had to reinvent ourselves.” In addition to a children’s park, chill out and a tent for the winter, the American air plot is dotted with vintage cars, a Ferris wheel in summer and a carousel. It’s one of those places instagrammable that have been the scene of video clips, series and programs such as MasterChef.
That a friendship survives a business is a miracle. It is not so when one witnesses the modus operandi from Istanbul and Porta. They do not stop joking with each other and with the photographer despite having been working for more than 12 hours today. “We both have the same way of seeing life: we want to enjoy what we do and that people laugh.”