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Open Air Cinema: The Definitive Guide

Everything you wanted to know about outdoor movies, but were afraid to ask. Learn how to make an outdoor movie night a success.

Venue: Where to screen?

Outdoor movies can be held wherever the organizer wishes to screen the movie. If it is on council grounds, a number of permits will generally be required. Local government councils have specific requirements, so allow plenty of time to negotiate your requirements with the appropriate people at the council.

Decide what type of seating is expected. Are you planning to provide beanbags, blankets or summer chairs? Will the visitors be sitting on the grass? In this case, advise them to bring rugs, low beach chairs or camping chairs. School grounds of course are very popular, particularly when the school is hosting the event. Other less obvious locations include country and suburban race tracks, sports grounds, caravan parks, shopping centre car parks and company premises.

The basic requirements to be considered at any venue include parking, security, lighting, water, permits, if any, and catering.

Outdoors or Indoors?

The weather will normally make this decision very obvious! In the summertime the inflatable outdoor movie screens will give a magnificent picture anywhere it is practical.

The size of the screen is determined by two factors: the size of the audience and the venue. A smallish screen will look great near the swimming pool of a holiday resort, while if the background is the vast open landscape with a mountain at the back, the small screen will be lost in this space!

Australia is blessed with some absolutely fantastic and picturesque places to hold outdoor movies. Think about:

Smart Digital Event Planning Guide

Australia has some fantastic locations for an outdoor event!

  • Beach Foreshore
  • Parks and Gardens
  • Sports Grounds
  • Town Square
  • Horse Racing Grounds
  • School Grounds
  • Golf Courses
  • Swim Pool Centres
  • Show Grounds

The good thing is that screening movies does not have to cease when the summer has finished. Movies look great indoor in basketball stadiums, gym centres, club rooms, town halls, aquatic centres and the like. For indoor use we recommend portable screens, like SmartFold.

Weather; Cancellations

Naturally for an outdoor movie event the weather is all important! The three important elements within weather are rain, wind and temperature. The most important thing to remember is that people only attend outdoor movie events is for fun and entertainment. They do not have to be there! Therefore if it is blowing a gale or raining, people will simply not attend.

Conversely, if it is a beautiful, warm evening, it is reasonable to expect a very good attendance, all things being equal.

There is however some good news! Wind normally dies down with the sunset. So it maybe blowy at 4.00 PM and one may well wonder if the evening will go ahead. On most occasions, the wind will be negligible by sunset. The further inland the more stable the conditions are. As with all rules, there can always be an exception to this rule.

Generally speaking, the Weather Bureau gets it right, but as we all know, not always! Mother Nature is very keen to remind us – she is the boss around here! The Bureau predicts the weather 7 days in advance.

Two or three days before the event check the weather forecast. If it gives an unqualified report of “sunny” for the big day, it probably will be. On the other hand if it says “stormy weather with gale force winds”, it probably will be. The tricky part is when it says something like “possible isolated showers with periods of sunshine”!

If you need to cancel / postpone paid event, it’s a good idea to notify the ticket holders sending SMS to their mobile phones. In all circumstances, keep communicating with the audience using your social media channels.

You need to have a backup plan for an alternative date. Most equipment providers will offer a weather guarantee which provides an alternative screening under condition that the event has been postponed by the agreed time. It is important to make alternative arrangements before the technical crew has departed from base. Once they are on the way, the organizer will be up for technical crew costs as a minimum.

What to take into consideration?

  • Parking
  • Toilets
  • Lighting – it is dark when the movie finishes!
  • Safety and security – inform the Police of your event. Consider using crowd control fencing
  • Ticket sales and distribution
  • First aid – you may need to have St John Ambulance or a Level II certified first aid person in attendance
  • Water fountains may be required
  • Catering arrangements – check with the local council for food handling requirements

Movie Selection

One of the more difficult questions asked is what movie title should be screened at the big event. There is no easy answer to this. A good solution is to get a few people together and form a workable subcommittee to select the movie. The first thing to do is define the audience. Is it going to be a family event, an adult movie, a children’s event or something else? Generally movies on DVD/BluRay disc are available 6 to 8 weeks after they have finished screening at the local hardtop cinema.

Double headers, or 2 movies on the same night, can be popular. To be successful, they need to be of a similar classification. Screening a kids’ movie followed by an adult movie generally does not work. The parents cannot be at home with the kids and be at the movies at the same time.

