Inthe summer of 2006 hordes of people, all clad in swimsuits, bunched together lawn chairs on the Oak Bluff Beach of Martha’s Vineyard. It was in the middle of the night, so no one needed suntan lotion. People shuffled around for a bit, adjusting their chairs just right, folding towels over their laps. Then an entire beach, crowded with people all facing the same direction, sat quietly.
This was not a cult initiation or a performance art piece, but the
Texas Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow, one of the most
popular film series in the nation. The night’s feature was
“Jaws,” immediately followed by a midnight swim in the
warm, but foreboding, waters of the Atlantic.
As many operators have learned, watery screenings such as this one
can attract new people by transforming their time at the pool into
a special event. While the Texas Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling
Roadshow may be a spectacular example, it represents a model that
can be adapted to your facility, often more easily than you might
Film screenings typically begin with copyright wrangling. Screening
a movie can be a pricey or cheap proposition, dependent entirely on
the film to be shown. Copyright dictates that even if you own the
DVD of the movie you wish to screen — for example, your
beloved copy of “Swimfan” — you are still
obligated to pay a screening fee directly to the owner of the
film’s copyright. Studios typically work through an outside
agency that handles copyright licensing for one-time screenings.
The largest is Swank, which, according to the Open Air Cinema of
Lindon, Utah, controls rights for 80 percent of all American
Arranging a movie with Swank (or, alternatively, Criterion USA,
which focuses on smaller independent film licensing) is a simple
process of setting up an account, arranging payment and setting a
date. Ordering through Swank is basically like a very expensive
Netflix, with movie prices typically ranging from $200 to $800,
depending on popularity and number of screenings.
If you intend to charge admission for your event, then Swank will
charge 50 percent of the ticket receipts instead of a flat rate,
according to which is greater. Of course, there are options for
those who wish to screen movies with no licensing fees attached.
Many early films, and some modern, have lapsed into the public
domain, meaning they can be screened without any fees whatsoever.
Your expense is only the price of the DVD. Popular picks in the
public domain include “The Black Pirate,” “Night
of the Living Dead,” “The Street Fighter” and
“Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” For a full list of
public domain movies, check out OpenFlix.com.
Now it’s time to reconcile three awkward facts: no screen, no
projector and much more water than the average cineplex. Luckily, a
variety of resources exist for the aquatic theater manager. Screens
can come in a few different forms with variable uses. Sure, a taut
sheet or a white wall will get the job done, but renting or buying
a proper screen will make the event seem more professional and
worth repeated patronage.
Inflatable screens are becoming increasingly popular because of
their easy setup and modular form. Other screens are designed for
rear projection, which is useful for pools that wish to keep all of
their technology relegated to a well-monitored corner.
Those planning a series of movies, or who just want to have a
multipurpose projection space, can put together their own
Several companies make projection-ready paint under a variety of
different names, one of the more popular being Goo System’s
ScreenGoo. Paint a rectangular screen onto a smooth wall, then
matte with black pine strips. You now have a professional
projection screen at a fraction of the cost. For those looking to
build something a little more portable, check out the online guide.
Projectors are similarly variable, with the most important
consideration being lumen output. Lumens are a standard designation
of a projector’s brightness, often equated —
incorrectly — with “candle power.” A standard
home projector has lumen outputs around 1,000. This is adequate for
a darkened room, but not enough for use at a dive-in movie. Look
for projectors with a lumen output of at least 3,000, and remember:
As with buckets of popcorn, the bigger the better. An additional
consideration when renting a projector, particularly if it has to
send images across the pool, is the use of a long-throw lens, which
will allow the projector to sit farther from the screen.
Producing appropriate sound for the event is an extremely important
consideration, but one that has nearly unlimited solutions. Many
public venues already own PA systems that could serve equally well
as movie speakers. A home receiver and some speakers with lots of
wattage — think 400 watts and up — can prove more than
adequate. Sound often becomes the bane of the unprepared, so test
your sound system well in advance.
Perhaps the best possible solution for a smooth screening is to
turn to city government. Though not many know of it, most large
cities have a Mayor’s Office of Film. Areas without a larger
city often will have similar resources available through the
county. This department is designed to liaison with filmmakers
planning on shooting footage in the area; however, it also
represents a valuable resource for those intending to screen films.
Often these offices can provide equipment and support at affordable
prices, or point to the organization that can. For example, the
Seattle Mayor’s Office of Film and Music would likely point a
local pool administrator to the Northwest Film Forum, a nonprofit
that offers highly discounted rentals and technology support.
The big day is here. Popcorn is not going to work, but think about
passing out inner tubes or some method by which people can choose
to passively enjoy the movie. Shut down the ceiling lights to the
minimum and juice up the pool lights. Make sure to have an extra
lifeguard on duty because this is the must-attend event of the
season. Keep someone (not a lifeguard) in charge of watching over
the equipment. Sit back and enjoy the show.
After the Rolling Roadshow’s screening of “Jaws,”
not a single swimmer was consumed by a giant shark, but many were
certainly convinced that it would be their fate as they dipped toes
in the cool water. It is story’s intrusion into life, the
empathetic ability of people to absorb the feelings and lessons of
cinema, that attracts people to the movies. They are naturally
drawn to the social experience of watching movies together. This
sense of shared experience is the real magic of the movies. A
dive-in movie night can bring a little of that magic to your pool.
It is not just screening a movie, but producing a memorable