Outdoor cinema at the Barn

Posted on July 31, 2014 by Jim Whittle

Categories: Pop-up and Event Cinema

Outdoor cinema at the Barn
An outdoor screening in the lovely grounds of the Barn Cinema, Dartington

With weather like this, it’s only natural that our thoughts should turn to films in the great outdoors! The Barn Cinema in Dartington, Devon runs lots of Outdoor Cinema screenings every year and here Barn’s Cinema Manager & Film Programmer (and ICO Technical Ambassador) Jim Whittle tells us how they do it.

Over to you Jim!

The Barn Cinema runs a full-time film programme with at least three screenings per day run by a small team of seven staff. Although we all love working here, we don’t struggle to fill our time so when our Artistic Director approached me in the cafe and asked “Can we do outdoor screenings as well?” I of course, said yes! Four years on and our outdoor film programme has expanded from three screenings per year using 35mm to twenty screenings at five different events at Dartington and across Devon – now using 2K digital projection with a choice of two sizes of screen.

Our most recent event was a series of six films over two weekends in July. Our preferred blend of new releases alongside classic and cult films can make the programming quite tricky; this time around we got a good mix with Walking on Sunshine and Tammy for our new releases (which we also screened inside the Barn Cinema for several days each), A Hard Days Night and The Birds for our classic film offering and for the cult film lovers, Pulp Fiction and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Outdoor cinema at the Barn
A rapt audience at one of Barn’s outdoor screenings

The screenings take place in a small car park area immediately adjacent to the cinema and the cafe in Dartington’s formal gardens, so the location is ideal – both practical and aesthetically pleasing. We also have the added bonus that should it rain hard, we can quickly move the audience into the cinema and continue the screening.

For projection, we use an NEC800C / Doremi server which is located inside the cinemas stage loading area, meaning at the end of the night we can simply shut the doors and the projector is safe. For other venues, we have made a shed with portholes to house the equipment. Our sound system is a Dolby DMA8 plus coupled with a CP650. We only use centre, left and right channels and feed the signal through a Soundcraft mixer to a powerful PA system. Our screens are standard cinema type screens either rigged to a Prolyte truss or a scaffold structure depending on the size screen we use. We are lucky that Dartington operates several high spec studiospaces and we have access to the rigging and PA systems as well as some technicians to help set it all up.

Outdoor cinema at the Barn
Waiting for the film to begin…

The weeks leading up to the screenings are very busy with equipment being sourced and checked out and a lot of time checking the Met Office website. This year, the weather was very kind with lovely sunny weather; it remained warm right up until the end of the films. This helped us sell out most of the screenings with large audiences for the remainder. The events are well supported by local people and there is a marked difference in atmosphere from indoor screenings: people arrive with picnics, wine, blankets and often dressed up before films. The sight of the audience (and staff) up and dancing their way through Walking on Sunshine will stay with me for a while!

Not only do the outdoor screenings provide very welcome income during what is often a very quiet time for cinemas, but the cinema team gets a lot from these events. Everyone chips in, from making DCP trailers to designing posters and handing out leaflets in the town, not to mention rigging scaffolding, moving PA systems, seats and projectors. It is an enormous amount of additional hard work but always brings the team together and gives an enormous sense of achievement. At the end of the night, once everything has been put away and tidied up, we all share a midnight pint of cider to unwind!

Would I recommend running outdoor screenings to other indie exhibitors? Yes, you won’t regret it!

Thank you, Jim!

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