To ensure a good attendance it is critical to screen the right movie for the occasion. If you are encouraging families to attend, keep the movie rating to G or perhaps PG. Disney movies are always a safe choice. There are many others which are family friendly, but remember the ratings are there for a reason!

Family movies are best shown on a Saturday night when the whole family can be there. Higher rated movies may be better screened mid-week.

You will never be allowed to screen a movie that is on at the same time as in a regular cinema. Some movies are not available for outdoor screening but may be available for indoor screening.

The best solution is to select say 3 to 5 movies and send in the request for the film licence to the distributor. You will normally receive a response within 24 hours advising availability and cost.

Many movies are available in 35 mm film format as well as on DVD. The advantage of 35 mm film is the movie can normally be screened earlier than a film being screened on DVD. The disadvantage of film is that it is considerably more expensive to set up and operate on the night. A 35 mm projector is a big and expensive piece of equipment and a licensed projectionist is normally required to operate the equipment. The alternative with DVD is much simpler; No licensed operator and a lot less equipment is required. However for commercial events an experienced audio visual technician is normally employed to set up and screen and the projection equipment for the movie night.

Movie catalogues are available at: roadshow.com.au and amalgamatedmovies.com.

Licence

In general, the Commonwealth Copyright Act allows movies screened in a private backyard to be free of any licence requirement. Beyond the backyard, all screenings are deemed to be a public performance and liable to licence requirement. This includes movies screened on private land such as private golf clubs and the like.

There are two main licensors of movie rights in Australia, Roadshow on behalf of the most film studios and film distributors, and Amalgamated Movies on behalf of Sony/Tristar. There are a number of other art houses which provide licenses for their studios, but the above licensors control about 95% of all film studios.

Film studios generally charge a flat fee for the movie licence or a percentage of the gate takings. Factors involved in determining the fee include:

  • The customer. A primary school fundraiser will attract a lower fee than a corporate end user!
  • The distance from the nearest hard top cinema
  • The expected size of the audience

The penalty for screening a movie without a licence is generally up to $250,000 for the promoter and for the exhibitor. The procedure for obtaining a licence is for the promoter or exhibitor to get in touch with the licensor and request permission to screen the stated movie. The licensor will request specific information and then give the permission to screen on payment of the licence fee.

Not all film studios and not all films are available for licensing all the time. When seeking a licence it is wise to request 3 to 5 movies in case the number one choice is not available.

For Roadshow movies apply at: roadshowppl.com.au and for Sony/Tristar apply at amalgamatedmovies.com.

Planning to show TV programs? No license is required for live events broadcasted via free-to-air television.

Security

Security

You may require security to ensure safety at your event.

Most public events require a security presence. Security is required for two reasons: to look after the audience and to protect the exhibitors’ equipment. Some children and indeed some adults are wilder than others! It is important that the technical crew is allowed to inflate and assemble the equipment in an orderly manner. Unfortunately some children become very excited and need to share their love of ice cream and cola with the outdoor movie screen! The equipment is expensive and this behaviour is simply not acceptable. It also prevents the technical crew from getting the movie to start at the agreed time.

Either a security guard or a suitable adult should be in the vicinity of the screen before and after the movie screening.

The technical crew should also provide simple security barriers or temporary crowd control fencing which for the most people will provide an automatic no go environment around the screen and equipment.

Regulations (smoking, alcohol, pets)

Open Air Cinema is, in most cases, a smoke-free event. However, it may be a good idea to have a “smoker’s corner” where the breeze will not blow the smoke across the audience and annoy non-smoker. The availability of such a facility should be sign posted and included in the announcements prior to the start of the movie.

Decide on whether the event will be alcohol-free. Many events offer a licensed bar and also allow BYO.

Pets

Don’t forget to consider a pet policy at your event.

As long as alcohol is consumed responsibly, rubbish bins are provided and security guards are on the watch, there should not be a problem.

Allowing pets can attract many dog-owners. All you need is a set of rules. We recommend restricting the entry of dangerous and restricted breeds and advising the owners to keep dogs on the leash, so that everybody’s experience is positive.

How to make a movie night a success

The movie or the live TV event is only a part of the evening’s experience. It is important that when the people leave at the end of the evening, they say: “Wow! What a great night!”, “What a blast!”

To give the viewer a fantastic experience, whether they are attending a fundraiser, a free event or a commercial movie night, we recommend combining the movie with other experiences, creating a terrific night out.

Blues Brothers

For a great event combine a movie with other terrific experiences.

