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How to organise an outdoor cinema event

Thinking of organising an outdoor cinema event? It’s easier than you think. Here’s a breakdown of the steps you’ll need to follow.

a group of people sitting in chairs in front of a large screen

Thinking of organising an outdoor cinema event? It’s easier than you think. Here’s a breakdown of the steps you’ll need to follow.

Steps to organising the perfect outdoor cinema event

  • Set your budget and the scale of the event
  • Pull in professional help if you need to
  • Choose a location and a date for your event
  • Get your licenses in order
  • Source food and drink vendors
  • Research and hire the ideal outdoor cinema equipment
  • Choose a ticketing platform and create the relevant online pages
  • Market your event
  • Get familiar with the relevant safety measures

a group of people sitting in chairs in front of a large screen

Set your budget and the scale of the event

You’ll probably have an idea of how big or small you want your open air movie event to be from the outset. But it’s still important to plan out, in real terms, what the scale of it’s going to look like. Even if you’re running a really small or ‘basic’ event, costs can soon escalate if you don’t plan things carefully. Some useful things to consider are:

  • What’s your budget for the whole event? 
  • How much profit do you plan to make (or, for charity events, what are your donation goals)?
  • What’s the average price of similar event tickets in your area (what are people willing to pay?)
  • What are your outgoing costs going to come to? Think about: equipment, staff, costs associated with safety measures, food and drink (are you going to hire a food truck or bar?) 
  • Location costs – do an initial scout of possible venues and enquire about fees (more on this later)
  • How many people can you feasibly host bearing all the above in mind?

Pull in professional help if you need to

If your budget allows it, and you're going for a larger scale event, you might need to hire some extra hands. Make a decision about this early on so you can source the relevant people right away – having them on board from the outset will make things run a whole lot smoother in the long run. 

Some professionals you might consider hiring include: promoters, events organisers, outdoor cinema technicians, and creatives who can help with the decor and ‘set’ for your event. 

That’s not to say you need to do this, though. It’s perfectly plausible to pull off a smaller outdoor cinema event with very little additional help. 

a group of people watching a television

Choose a location and a date for your event

Next up, source the perfect location for your event and make the appropriate enquiries. If you want to go for a rooftop bar or another kind of private premise, you’ll need to ask the building owner about hiring costs. 

If you choose to go for a public space like a park or village green, you’ll need to get in touch with the relevant local council. 

And when it comes to the perfect date for your event – remember outdoor movies don’t have to be reserved for the warmer months. Sure, balmy summer nights do tend to call for ethereal classics like Baz Lurhman’s Romeo and Juliet – to be played against a backdrop of twinkling fairy lights. But outdoor cinema events can be just as popular in winter. Think: frosty evenings where cosy make-shift grottos see audiences snuggle up under blankets to watch their favourite festive movies. In a nutshell: don’t let weather-factors put you off. Where there’s a will (or a decent set of outdoor heaters), there’s a way. 

Think instead about the timeliness of your event (do you want to coincide with a popular calendar date like halloween or summer solstice?) and what that means for your intended audience. 

Get your licenses in order

When you know which film you want to play, the next step will be to make sure you’ve got the appropriate licence to be able to do so. 

How to get a licence to showcase a film at an outdoor cinema event

Whether you sell tickets to your event or not, it's a legal requirement to get a licence to show your movie. You’ll be able to get one from companies like:

Or you could go directly to the copyright owner – if it's a smaller indie film, for example.

Depending on which country you’re in, you’ll also probably need to get a premise license to show the film at that particular premise, but only if you’re running a commercial operation – AKA if you’re selling tickets. To get this, you’ll need to apply to your local authority.

Source food and drink vendors

Do you want to provide your audience with some refreshments at their viewing? If so, consider what this will involve and get in touch with the appropriate suppliers.

We love the idea of stationing a street food van at your outdoor cinema site, or something quirky like an old-school popcorn stall. If you want to sell alcohol, be sure to secure the appropriate alcohol/liquor license. 

Research and hire the ideal outdoor cinema equipment

Second maybe only to securing the perfect venue, hiring reliable equipment for your event should be a top priority. As a minimum, you’ll need:

  • An outdoor cinema screen
  • A projector
  • A high-quality sound system 
  • Lighting
  • Seating (unless your outdoor cinema is a drive-in)

There are plenty of companies that offer this kind of equipment for hire – pick one with great reviews and competitive prices to make the most out of your event. 

a projector with light coming out of the lens

Choose a ticketing platform and create the relevant online pages

In today’s digital world, it’s pretty much a given that your event will need an online presence if it’s to do well. Start by choosing an online ticketing platform to create a box office-style page to sell tickets from. With Ticket Tailor, you can embed your box office page into your own website, or use it as a standalone platform to make sales. 

It’s also a great idea to create a Facebook events page for your outdoor movie night. Make sure it’s full of rich, enticing descriptions and provides useful FAQ-style information for potential customers – focus on practical measures like the fact there’ll be plenty of toilets and blankets provided if it gets chilly. Finally, make use of evocative imagery that helps to sell the atmosphere of your event.

Market your event

Any event is only as successful as the marketing behind it. There’s no use organising a killer, all-frills evening if the right people don’t hear about it. You should focus on the channels that matter to your intended audience, but in general plenty of social media promo is a good idea (don’t forget the power of image-rich Instagram stories and posts). Plus flyering and posters if you feel there’ll be a sector of your audience that isn’t very active online.

Get familiar with the relevant safety measures

Running any kind of event for the public requires a certain level of risk assessment and there’ll be legal requirements too. Get familiar with your government’s policies before hosting your event, and make sure any staff you’ve hired are fully brought up to speed too.

Do a test run of your event

Last but certainly not least, you’ll need to do a test run of your open air movie night. Most importantly, this’ll involve trying out all your equipment so you can avoid technical glitches on the night. But it’s also a good idea to trial things like ticket scanning and seating factors (can people feasibly move in and out of their seats?). 

And that’s pretty much it. The key is to plan things carefully and – in our opinion – to pay extra attention to those thoughtful little details that’ll make your event stand out. With both of these boxes ticked, you’ll be in a great position to create a memorable evening that genuinely impresses.

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