Screening films in community cinemas

05 How to project films

Everything you need to consider to pull off your screening in style.

If you’ve never shown films before, the technical side of things can seem like a steep learning curve. Working with a space that wasn’t designed as a cinema originally can present many challenges and even if you already have the equipment, set-up is not always easy.

We recommend working with a professional projectionist or technical manager, as they can provide bespoke advice, but the guidelines below offer a background to things to consider when planning a screening.

For more in-depth detail, download our introductory guides to Film Projection and Cinema Audio.

Essential equipment

The screen: There are many choices about what to project on to. If you’re screening indoors, you can install a fixed projector screen, but many people prefer to use a folding screen that is transportable and easily constructed. You will need to think about the size of the screen and its height, which you will need to consider in tandem with the projector. Screening outdoors requires a different type of screen; many people choose an inflatable screen.

The projector: When you’re working out which projector to choose, pay attention to throw distance: this measurement tells you how far away you can position your projector and what size of image you can expect. The other key factors are the contrast ratio and the lumens count. A higher contrast ratio count will allow you to perceive more detail and see more subtle shades. Lumens is a measurement of how bright the projector lamp is. Both of these factors will allow you project in conditions that aren’t completely dark and offer an advantage over home entertainment systems. Most modern projectors also allow you to be versatile about where you position the projector.

The sound: Sound is one of the most complex areas of projection, but can make all the difference to your screening. If dialogue can’t be heard, for example, it will be disastrous. Think about where best to position speakers; whether you need them to be freestanding; whether an existing PA system is appropriate for film screenings; whether stereo or surround sound is best for your space; and whether there are any echoes or dead spots. You may also need to think about using a small mixing desk.

For more in-depth detail on sound, download our introductory guide to Cinema Audio.

The player: You have a lot of different options about what device to play films from. It will need to connect to the projector, so check they are compatible. Many people screen from laptops, which allows you to be versatile, but can also come with complications (battery life, on screen notifications displaying to the audience, output resolution etc). Others prefer to screen from a Blu-ray or DVD player. Blu-ray is much higher resolution than DVD, which means the on screen image will have more clarity and your show will be more impressive. Check that the title you wish to screen is available on Blu-ray, though a Blu-ray player can also screen DVDs.

Tips for all screenings

  • Position the projector as central to the screen as possible.
  • If screening in rear projection (where the projector sits behind the screen), position the projector as central to the screen, at a distance back from the screen, as possible.
  • Calibrate the sound properly to the individual acoustics of the room, whether it be on a mixing desk, or through a calibration mic on a processor.
  • When positioning speakers, the left and right channels should go an even distance on each side of the screen. The centre channel could go below or just above the screen depending on the situation and your surround left and right should go at the back of the room, at the left and right.
  • Keep the projector in a cool, well-ventilated space.
  • You need a constant airflow going through the projector and over the lamp, otherwise it may overheat and shut down, and even cause damage to the bulb.
  • Get the right advice before purchasing equipment.
  • Always be prepared!

Tips for screening outdoors in particular

  • Consider all potential light sources e.g. street lights, shops etc.
  • Don’t screen until 30 minutes after sunset, once it’s completely dark.
  • You may be able to use surround sound if it’s a small enough area but if it’s a wide area, it may be best to stick with stereo sound so that dialogue is not lost for certain parts of the audience.
  • Bring the correct equipment.
  • Make sure all equipment is covered and sockets are weather-proof.
  • Do your research, be prepared: outdoor screenings can be very unpredictable. It’s important to think realistically about all weather possibilities.
  • Don’t be discouraged – with the right contingency plans in place you will pull off a great event!

Watch this video for more useful tips on how to set up an outdoor screening, and download our full How to Plan an Outdoor Screening Guide

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