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Outdoor Movies How-To Guides

AEROPRO Eco outdoor movie screen
How-To Guides > Guide #3:
Outdoor Movie Fundamentals

Willing and Able

Screening outdoor movies takes confidence (and patience) to learn audio/video equipment costs and capabilities, setup, operation, troubleshooting, maintenance and repairs. Just as important is understanding the ins and outs of:

Build an outdoor movie screening team

Staff and Transportation

One person can transport, set up, operate and take down a well-designed outdoor movie system for an audience of up to 750 people. For larger screens, one or more assistants are invaluable for transporting, installing and taking down equipment. 

Part time staff, for logical reasons, is essential for simultaneous screening events. A growing for-profit outdoor movie operator also needs to provide timely responses to existing customers and new inquiries.

With few exceptions, access to a SUV, van, truck, or towed trailer is required. How you roll is a puzzle solved by the cubic-footprint of your screen, projector, sound, racked components, essential accessories, tools and standby equipment. 

Know your area's weather

Cooperative Weather

Weather patterns predict the beginning and end of your service area’s traditional outdoor movie season. Moviegoers are comfortable with night time temperatures above 55 degrees and year-round movie events are popular in milder climates.

Wintertime screenings (at ice rinks or drive-ins for example) are facilitated by cold-weather projection surfaces formulated to not crack when temperatures dip below 50 degrees.  Some winter-weather screens can operate down to 17 below zero. 

For planning purposes, average high/low temperatures and precipitation for just about anywhere on the planet can be found here.

Mobile smart phones put event-day weather forecasting at our figure tips. Apps from Accuweather include a minute by minute prediction of precipitation intensity four hours into the future.

Movie licensing

Movie Licensing

Every motion picture protected by copyright must be licensed to be played in public.  Public performance pricing varies by movie title, the type of organization screening it, geographic locale, audience size, admission charge and number of showings. 

Two companies dominate popular movie licensing: Swank Motion Pictures and Criterion Pictures.

Parks, recreation facilities, schools, colleges, universities, hotels/resorts, campgrounds, bars/restaurants, churches, cruise ships, prisons, private clubs and businesses are a partial list of organizations required to license a motion picture before showing it to an audience.

A license is not needed to screen movies for private enjoyment, limited to one household and individually invited guests. ANY form of publicity or promotion redefines a movie screened for private enjoyment as a public performance.

Studio copyright enforcement can be vigorous, and the owner or operator of movie screening equipment may not be immune from legal action.

For-hire outdoor movie companies almost always ask customers to supply every movie being shown. Providing instructions for setting up an account with one or both licensing companies is a popular practice, frequently tied to a contract clause requiring the customer to pay movie licensing fees before equipment is delivered and set up.

Having customers obtain movie rights protects experienced operators from losing those fees if an event is canceled, and incentivizes rescheduling of events delayed due to rain or other circumstances.


Two types of organizations read these how-to guides. Many are structured as in-house operations such as parks, recreation destinations, universities, churches or hospitality properties. Others bring outdoor movie entertainment to a variety of venues as a for-hire service.

For in-house organizations, successful outdoor movie events are influenced by venue features, equipment technologies, movie title selection, timing, promotion and (quite often) sponsor support. Evaluating competition is an ongoing process of understanding the community being served and tracking entertainment options available to them.  To be proactive: 

  • Follow the social media feeds of nearby destinations hosting outdoor entertainment events, beginning with Facebook and Instagram
  • Visit competitor websites, subscribe to their email lists and use an RSS news feed reader like Feedly to keep up with blog posts and other content updates

Staying up to date on nearby outdoor events is fundamental for every entertainment venue and, in some cases, joint ventures or cooperative planning can lead to win-win success all around.

For-hire movie businesses float in a different boat. Monitoring and measuring competition is facilitated by public-facing resources and two polite spying tips:

  • If just starting up (and every few months thereafter), search for “outdoor movie equipment rental” on Google Maps then click the mapped icons to explore listings in your service area
  • Periodically explore competitor websites and subscribe to their email lists.  Follow them on Facebook and Instagram. 
  • Sign up for a text-compare monitoring service like Visual Ping to receive an email alert when key pages of a competitor’s website are revised
  • Arrange for ‘secret shoppers’ to call for details about capabilities and pricing

More About Movie Equipment Rentals

Synergy is a powerful propellant. A good number of outdoor movie rental firms find it is advantageous to own, operate or affiliate with:

  • Companies renting inflatable party rides, tables, chairs, food/beverage service items, tents, pipe and drape, stage risers, and other event-focused goods or services
  • Schools, clubs, houses of worship, athletic leagues, cable television providers, scouts, 4H, military facilities, and other community-based or fundraising organizations
  • Residential and retail developers prioritizing placemaking and fostering a sense of community 
  • Outdoor venues including parks, hotels, rooftop bars, campgrounds and a long list of entertainment/recreation destinations

Outdoor movie at hotel

Opportunities Abound

Imagination ignited a recent rapid expansion of the outdoor movie industry, and there is an ever-growing list of opportunities for where, when and why large crowds gather to watch motion pictures under the stars: 


Every motion picture protected by copyright must be licensed to be played in public.

Public performance pricing varies by movie title, type of organization screening it, geographic locale, audience size, admission charged and number of showings.

Two companies dominate popular movie licensing: Swank Motion Pictures and Criterion Pictures.

A license is not needed to show movies for private enjoyment, limited to one household. ANY form of publicity or promotion redefines a movie screened for private enjoyment to a public performance.

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