DIY bike-in/walk-in movie; help me figure out my options
May 14, 2011 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Doing a guerilla outdoor movie showing…lots of options, some good threads on MeFi already, but I need a bit more advice on: - Parameters - Format - Projection - Sound - Power (see inside for more…)

Here are the parameters:

- No ready AC power source
- Need to set up and tear down relatively quickly
- Audience of about 50-100 in a triangular space about 50x50x20
- Possibly concerned neighbors
- Showing is just after sunset; there may still be some light, as well as light from several nearby street lamps.
- Quality criteria: intelligible, but not cinephile or anything close.
- The event is completely free; any expenses would come out of my pocket. I don't have the deepest pockets. I prefer not to ask for donations.

One hour of movie
- Run off a DVD in my Macbook Pro
- Run off a DVD ripped to my Macbook Pro
- Run off a DVD ripped to my iPad

- Have access to a standard, AC-powered projector with VGA and composite in.
- Considering a battery-powered pico projector.

- Have access to a 100" screen (good with the standard projector; would it be OK with the Pico projector)
- Could drape a white sheet over the side of a Uhaul type van/truck
- How big a screen do I really need?

- Could rent an AC PA
- Have access to a high-powered (i.e., not legal, will definitely cover the area) FM transmitter. AC powered.

- For a full AC-power experience, can I run the whole shebang off a standard car cigarette lighter socket with an inverter. Would the car have to be running?
- Is there an inverter capable of running the projector/PA/laptop?
- What about if I run the inverter from the uhaul truck? Would it have a heavier-duty, and therefore (?) more capable battery?
- What about a generator? I know this would work, but my event is such that I'd have to rent it on a Friday and return it on a Monday; that's expensive.
- For an almost AC-power free experience, could I run the iPad and PicoProjector, along with the FM transmitter from a car cigarette lighter with an inverter. That would require multiple FM radios, set up in strategic places, or maybe a bunch of open-doored cars tuned to the proper frequency. I can manage that, but would there be sound issues (like echo?)
- How about (legalities aside) tapping off the bottom panel of a street-light?

Other advice?

If you're curious about my event, by the way, it is a free-to-all walk/exploration of Los Angeles called "The Big Parade." The movie is held Saturday night at the bottom of a public stairway called The Music Box stairs - where Laurel & Hardy filmed their famous slapstick up-and-down piano sequence (that's the film - along with a Three Stooges knockoff - we'll be showing.)

The walk is divided into sections, featuring art, culture, history, and music; if you're in LA, or if you know anyone who might be interested, please let them know about it!
posted by soulbarn to Technology (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've done this kind of thing in a public park, so I think I can answer a few of your questions.

Most importantly: you need to check with the city and get all permits. This is a big deal, actually, and should address your question about neighbors. If you don't get the right permits, and someone complains, you will possibly get shut down. Doesn't matter if you want this to be DIY/off-the-cuff; you still have to do this above-board.

We ran our power (for projector and sound system) from a nearby streetlight: often, you can just run A/C power right from these things. Another reason to check with the city and get permits.

Screen: believe it or not, but a reasonably opaque white (or whitish) bedsheet will do just fine (especially if you're on a budget - go to a thrift store!). With some eyehooks, rope, and sheet holders not unlike these, you can set up the screen pretty easily.

A flat white wall can also work fine, especially if you can give it a new coat of paint. Depending on who operates this space, this might even be seen as a benefit, if you're willing to invest in paint and rollers.

The size of your screen depends on the throw of your projector, and the size of your space. You'll have to do some trial-and-error once you get a projector. I don't know much about vide projectors, so I can't recommend one in particular, but am fairly certain you can rent these from A/V companies or Rent-a-Center-type places. A better choice would be to exploit any connections you may have at local colleges and see if some A/V geeks can hook you up. In fact, you might consider "partnering" with a local film studies department: slap their name on the event, and I bet they can help you out A LOT with the technical requirements. Contact UCLA, USC, all the usual suspects.

You will need to wait until after sunset to show your film. Otherwise, the image will simply be unreadable. A nice way to lead up to the post-sunset screening is to have a band or DJ playing some music; that's what we did, back in Stevens Square Park in Minneapolis in '97-'98. It was quite fun.

