Event Planners: How to Host the Perfect Drive-In Movie Theatre

While shelter-in-place orders are carefully being lifted across the United States, event planners are working to understand the rules and regulations as to when and how live events and mass gatherings can slowly return. Many ideas are being tossed around to entertain and engage communities, such as virtual 5Ks, online community presentations, virtual concerts, workout clubs via video chat, and drive-in movies.

To avoid superspreading in public places and events, many event planners are opting in for events in outdoor spaces with proper social distancing and mask requirements to reduce their attendees’ risks as much as possible. Hosting a drive-in movie is the perfect way to give your community the much-needed entertainment that they deserve and keep the risks low. Here’s how to host a drive-in movie theatre.

How to Watch & Listen to the Movie

While you may think it’s easy to rent a projector and throw up an oversized bed sheet to create your own drive-in movie theatre, it doesn’t exactly work that way for large audiences. It may work in your backyard on the weekends, but unless you plan on hosting the drive-in after dark, you’ll want to avoid projection screens. Projection screens get washed out in daylight (even dusk is difficult!) and makes it virtually impossible to see the movie. 

To provide your audience with a crisp, clear viewing experience, it’s best to opt in for LED screens. LED technology, including mobile LED screens or LED video walls, provide a vivid picture for your audience. You can decide what size and how many LED screens you will need, based on your venue and audience size. Any LED technology professional can assist you with determining this.

Mobile LED screens are perfect for

To make your movie sound crisp and clear to everyone watching, it’s best to plan for an audio engineer on-site to coordinate your audio to broadcast through an FM transmitter so your audience can hear the movies from their vehicles or their portable radios. It’s not recommended to rely on standalone speakers for a drive-in movie theatre as it may be too loud for some and too quiet for others. 

Other things to consider would be if you would choose to have a stage and microphone available for speakers to introduce the films. You may want to include special pre-recorded messages from the event host or videos and graphics from your event sponsors. Get the most of your drive-in movie theatre and spread your messages to the masses! 

The Parking Lot Movie Theatre & Other Theatre Design Options

If you’re hopeful for around 500 cars at your drive-in movie theatre, you will want to work with anywhere from 10 to 15 acres to allow safe spacing for parking and maneuvering throughout the area. Want to scale it down? That’s okay, too! Start with your attendance goal or your parking lot space and work from there. All drive-in movie theatres are built to scale based on your event goals and planning limitations. 

Create a custom drive in design with event professionals

If you have the staff or volunteers available to safely direct traffic to designated parking areas at your drive-in movie theatre location, that is ideal to make the best out of your space. If not, consider drawing out the space with rope and cones or, if it’s a grassy lot, use spray paint. Remember to design your space to allow for traffic to come in and out safely.

The Logistics Behind a Drive-in Movie Theatre

Depending on your organization and your movie screening, you may be allowed to charge admission to view the movie. A typical ticket is charged by vehicle, not by person. It’s easier and quicker to complete a transaction when charging by vehicle. Plan on setting up a ticketing / admission station at your drive-in movie theatre. You can also offer pre-ticketing options to allow the flow of entry to move a bit more smoothly. If you are looking to host your drive-in movie theatre for free, that is awesome! We would still suggest a specific entrance for the admission count of your guests and ensure questions are answered efficiently. 

A big question you’re probably asking: What about restrooms? If you’re using a location that doesn’t have usual access to restroom facilities, you will need to offer another option. Consider renting portable restrooms and handwashing stations from a local vendor. They will do the set up and haul away. It’s really easy! 


Portable Restrooms and Handwashing Stations are Great Additions to Outdoor Event Venues

While most standard drive-in movie theatres have some sort of building with concessions on-site, any makeshift drive-in theatre venue probably won’t….but you still need food! In recent years, both food trucks and mobile food ordering have become more available (and valuable!) to entertainment venues across the United States. By hiring food trucks at your drive-in movie theatre, you eliminate the hassle of ordering, cooking, and serving your own food, plus hiring the extra staff to do so. While it may not be natural to hire an entire staff to host a concession stand, it may be good to hire a few food runners to allow mobile ordering for the food trucks and to cut down on the long lines of people. To also reduce lines at the food trucks, you can look at allowing one person per vehicle to stand in line to order. 

PRO TIP: To help yourself provide food and beverage deliveries to vehicles, number your parking spaces to allow people to order with their parking space number.

Keep Your Drive-In Movie Theatre Safe & Legal

Two things that no event planner is excited about are insurance policies and licensing agreements or contracts. No matter, it’s important to be aware of your risks and requirements to comply with the local, state, and federal laws to protect yourself and your business or organization from any risks when hosting your drive-in movie theatre. 

While you’re likely not opening your own movie theatre for business permanently, you are still responsible for ensuring that your general liability insurance policy would cover you hosting a drive-in movie theatre event. You may need to discuss the risks and coverage with the venue you plan to host your drive-in theatre at. It’s definitely smart to work out these details before announcing your plans to make the event happen. 

Anytime you screen a movie in public, you are typically required to obtain a license. It’s considered a public performance anytime you plan to screen a movie with a group of people other than members of your family or small group of friends or in a public place.  Licensing companies, such as Swank Motion Pictures and Criterion Pictures, offer specific licenses for public performances, including outdoor movie screenings for drive-in movie theatres in your community. Movie licenses have a broad range when it comes to cost from just a couple hundred dollars to thousands. Factors include, but are not limited to:

– Where the movie is being screened

– How many times you will be screening the movie

– If you are charging admission to screen the movie

– The company that owns the rights to the movie

– The age / relevance of the movie (i.e. The latest Avengers movie license may be significantly more expensive than a comedy from the 1980s).

If you are hosting a movie screening publicly without a proper license, the fines are hefty. It is considered a federal crime with a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $250,000. If you’re curious about whether or not you need a license, watch this video from the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation.

Use LED Screens For Your Drive-In Movie Theatre

Tips For Your Audience at the Drive-In

Keeping your audience happy is an important goal for your drive-in theatre. To ensure that everyone has a good time, here are some tips to share with your drive-in movie theatre audiences:

– Remember to turn off your vehicle. Keeping their car running and/or leaving their lights on is distracting to other guests.

– Bring a portable radio. Instead of draining the car battery to listen to the movie through the radio, bring a battery-powered radio – with extra batteries, just in case. This gives them the best listening experience. 

– Consider the view. Be aware of how their vehicles are parked and positioned to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to have the best view. 

– Stay inside the vehicle. For safety and liability reasons, it is best to stay inside your vehicle. Some scenarios may allow you to sit in the bed of your truck or stay seated in camp chairs in front of the vehicle, but while we are observing social distancing guidelines, we would recommend asking audiences to stay inside the vehicle. 

– Plan to be there the entire time. Leaving in the middle of the movie is not ideal while attending. It’s loud, it’s bright, and it’s not fun to be the center of attention. Let others enjoy the movie and plan to stay for the whole show.

A true movie theatre experience can never be replicated perfectly, but getting your event plans in order to make this drive-in experience perfect for your audience is all that matters. Take time to also consider hosting a drive-in concert or a drive-in worship service. Contact our event professionals to start planning for your own drive-in experience today.