How to Start a Bike-In Cinema

Why Bike-In?

Indywood is in the business of using 21st century technology to re-enliven the classic cinema experience.

A month ago we got shut down at the location we’d been operating out of for a year and a half, and since then we’ve been working on a creative new way to keep our brand alive: Bike-In Cinema.

There’s nothing as strongly connoted with the word “classic” as drive-in movie theaters. I was fortunate to grow up in a town with one of the last surviving drive-ins. Necking with my girl in the back of my old station wagon, I felt the palpable nostalgia of a classic American experience.

This summer, Indywood is bringing back the drive-in movie experience, but with a 21st century twist. These days we don’t drive-in—we bike-in. The great thing about bikes is that they can go anywhere! Over the past month, we’ve been taking our wonderful bike-back community to the coolest spots we can find around downtown New Orleans.

Though it’s not how we expected to be spending this summer, creating a nomad cinema has been pretty fun.

As always with Indywood, we hope to inspire other people to do what we do, so here’s a quick breakdown on how to set-up your own bike-in cinema.

The two main ingredients you'll need besides you're standard cinema equipment (which I have detailed in a previous post: How to Start Your Own Cinema) are a screen and a generator (maybe two).

The Generator

The biggest challenge of running a bike-in cinema is powering all your equipment.

Most often when screening outdoors you’ll need to use a generator.

If you’re trying to provide a quality cinematic experience (that you can charge money for to keep your business alive in a time of tumult), the problem with generators is that they’re very loud. It’s hard to watch a movie with a 2000 watt mosquito buzzing in your ear.

Use an Inverter Generator

That’s why you want to use an inverter generator. I must admit I don’t really understand the difference between AC and DC electrical power (all I know is Tesla was a bad ass), but I do know that inverter generators are designed in a nifty way that makes them much quieter than normal generators.

So you’ll want to use an inverter generator if you can get your hands on one.

We’re lucky to have a supportive community. Our friends over at AMCE Film Productions donated a generator to us. Thanks to them for powering our bike-in cinema.

The Screen

Blow-Up Screens

Blow-Up screens are all the rage these days. A blow-up screen can stand strong against the wind because it has a lot of volume.

We were very fortunate to have another friend—Jason Matherne, a local filmmaker and creator of New Orleans’ greatest slasher villain: the CockFace Killer—who donated a giant blow-up screen for our bike-in screenings.

The problem with blow-up screens is that they use a lot of power.

A good generator will put out 2000 watts of power. The blower that fills a blow-up screen uses 1600 watts of power.

That means you’ll need a generator dedicated to your screen. At Indywood bike-ins we like to serve popcorn (it’s all about the classic cinema experience) and use square stand to accept credit cards. That means we have to use two generators for bike-ins: one for the screen and another for the concessions booth.

That’s a lot of unnecessary noise.

Rear Projection Screens

As the Indywood tech guy, I’ve been attempting to innovate on outdoor screening technology (much to my business-minded sister/partners chagrin. “Fuck the noise,” she says, “it’s fine.” But I’m too much of a classic cinema nerd to acquiesce).

I’ve made it my mission to build us a standing screen that doesn’t require a lot of power to be blown up.

I found a really cool website called Carl’s Place, which sells DIY screen-building equipment.

Though Indywood is really hurting on money these days (Geez, my sister might be right!) I went ahead and bought a screen $497.

I only spent that money, because I’m interested in the potential of rear-projection cinema screening.

Rear projection means you put the projector behind the screen instead of in front of the screen. One of our first bike-in screenings was dog friendly. Before the show I was watching the dogs boisterously zipping past our projector—standing precariously amongst the audience—and I was terrified for my projectors safety.

Fortunately the dogs were polite and didn’t knock the projector over. But that was the grace of God (or Dog, depending on your belief).

That got me thinking—rear projection is cool, because you can hide your projector behind the screen, keeping it safe from dogs and drunk people. Also, when screening outdoors, there’s the constant threat of people walking in front of the projector and obstructing the image with their shadows. That just looks bad.

So, even though my sister is strongly critical of my spending extra money in this time for the sake of technical excellence, I’ve been developing our rear-projection capabilities.

Stay Tuned...

This weekend we’re putting our rear-projection screen to the test! We’re screening in a location that would be doomed by the unnecessary noise of a blow-up screen.

Next week I’ll be publishing a video showing how to build a rear-projection screen for your own bike-in cinema.

So stay tuned for that. I’ll keep the conversation going.

Let’s bring back cinema—on bike-back!