How to set up an outdoor cinema

How to start up your own outdoor cinema

We’ve been having a seriously hot summer, haven’t we? It’s been very undignified. And very few UK homes are fitted with air con, so things have been a little stuffy at times, too. On a recent trip, I found myself trying to watch a movie with all the windows open just to keep from breaking into a sweat—when suddenly, I realised just how brilliant it would be if there were more outdoor cinemas around.

In a park, with a lovely breeze blowing. In a comfortable bean bag or sun lounger rather than an Air BnB couch apparently ergonomically designed for interrogation. With popcorn and in such a good mood that I’d happily fork out five quid for a cold beverage.

There are several of these in existence already, with The Luna Cinema, Film4 Summer Screen, and pop-up al fresco movie theatres like The Nomad all over town. When I lived Down Under, Moonlight Cinema was a smashing way to watch both a movie and the mass of bats flying overhead each night. But the market is miles and miles away from being saturated, and doesn’t the idea just reek of easy profits?

At FindMeAStartup we don’t quite have a list of open-air cinema ‘connections’ that we can hit up for interviews, but every entrepreneur must start somewhere and the pros and cons seem fairly logical. Here is half your SWOT analysis already:

Pros:

  • Watch movies for money.
  • Meet interesting people, all of whom are out for a pleasant and fun evening. This may be delightfully refreshing if you are currently working as a parking inspector, an A&E surgeon, coroner, or one of those ‘environmental officers’ with the body cameras who spring £80 fines on people.
  • Enjoy the night air while raking in something like £14.95 for a standard ticket and £20.95 for a premium double.
  • No degree necessary.
  • Millennials, Baby Boomers, and families alike can all appreciate a good film, so no complicated market segmentation exercises needed. Besides picking out movies.

Cons:

  • This is probably the most seasonal of all seasonal industries, my friends—would YOU pay fifteen quid to watch a movie outdoors while a Beast from the East equivalent does its thing?
  • Similarly, you’ll be doing the most business only on weekends, Public Holidays, and summer holidays. But you can definitely expand to a midweek themed night or three if you are a shrewd marketer.
  • Outdoor cinema is neither rain- nor recession-proof. Nor is it wind-proof.
  • Not every location will be quiet enough for your audience to hear the movie, especially in a city centre.

More pros than cons, at least in my book.

How do I start-up my own outdoor cinema?

A business plan of sorts will never be your demise as an entrepreneur. It can help you figure out who your partners and stakeholders might be, where your revenue will come from and your resource inputs. Using a Business Model Canvas will help you think outside the box, even though it is a literal exercise in filling in boxes.

As there are approximately zero market research papers out there on ‘The Outdoor Cinema Industry’ we are going to stake out the competition to figure out what you will need.

Space

Find a space before you buy a blackout cloth slide screen or an inflatable screen. Unless you have permission to open your cinema in a cemetery like you’re The Nomad competition you will not be welcomed with open arms. You’ll be better off thinking Glastonbury-style and hire a field or rent a rooftop.

What? You have your own rooftop? Garden? Expansive rolling Sussex lawn? That’s so great, you’re halfway there!

Mmmm, a balmy summer night in a deck chair or beanbag. City lights or the chirping of crickets in the background. A gentle breeze and rustling leaves, and twinkling tea lights all around while you sip on a delicious cocktail. Not too bad.

Renting premises

Given the seasonal nature of your new business, it’s more likely that you will want to rent premises on a short-term rather than long-term basis. Here is where things become a little more tricky regarding break-even.

Having looked on sites such as Appearhere.co.uk, Canvas-events.co.uk, FieldLover.com, and HireaField.com, it becomes apparent that venues for your outdoor cinema can range very widely in affordability. To such an extent that premises may determine whether you make money at all or spend a long time in debt after one screening.

Most outdoor premises such as fields, you will find, have capacity for at least 100+ people. At around £1,000 (negotiable) for a weekend for a field in Norwich, for example, you’ll only be able to make a profit if you are hosting a couple of screenings a day and are making around £250 upwards at each. In London, you’ll be looking at predominantly wedding reception and brand launch venues, meaning the price of your premises can vary between around £750 a day (£2,250 per weekend) for 3,000 square foot venue to a lot more than is even worth considering.

Things to think about include the fact that in London, you will likely be able to charge a bunch more money for tickets, and a lot more people nearby will be interested in attending. On the down side, you’ll be more restricted capacity-wise, and more stressed out with higher fixed costs hanging over you like the Sword of Damocles.

