How to Run an Outdoor Movie Night

Outdoor movie nights are a quintessential Aussie childhood memory – warm evenings, popcorn and beanbags, a great movie under the stars with your family. They also require a fair bit of planning and can make a great profit.

Before the Event

Choosing a date: take into account the expected weather, sunset times, other events taking place at the school. For example will it conflict with sports carnivals and community events (eg. major football games). The recommended time to start an outdoor movie is 15-30 minutes after sunset.

Make a wet-weather contingency plan – will you cancel, postpone or hold it in another location?

Council approvals – contact your local council to find out what sort of permissions and permits you might need. Will you need a liquor or food license? Will you need electrical sign-off or assistance with road closures or parking?

Choosing a location

Choosing a location: generally school ovals are the preferred location as they are large, flat, grassy and easily accessible and the screens can be set up under the stars. Semi- or fully enclosed undercover areas work well for mid-winter movie nights

Access to toilets? If school toilets are kept open will there be security or safety issues?

If you are advertising to the wider community – will there be enough parking?

Noise concerns for nearby residential areas.

Lighting after dark (when people are returning to their cars)

Where will the power come from? Will you require generators or extension cords?

Will you need access to water for food stalls?

Ensure you have adequate rubbish/recycling bins.

Depending on how you plan on policing tickets, you may need to rope off the seating area, and only allow people access when they have shown their tickets.

Sourcing a movie and screen

Unless you have some serious sound and movie technicians within your school community, it is wise to get a professional company to organise the screen, projector and sound systems. Most companies will also source the movie and any licences you require as well as providing a technician to run the movie. It is important that you understand the PPL (Public Performance licence) requirements and that any company engaged (or if you DIY) that you have the proper permissions to screen the movie.

The size of the screen should match your expected audience. A small screen (4m x 2m) is suitable for groups up to 100, but if you are hoping to attract up to 1,000 guests, then you will need a much larger (and costlier) screen of 12m x 8m.

Prices differ significantly, but as a ball park a small screen suitable for up to 200 people might cost in the vicinity of $500.

Costs and Ticketing

If the event is primarily a fundraiser, consider that you will get greater attendance if the movie tickets themselves are slightly cheaper, but then additional fundraisers are run concurrently (see below).

When calculating ticket prices, ensure all costs are met including not only the hire of the screen and movie, but permit fees, other hire fees (generator, bouncy castle etc), printing and marketing costs.

Packages which include (for example) the cost of the movie, a voucher for a drink or icecream, glow sticks and a raffle ticket are not only perceived as good value by customers, but can make the night itself run more smoothly by removing the requirement for extra money handling and saving money on over-ordering.

Concurrent events and activities

Will you be running pre-show entertainment – karaoke, bouncy castles, raffles, side-show games, music or dance recitals, craft tables?

Will you have food and drink stalls selling food or will it be BYO?

Will you be selling glow-sticks, popcorn or tattoos?

Consider selling advertising space on-screen, on the tickets or in printed programs.

Local businesses may sponsor the cost of the screen hire in return for prominent advertising and signage.

Consider a ‘Gold Class’ or VIP area, with a spacious premium area in front of the screen, provided beanbags and cushions and a hamper pack with luxury chocolates, gourmet food, drinks and other goodies.

Will you be decorating your movie night with glow sticks or fairy lights?

Things to remember

Speak with your school gardener or council about making sure the sprinklers/reticulation won’t turn on unexpectedly.

Make sure the grass is mowed a week prior to the event, to reduce both mess from clippings and allergies.

With all large scale events, you will need to have a clear emergency and evacuation plan. This includeses muster points and contact people who are accessible via mobile phone at all times. Ensure that the phone numbers of local police and council are easily sourced.

Marketing the event in advance is a good way to ensure you get maximum attendance. This might be done through paid advertising in the local paper, signs on local community boards, letter drops to the local neighbourhood, a giant poster outside the school or asking local businesses to sell tickets on your behalf. Ensure tickets are numbered and know what the maximum capacity of your night will be.

Make sure people know what seating they need to bring with them on the night – should they bring beanbags or cushions? Are low camp chairs permitted? What provisions will be made for people who cannot sit on the ground?

Related article: How to make a DIY Lolly Buffet

Author: Shannon Meyerkort

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