You should also check with the people who do the outdoor screenings in LA at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. They project on the mausoleum wall! It's totally great. They might lend you some gear; if not, I bet they'd have some advice for you. Here's their site.

I hope this is helpful. Were in LA, I'd totally come to your screening.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:50 PM on May 14, 2011

Expecially if this is evening/night, try to face away from any and all residential units, be it apartments, townhouses, detached homes or whatever --- sound can carry surprisingly well, and bounces around on hard surfaces like brick; it won't help if you irritate the neighbors into getting the cops to shut you down early. (On a related note, no matter what, try to end your outdoor show by 10pm for the same reasons.)
posted by easily confused at 2:04 PM on May 14, 2011

I ran an summer outdoor theatre a number of years ago. We had the noise issue and it resulted in a neighbor throwing water over a fence at the audience because of the sound. It was a rectangular setting with the screen at the long end, so the speakers were all the way down the end.

I was able to cut down on the noise transmission by running smaller speakers along the length of the seating area as well as right under the screen. The net result was that I was able to keep the volume down but add to the clarity for each audience member. The neighbor stopped throwing water too. For the audience, it probably was a bit weird hearing it from somewhere other than localized to the screen, but nobody every mentioned it.

Also seconding the bed sheet idea, but you can also use matte white plastic table cloths. If you have the ability, you can create a simple frame that you can attach the plastic to with staples. This way, you can also give it a stretch to get rid of wrinkles. And the plastic only costs a dollar or two.
posted by lampshade at 2:06 PM on May 14, 2011

Correction: try to face *your speakers* away from residential units..... I know this because of shows in a park near my own place!
posted by easily confused at 2:07 PM on May 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the reply. I know that the permit advice is good, but from previous experience with our parks department - another event - it is almost impossible. Our LA bureaucracy is beyond thick, and with budget cuts, the fees are exorbitant (about $200, plus required porta-potty rental and proof of liability insurance.)

Our local film truck - which is booked my night, unfortunately - recommends going without. We will only be screening for a little while. (Going guerilla is one reason I'm hesitant to tap a street light - along with having no clue how to do it.)

- dan
posted by soulbarn at 2:09 PM on May 14, 2011

Response by poster: As far as neighbors, luckily, the wide base of the triangle abuts a busy street, and a tree-lined divider separates it from the homes across the way. Plus, the site is just a block from a noisy nightclub. So, the neighbors are like used to some Saturday night din. Nevertheless, I expect a complaint. The police around here take hours to show up, so we should be OK.

(insert cynicism tag here.)
posted by soulbarn at 2:15 PM on May 14, 2011

You might could give these guys a ring. They're in the process of doing exactly this, in Brooklyn, in a couple or three weeks.
posted by Sara C. at 2:19 PM on May 14, 2011

I wouldn't bother with permits. I've done this several times with a group of friends and never had a problem even with crowds of up to 200. We even had cops stop once or twice and just ask what we were doing but then once they realized it was a bunch of nerdy film geeks, they didn't care at all.

We usually found parking lots we liked and approached the owner and gave him a small "rent" to let us use the space while the lots was unused. We always rented a generator though and my recollection is that it was pretty cheap to rent a small, suitcase-sized generator for the weekend. Under $100 for sure and probably under $50. And having a reliable source of power is really important. We threw blankets over nearby streetlamps to dim the area sufficiently and painted a screen on the wall the day before. Actually, being able to do some set-up in advance (the painting and cleaning up the parking lot) and survey the site for any complications was super helpful.
posted by Mrs Roy G Biv at 9:40 PM on May 14, 2011

I don't want to sound argumentative or anything, but please keep the sound direction in mind: that 'film in the park' that I mentioned I live near? They set up a good half a mile away from my building, plus there's a belt of trees around the park; I can still hear, very clearly, every word. (The bright side is that they 'only' do this 5-6 times a summer; the down side is that this group tends to run late, and are often not finished till 1am or later.)
posted by easily confused at 2:20 AM on May 15, 2011

With the others on going without permits - if you're sensible it's definitely fine. Power seems to be your main problem and you should be fine just using batteries - preferably solar powered ones. Tons of portable cinemas do this with no problem. My only other advice is to get hay bales or old sofas for seating.
posted by turkeyphant at 7:27 AM on May 15, 2011

Mod note: removed link - please put it in your profile if you want people to check it out, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:56 PM on May 15, 2011

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