Demand

Yep. You will need people to come to your outdoor cinema. Some potential target market segments include:

  • People with nothing to do. This is more strategic than I have made it sound, and is actually a location-based strategy. It’s a bit like a Coop strategy, where the population of smaller towns find themselves buying Pringles for £3 a tube because there’s simply nowhere else to go. If you’re the bloke with the rolling Sussex lawn from earlier, you could have a monopoly position in say, the Bognor Regis film industry.
  • As noted, summer holidays will be your peak time to entertain this niche. You can do early evening screenings, which is great for kids and will leave you the later hours for your next target market…
  • Uni students are often cash-poor but millionaires when it comes to free time. Have a mid-week discount night and you’ll make everyone happy!
  • You could do special events for lovebirds, like private screenings, or packages that incorporate dinner and bubbly. Why don’t you provide a waiter service or gourmet ice cream?

License

Don’t get fined for piracy! This is getting simpler to avoid, as evidenced by the existence of PopUpCinema.net. The site is designed by film distributors specifically for people like you who want a license to publicly broadcast documentaries and, like, films that make people think. They even have a range of Peppa Pig licenses for your Family Fun Nights that start at £150 a screening.

Otherwise just look at the label for any old movie and contact the distributor directly. If you know people who make Indie Films, I’m sure they would jump at the chance to have them aired publicly. If not, try any of these Indie Film Companies. They will be more likely to give you a response then MGM.

Screen… Or not!

Inflatable (consumer-grade) outdoor screens are as cheap as £120 for a 149-inch screen. That is NOTHING for an initial startup layout. Ebay and Amazon are obvious places to start, though the truly zealous may want to take out a £7,850 business loan and splurge on a complete outdoor cinema system. These can involve 16- by 9-foot outdoor cinematic Taj Mahals that also include projectors, Blu-Ray players, speakers, and additional extras. Boring wires etc.

If you do not have £7,850 in the kitchen drawer, here is a rough guide to pricing for techie stuff you’ll need:

  • Projector 800 x 600 to 1080 resolution – £280 to £900
  • OR, you can RENT a projector for £55 for each day
  • DVD player (£)/ Blu Ray player (££) / Laptop (£££) – £18 / £55 / £300
  • Sound System – £185 for Bluetooth outdoor speakers

While speakers are a must, you won’t technically need a screen. Project against the side of your house if it seems like it might work!

Popcorn and many snacks

You can make fancy popcorn in exciting flavours or extend the whole theme of your movie night to the menu you’ll offer. Like pizza for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles night, or Candy Floss for when Grease is on the projector. Here is where you apply for your premises license. Tell your audience to dress up, too, for that extra fun factor!

Here is how to make your own caramel popcorn. Also, people very much like cheese, so think about that too. Free business advice.

Our Market Research

We did our own market research for a change. Or rather, we asked several members of our potential markets how they would feel about going to our imaginary pop-up outdoor cinema.

Me: “What would make an outdoor cinema really fun?”

Gentleman A: “Blankets and bean bags…cocktails!”

Lady A: “Fairy lights! Cocktails! Popcorn! Hammocks!”

Gentleman B: “Barbeque and beer…a beach theme”

Gentleman C: “I would like to watch a movie, drink whiskey, and eat popcorn”

Lady B: “Fireworks at the end”

Basically, the British public very much like to get sloshed while they watch movies. So maybe the premises license is a very good idea. Regarding fireworks, apparently, it’s all fine and dandy before 11 pm if you’ve got the permission of the premises owner.

Startup costs

If I try to calculate the costs of every possible business scenario for you, things will get boring fast. So here is roughly what you’re looking at for a 40 person outdoor cinema, 5 nights a week, on your own premises:

Equipment costs (incl. sound, projector, movie player) – £483 to £7,850

Screening rights (8 movies a month*£150 a movie, 6 months a year) – £7,200

Public liability insurance – £120

Outdoor beach chairs and blankets for 40 people – £760+£400 = £1160

Gourmet popcorn for 40 people – £80 (Tesco)

Total approximate startup cost: £9,043 to £16,410

 

Rented premises will add at least £24,000 to £54,000 to your business expenses. The former is your Norwich field, the latter being your outdoor Shoreditch venue. And, these costs are relevant if you run Friday-Sunday for the 6 summer (if we can call it that here) months April-September.

Rented premises approximate startup cost: £25,043 to £70,410

 

IDEAS FOR OPTIONAL EXTRAS & VARIABLE COSTS

Premises license – £100 to £1950

Fireworks & alcohol, according to my potential consumers.

 

What haven’t I mentioned?

Your consumers will need to use the facilities at some point. Especially if you are plying them with drinks and shooting off fireworks at the end of your movie sessions (which have become quite exciting by this point). At your personal rooftop cinema, this means they will be using YOUR personal facilities for nose powdering activities. For me, this is a deal breaker and I will not be opening an outdoor cinema. But I have no doubt that most people out there will be more accommodating than myself. If this is you, I wish you the very best of luck and a successful IPO.

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  20. Outdoor cinema screening If your company has some outdoor space or a rooftop to spare, why not create an outdoor cinema screening. This is a great idea for a business event where you want people to bring their families, or for warm summer evenings when no one wants to stay inside.

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