As an example, the promoter might decide to screen The Blues Brothers – truly a successful, fantastic and entertaining movie. But screening it on its own would be a little ho-hum! Imagine having a live Blues Brothers Band playing, all dressed up in the gear, while the audience is watching the sun going down and waiting for the movie to start.

Add a stall called “Soul Food Café”, serve fried chickens and an Orange Whip, referencing to the movie scenes, and all of a sudden we have a wild and entertaining experience. The viewers will not forget that night for a long time. Everyone will also talk a lot and tell all their friends about a great time they had at the outdoor movie night!

Here are some more ideas to make the event/party a really enjoyable evening.

The first is to provide live music playing as people arrive and up to the start of the movie. This is neither difficult nor expensive. A three piece band, playing music appropriate to the event, gets everybody into the right mood. Normally cool jazz or smooth pop music work really well. One of the organizers might know somebody who plays in a band. Senior kids from the school are often looking for live experience and will play for that experience and for watching the movie for free! As always, it is just a matter of how you put it to them, or how you sell the idea! Think about it for a moment.

No access to live bands? Use the power of speakers supplied with the system. Play a CD or broadcast a radio station (a great way to promote your local community radio station or get a sponsorship from a famous FM!).

Another idea is to play console games from producers like Nintendo, PlayStation or Xbox. Games on the big screen are always a big hit.

However, if you have a lot of kids, small or big, then you may have a problem, as not enough kids will get a go. With majority of console games, you can only play up to 4 people at a time. Fear not, as there is a solution! Use Just Dance, a rhythm game available on all gaming platforms. It can even be played with a smartphone app!

There are no controllers to worry about, and excellent music with a great beat makes everybody move. Experience shows that almost everybody gets up and dances, from bubs to seniors. It is that captivating!

The good thing about the dance idea is that it does not require a brilliant image on the screen. People understand that the image on the screen will improve as the sun sets.
Outdoor cinema allows connecting the movie with life.

Showing a movie about dogs? Allow the dog owners bring their pets and run a little dog show. Screening a film for Valentine’s Day? Add chocolate, flowers and champagne.

Showing the movie for the kids? Invite a face painter and a balloon twister; let the little ones jump on the thematic jumping castle.

Whatever you do, you need to create the atmosphere, get everybody into a great mood and relieve people of the day’s pressures.

They will soon relax and enjoy themselves. They will depart saying -what a great evening it was! The other good part is that the cost is minimal, if anything at all. Enjoy!

Promoting event

Every movie event, no matter who the organizer is, requires promotion. But so does any event when you are inviting more than a couple of friends!

A professional event organizer will often consider the following basic fundamentals which of course will vary from client to client:

  • Advertisements and PR in the local newspaper
  • Promoting event online, via social media
  • Radio advertising and PR (consider offering free giveaways)
  • Paid TV advertising
  • Signage outside the intended venue
  • Posters in retail shop windows
  • Posters and movie schedules in hotels, motels and caravan park reception desks
  • School newsletters
  • Direct mail
  • Screen advertising for the next week’s movie schedule
  • Submitting event to WeekendNotes and relevant websites

Attracting audience requires time, so allow for it! The normal time from announcement to show time is about four weeks. People need time to plan and prepare and to get them into frenzy! It is important that people start talking about the upcoming event, share it on social media and get excited.

Once good people are at the event, it is important to follow through and give them a great time. When people talk about what a great night out they had at the outdoor movie, it makes having a follow up event at a subsequent time a real breeze!

How to Set Up the Movie System

It is a good idea to appoint one person to be responsible for looking after and setting up and pulling down the gear.

Manpower needs to be arranged for the various event activities. Projection area may need to be made secure and cable covers may be required.

Technical Set-Up

The very first thing to do with screening a movie for a client is to be prepared. It is important to know the movie licence is in place. A site inspection is a very good idea, particularly for larger or far away events with complications. Are there any ambient light problems which could wash the glorious movie picture right off the screen? This can easily happen with car parks and street lights. It is obviously essential to anticipate the size of the audience so as to know the size of the inflatable movie screen to take to site plus the amount of the audio requirements!

Security of the equipment and of the patrons is important. It is a good idea to place a security fence around the intended front of the movie screen. This can be as simple as hi-vis traffic cones, lightweight crowd control barriers or special signage.

Ground Preparation and Screen Set-Up

Touring Set Up

It is important to prepare the ground before setting up the screen.

