Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Local filmmaker's first feature film set where he fell in love with movies — Vali-Hi

4 cars parked at the Vali-Hi Drive-In
A behind-the-scenes photo of filming "Bobby's Intermission" at Vali-Hi Drive-In in Lake Elmo, Minn.
Courtesy Matt Olson

A local indie filmmaker is debuting his first feature film called “Bobby’s Intermission.” And it takes place somewhere that many of us know and love: Vali-Hi Drive-In, in the Lake Elmo area in the Twin Cities.

For filmmaker Justin Atkinson it was a natural choice to use Vali-Hi as the backdrop of his film, because it was where he first fell in love with the movies. Justin joined MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer to talk about the film.

“Bobby’s Intermission” will be showing at the Woodbury 10 Theatre at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24.

A film director shoots a scene with 2 actors in a car
Director of "Bobby's Intermission" Justin Atkinson helps shoot and direct a scene
Courtesy Matt Olson

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

KATHY: We're going to talk about a local indie filmmaker who is debuting his first feature film. It's called Bobby's Intermission. And it takes place somewhere that many of us know and love. It's the Valley High Drive-In, which is in the Lake Elmo area in the twin cities. Here's a clip of the trailer.


BOSS: Final question. Why do you want to work here?

BOBBY: I have to pay back my mom for fixing my phone, so I can use it to make a short film to get into USC.

BOSS: So you're a filmmaker?

BOBBY: Yeah, I want to make films in Hollywood.

BOSS: Well, Bobby, I'm not going to stand in the way of your dreams. Congratulations. You've passed. You are hired.

BOBBY: For real? Awesome. When do I start?

BOSS: Well, showtime is in a couple of hours. And you still need to get into makeup.

KATHY: For filmmaker Justin Atkinson it was a natural choice to use Valley High as the backdrop for his film because it was where he first fell in love with the movies. And Justin's on the line right now to share more about the film. Welcome.

JUSTIN ATKINSON: Hi, Kathy. It's an honor to be here and chat with you.

KATHY: Well, I'm so glad to hear your voice. Isn't it a shame that the Valley High is closed? I mean, for goodness sakes for so much of us, it was just like the soundtrack of our youth, in a sense.

JUSTIN ATKINSON: It really was. And I remember when I first heard the news, I was sad because I was hoping to take my son there some day. But while we were making the movie, I was able to make him and my wife an extra. So the three of us got to sit together on the driving lot and pretend to watch a movie. So I felt like I kind of got a little bit of that, too.

KATHY: Good. Say, what is Bobby's Intermission all about?

JUSTIN ATKINSON: So Bobby's Intermission is about a young man named Bobby who dreams of becoming a filmmaker. And he wants to make a short film to get into USC cinema school. But his character flaws, he thinks he can do everything alone, doesn't think he needs any friends. So after accidentally breaking his camera, he gets a job at the Valley High Drive-in theater, reluctantly as we heard in the clip, to pay his mom back. And he ends up meeting other friends there who help him make his short film and maybe teach him the value of friendship.

KATHY: How long have you been making films, by the way?

JUSTIN ATKINSON: So I have been making short films-- this is my first feature film. --since I was about 17 and got a video camera from my mom for Christmas. And it started out just my brother and I doing stop motion with his toys. And then, eventually, when I met all my friends working at a movie theater, we started making our own short films together. So it's been a long road to get to this point, but a fun one.

KATHY: What's the joy in filmmaking for you?

JUSTIN ATKINSON: I love the collaboration. And this one was the first time I got to collaborate with real actors, not just forcing my friends and family members to do it. And they brought so much, their characters, so many new ideas, so many new discoveries. And that was the real fun for me just to see them take a scene I wrote and really elevate it with their own talent. It was great.

KATHY: And this is your first feature film.

JUSTIN ATKINSON: This is my first feature film. And it was a dream come true. The experience of making it, I'll never forget it.

KATHY: It took me for my first documentary, feature documentary, oh, gosh, six years. So how long did it take you to start scripting and getting everything on storyboards?

JUSTIN ATKINSON: The process, it can really take that long. So I started writing this script about 10 years ago. And it took a long time to get it to the point where I felt like it was ready. But I finally decided. It's like, you know what? If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it. So I just jumped right in and started auditioning actors last summer in 2022. And then we made the movie. It all came together pretty quick after that.

KATHY: So I mentioned, of course, the Valley High is really a place of many great memories for so many of us. And you actually fell in love with movies there at the Valley High. Do you remember that?

JUSTIN ATKINSON: I do. I remember my mom taking me to see Batman, the Tim Burton Batman in 1989. I had never seen a drive-in before. And I just remember waiting on the line. If you remember, it would start at the box office. It would go all the way out that Frontage Road. This line went all the way out back onto the freeway. And I was like, what is going on? What is this? An outdoor theater?

But once we got in there, and I saw you know Tim Burton's vision of Batman projected on that big screen against the night sky, it just captured my imagination. And then years later, my mom took me to see Jurassic Park there. And that was the movie that made me want to make movies. So it's a huge part of my life, the Valley High.

KATHY: I know you've had great reaction to the film so far. Do you think it's because people like the nostalgia of the Valley High?

JUSTIN ATKINSON: Yeah, that's one of the biggest pieces of feedback I've gotten. Because it's been closed these last couple of years, and we all want to go back there, it's a chance for them to see it on the big screen, see the box office again, see the concession stand, the lot, the screen, the sign, all these things, and relive their favorite memories again. So I think that's a huge part. It's the star of our movie.

KATHY: See, I'm hoping that the Valley High reopens somehow, someday. That's my hope. We'll see.

JUSTIN ATKINSON: For sure. I'm friends with the owner. And he was very gracious enough to let me film there. And he's a gift to us. He's dedicated his life to running the drive-in. And I'm forever grateful for what he has given us with the Valley High for all these years.

KATHY: Well, Justin, maybe it's possible that your film could be shown at the Valley High somewhere along the line here. That might be kind of fun.

JUSTIN ATKINSON: That would be incredible if we could make that happen.

KATHY: Well, let's see. Maybe he's listening. All right, Justin, all best to you. Thank you so much.

JUSTIN ATKINSON: Thank you, Kathy.

KATHY: Justin Atkinson is the writer director and producer of Bobby's Intermission. You can catch the encore screening at the Woodbury 10 Theater 6:00 PM this coming Sunday.


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