How to guide: Taking Cinema Outdoors

During the Covid-19 pandemic more social activity is happening in parks, greenspaces, gardens and out on the street. Outdoor screenings are a great way of bringing communities together in a safe and special way.

Real life examples - watch our short films           

First off get inspired and don’t be daunted. Hear first-hand experience and get the facts by watching our two short films on running an outdoor cinema community event in a park or public place.

Top tips

  • Contact a local group that have already run a similar event. Hearing first-hand experience beats any factsheet! If you can’t find anyone local check with Film Hub Scotland or Cinema for All as they may know of community film clubs that have run outdoor screenings.
  • It's really important with outdoor screenings to make sure you have a powerful enough projector.
  • Start with a small local event and learn from experience. Just doing something at a manageable scale for your group will give you a boost and lots of learning.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help! There’s an incredible amount of people who want to see communities come together safely, also you’ll be surprised who might have the equipment or skills you need to make it work.

Making it happen - planning your event

You need to plan ahead and decide on the scale of your event, a suitable film for your audience, the best day of the week and time of year for screening. This will determine how much budget you will need and how many people can come along.

Location – where will the event take place. It could be in a park, public space or a privately owned open space. Check how many people the space can safely hold, if it has good sight lines for the screen, if it has access to any power.

Set up - when you set up the projector, think about where the audience will sit, how easily can they see? If you are expecting a large audience, it might be worth setting the projector up high behind the audience, so the image is larger. Also, think about whether your audience will need seating - can they bring a deckchair or blanket - will umbrellas be needed? Do they need any physical distancing due to any current Covid-19 restrictions? Check the guidance for your area and plan this out.

Permissions and insurance – check who owns the site and get permission to use it. Parks may require you to submit a permission form or sign an agreement. Let relevant authorities know what you are doing. Generally they will be very supportive. Check with your local authority whether you need a Public Entertainment Licence, and/or Public Liability Insurance. It’s also worth notifying the local police and environmental health, who can advise on health and safety measures.

Volunteers – depending on the scale of your event you may need volunteers to help with publicity, set-up, stewarding and gathering track and trace information. GAMIS had five volunteers, who helped people negotiate the one way system, register contact details and answered questions from curious passers-by.

Publicity and bookings – decide if you want to charge for tickets or make it a free event. Make sure you promote your event to your audience. This can be through posters, flyers, social media or advertising. If you need people to book, have an easy booking system that will help you manage numbers. GAMIS used Eventbrite to register bookings, posting up QR codes so that people could book online whilst queuing.

Budget - your budget will depend on the scale of the event, if you charge for tickets and what equipment you already own or can borrow from other organisations. It can range from about £500 for a small event if you already have access to seating, rain cover for equipment, a high quality projector and a screen, to £2200 if you need to include all costs such as hiring all the equipment, seating, rain cover, publicity, film screening licence, insurance, as well as PPE for volunteers and sanitiser for attendees.

Things to consider - technical and practical

Projector - the most important thing is ensuring you have a powerful enough projector. GAMIS used a theatre-quality digital projector, which just about managed once the sun went down. You can hire daylight projectors, which are excellent. Alternatively, you can also use digital LED screens, but these are quite expensive, particularly if you want a good resolution.

Sound – you will need decent sound quality which generally means a PA system. This can be hired from commercial companies or you might find there is a community project or social enterprise that could provide one. GAMIS used a local music charity Music Broth who provided the PA System and power generator.

Power – you will need a power supply to power the projector, DVD player and PA. This could be from an adjacent building if you can do it safely; do make sure all cables are protected and secured so as not to be a trip hazard. Or hire/borrow a generator to power the projector and PA, it’s worth making sure it’s a ‘silent’ one, regular ones can be noisy and may drown out the sound of the movie.

Licenses - you will need to obtain a licence to screen the film, this is the case even if you are not charging for tickets. Most films can be licenced through distributors like BFI, Filmbank Media or Park Circus. You can usually find the info on the DVD case or online.

Health and Safety - always check current Scottish Government event guidance in relation to Covid-19 when planning and just before running your event. During restrictions you may need to mark out safe queuing distances and a one way system, a station with sanitiser and a system so people can give contact details on paper and possibly digitally.  Make sure all electrical and screening equipment and cables are protected and secured so as not to be a trip hazard. All electrical equipment must covered in case of rain. You should have a risk assessment that covers potential risks, how you will minimise and address them.

Inclusion and accessibility – think about how to reach your audience, be welcoming and inclusive. To reach a local audience, GAMIS had posters in Urdu, Slovak, Punjabi, Romanian and English. The posters had a mobile number so that local residents could contact them if they had any concerns on the night. Think about how the event might impact on local residents. To ensure they didn’t disturb local residents GAMIS paid for a sound technician to work with them to ensure the sound was properly balanced so that everyone could hear, without causing a nuisance to neighbours.

Who can help?

If outdoor film programming and screening is something you want to do on a regular basis here are some useful organisations and guides: