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Large Drive in theatre

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

I am extremely new to this industry but am interested in starting a drive in movie theater in a marina parking lot with ample space. I would say the lot space is about 200 x 300 ft and can fit at least 120 cars. The lot is rarely used for the restaurant because there another lot with plenty of space. I am looking into inflatable screens and have found some very good prices. The only thing that is really restricting the size of the screen is the lumens rating on most projectors. I was told that I would need about 16 sq ft per lumens. I was thinking about a screen that is 32.5 by 60 ft, but at 1950 sq ft that would require a projector that that has at least 31200 lumens. These projectors go for a ton of money. I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions as to what my screen size should be, what projector to use, and if that much lumens is really necessary per sq ft. I am open to any suggestion and I thank you in advance.

post #2 of 6
Yeah , a big screen requires a big projector. Unlike 35mm there isn't much of an used market, as digital projectors aren't serviced for 30-70 years.

This drive-in theater made the jump last year: http://www.avsforum.com/t/1333665/video-drive-in-converts-to-digital-80k-in-upgrades
post #3 of 6
You have bigger problems than image brightness.

A parking lot would makea horrible drive-in. You need ramps for the cars (so that each car will tilt up towards the screen). That would make the area generally unsuitable as a parking lot.

Also, a 120-car drive-in will not even pay for itself. Especially on a 200x300 plot, as you will need space for a ticket booth, concession/projection building, and maybe a playground. You would need capacity for 400-500 cars and several acres (with ramps!) to have a chance at this being a viable business. More screens would be a good idea, too. Remember that the film distributors will be taking upwards of 50% of your boxoffice gross.

And an inflatable screen will not do. They aren't high enough to be in the view of all cars (especially as cars today tend to be tall, as many people drive SUVs, Jeeps, etc.). And they flop around in the wind and are not really designed to be permanently installed. They are for one-off occasional shows, not for day-in/day-out drive-in usage. You want a Selby screen tower.

Once you get past all of these issues, you can worry about projection and sound. Your choices are 35mm or D-cinema. A standard video projector is useless, as film distributors (with rare exception) will not send DVDs or Blu-Rays of current releases to theatres. They will send prints or hard disks. And a D-cinema server can only be connected to a D-cinema projector to ensure an encrypted path from playback to projection. For a new installation, 35mm with used equipment is the cheaper option. Figure on spending upwards of $5-10k, plus installation. D-cinema equipment (new) would be upwards of $60k. You will need 3-phase power. For sound, most drive-ins use FM transmitters, so you can plan on that unless you want in-car speakers, too.

This is an interesting idea, but it sounds as if you really have not thought it through. The business plan needs major work. Projection and sound is the cheapest part of this sort of operation. Your major costs will be the screen tower, car ramps, and concession equipment. Plus advertising and film rental guarantees.
post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the reply. Like I said i'm extremely new to this and could use any help I can get. Although, I don't think you fully understand what I am trying to do, and I guess that partly because I didn't fully explain it.

The lot is part of a marina and restaurant that my uncle owns. The idea is to draw some attention to the marina with the hopes of picking up business a bit. The screen would be viewable from the lot, the balcony for the restaurant, and even from the boats on the harbor. With the prices dropping for projection equipment, one could set up a screen and projector for VERY cheap. The screen would not go up more than 3 days a week for about 4 months a year (weather permitting). Of course the screen would not be going up on windy days, and you would be surprised by the amount of wind these screens can withstand.

As far as the line of sight from people's vehicles. There are several companies that show movies in parking lots with no ramps for the vehicles. This is one good example:

As far as having ample space for concession stands, ticket booth, and "Playground"?, The entire property is enormous. There is actually a perfect area by the entrance where a simple ticket booth could be easily set up (that's if we even charge entry). The concession stand would not be necessary because any "concession" money could easily be made if the business in the restaurant picks up. Also, I would be going with rear projection. There is a big space behind where I plan to put the projector.

As far as the projector, 35mm is not even an option because its just outdated. I wont be needing a D-cinema projector especially if I'm not charging entry. There are several distributors that charge a flat rate for showing movies and they will send you the movie in any format, not just prints or hard disks anymore (dvd, Blu-ray). The estimated costs you listed are not anywhere near reality. Maybe a couple of years ago you would be right but nowadays this is equipment is getting very cheap. I'm also going with a smaller size for a screen which would not necessitate an extremely strong projector.

There's definitely a lot of things I need to consider more in depth but I have time on my side and this is only the beginning stages of an idea. I posted the idea here, not as a full business plan but just some food for thought, and maybe something that could really help my uncles business. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions.

post #5 of 6
Ah-ha. I see what you are trying to do. It's a temporary setup without permanent buildings that is designed to draw people into an area, not necessarily to make money in and of itself.

Note that, most likely, you will not be able to get first-run features (in any format) if you are not open seven days a week. You definitely will not be able to get first-run titles if you are not charging admission. This may or may not be a problem for you, but it is something to consider.

Rear projection will only work if you wait until complete darkness to start the show or if the area behind the screen is shielded from light in some way. Otherwise, rear projection outdoors will give you headaches with light from behind the screen (even moonlight would be annoying) plus all of the disadvantages of rear projection generally (expensive screen surface, hot-spotting, visible seams, etc.). I would seriously re-consider this idea unless you know exactly what you are doing and why. Note, too, that RP screens will be easily damaged by rain, and fast-fold-type frames will be destroyed if there is significant wind. For your purposes, the inflatable screen probably makes sense (unless maybe you have a nearby building with a wall that could be painted white), but you should look at front-projection surfaces.

There is nothing particularly "outdated" about 35mm, but it works best in a permanent setup. Given that yours will be temporary, though, I would go for video or D-cinema.

Now we get to the screen-size issue. This depends on several factors, most notably the availability of three-phase power. Do you have it? Can you get it? This will determine how bright a projector you can use. In general, espect to need 3-phase for anything brighter than about 10-15k lumens. Given that you are not showing first-run films (because you cannot get them), you probably don't actually need D-cinema equipment (though the projectors work well with external scalers connected to their DVI inputs, even without a DCI server) if you can accept the idea of showing a Blu-Ray or DVD to an audience. These are not especially reliable formats for that purpose, but you could get by.

Here is what I would do in your case: rent the screen and projector (maybe make a summer-long deal with a local rental house). Buy an FM transmitter. Get three-phase power and any other electrical work that you need. Build a projection shack and a ticket shack. Build restrooms. Offer something for concessions (why pass up free money?). Build a platform for the screen if necessary. License the movies through the distributors (tell them exactly what you are doing and they will figure out the proper terms; I have never booked screenings on DVD/BR before, but for 35mm you can plan on $250-500 flat rate for free screenings of older titles, plus shipping...video should be similar or possibly cheaper). Advertise the crap out of our screenings. Make the first one free or super-cheap. If the first summer goes well, then consider buying equipment in the future. This stuff becomes obsolete so quickly that it might not be worth owning if you will only use it four months a year.

Good luck with your venture.
post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 
Great, thanks a lot man you've been a big help. We'll see how this thing works out.

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