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 think.
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 movies.
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 screens.
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 experience.