To set up an inflatable movie screen the ground should first be cleared of sharp objects and then the tarpaulin laid down. The movie screen is then rolled out, unfolded and tethered correctly. Only then it is inflated.

The outdoor inflatable movie screen should be the first item to install because that is what the event organizer wants to see, and that is what provides the wow factor for the event.

A site visit or description is therefore highly important. It must be determined if the event is to be set up on the © 2016 Smart Digital Australia surface. If it is to be on grass, the question must be asked if stakes or pegs are allowed or should weights be used.

If the event is on a hard surface there is of course no discussion! Shot weights are very popular for this task. Where water saving is not an issue, water containers will also do the job.

The movie screen should have adequate skirt so that the people up the back can see clearly. The skirt is the distance from the ground to the bottom of the white image area. A 5 metre screen as an example will have a skirt of at least 1 metre whilst a 10 metre wide screen will have a skirt of about 2 metres.

The inflatable movie screen must be tethered to the ground. This is for both safety and stability. If a big wind blast suddenly comes up and the screen is not tethered, it may suddenly take off! This could be very dangerous!

Quality outdoor inflatable movie screens are generally certified to withstand winds of up to about 35 km/h. If the screen is correctly tethered, winds will not be a problem.

However, in case of strong winds the attendance will be minimal. People only attend outdoor movie events because it is fun and relaxing. A gale force wind of 35 km/h plus does not fit into this definition!

Sound

It is important to get the sound system working as soon as possible and start playing the agreed music out to the audience. This will ensure a great environment with lots of very happy people. The music will get everybody in the right frame of mind, make them relaxed and happy. Everyone will have a night to remember.

The two most important things with a movie are image quality and sound. High quality stereo sound is paramount. 5.1 and 7.1 are a waste of time, because there are no walls in the great outdoors!

Active or powered speakers work really well with outdoor movie. They are easy to set up and provide high quality clean sound. If you can see the movie image clearly and hear the movie soundtrack, you will have the most enjoyable evening. However without one of those, all will be lost.

Projection

Movie ProjectorsA decision must be made to use front or rear projection. This is easy with 3 to 5 metre wide screens featuring an easily removable nylon black back on the screen frame. Real estate may determine the availability of rear projection. Rear projection can be tidier and away from the audience, but does not work in all circumstances. When a professional rear projection screen surface is used, there will be a drop off of brightness of about 510%. When the theatrical quality Lycra screen material is used, the decrease of brightness will be minimal.

Most inflatable outdoor movie screens have an aspect ratio of 16:9, otherwise known as HD, or wide screen. Most DVD movies are published in this ratio. Blue Ray movies have a slightly different aspect ratio but will generally work well with the DVD HD ratio.

A big question often asked is how bright the projector must be to place a great image on the movie screen. In short, a lot less than you anticipate!

We have all worked with projectors in the office and at home where there is lots of light, if not ambient light. The big difference with outdoor movies is that there is no ambient light with the exception of street or car parking lights. For a 3-4 metre wide screen we find 2300 ANSI lumens to be adequate.

For a 5 metre screen we normally use 3000 ANSI lumens. For a 6-8 metre screen we would normally recommend 4,000 to 5,000 ANSI lumens. For a 10 metre wide screen we would recommend a projector with about 6,000 ANSI lumens.

Certainly you can use more lumens if you wish; you will not get any allergy for using too many lumens! The snag is that once you have reached a screen’s optimum level of brightness doubling the ANSI lumens will not double the visible brightness to the human eye.

There are two major projector types around at the moment, LCD and DLP. Liquid Crystal Display is largely a Japanese invention whilst DLP comes to us from Texas Instruments. DLP has got considerably better over time and is now the preferred technical solution for movie projection. DLP is sharp, crystal clear and the blacks are considerably blacker than the alternative.

A professional operator will carry a spare set of all major components. This is critical with cables, DVD players and projectors. It is too late to run back to base when the event is about to start!

Power

The availability of electrical power is a critical requirement. Luckily for DVD movies, normal single phase household power is sufficient. If a power outlet is not available within about 50-60 metres, a generator may be required.

A generator with inverter provides the best quality power. For most movie systems a 5 KVA generator is suitable. The blower should be operated from a different power point to the rest of the equipment, if possible.

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James Cunningham

James Cunningham

James Cunningham is the owner and founder of Smart Digital Australia. James has been in the audio visual and projection screen business for over 30 years. He introduced outdoor movie systems into Australia with the company being the premier supplier of the equipment more than 10 years ago.
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