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How to Build a DIY Home Drive-In Movie

written by: Jayant R Row•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 8/8/2010

Drive-in movies may seem an outdated concept in this day of DVDs, home theatres, and downloaded movies. But there is still a substantial segment of the younger population which would be thrilled by going to a drive-in movie. So how do you build your own and get people in to view the movies?

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    A Drive in Theatre Is a Unique Experience

    Drive-in theatre 

    The concept of drive-in movies started in the 1930’s when New Jersey based inventor Hollingshead put up a movie projector on top of his car and displayed movies on sheets nailed to trees. The concept was widely appreciated and led to a boom that commercialized drive-in movie theatres with allied franchises in snack eating. The high price of real estate and the vast pieces of land that drive-ins required to be worthwhile gradually led to closing down of most drive-ins. Other technologies like television, DVDs, home theatres, and the easy streaming of movies from the internet put the final nails in the coffin of drive in movie theatres.

    But now again the same ease of technology and its ease of use is leading to some sort of minor revival of drive in movies, though in a very limited way. It is probably the novelty of the concept for today’s younger generation that is leading to this resurgence, and it may turn out to be just a limited fad. But while the new style entertainment is still getting eyeballs, it may not be a bad idea to learn about how to build your very own homemade drive in movie theatre.

    So, what do you need to build a drive in theatre? You would need:

    • A piece of land.
    • A place to site a projector.
    • A DVD player to hook up to the projector.
    • A screen or wall surface.
    • A means to power up the two appliances above.
    • A means to hook up sound to the cars that drive in.
    • And an audience.
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    Land and Equipment


    This could even be your own backyard, if it can hold two or a half a dozen cars. You can also look for vacant plots that can be rented out for a night. The place must have an accessible road leading to the property, and that can even be a dirt lane.

    The Projector and Setting It Up

    A projector able to project a fairly large image is a must. Digital home cinema theatres are more than adequate and should be able to project an image of at least 96 inches with sufficient clarity. For this you may need a light output of at least 1500 lumens. Most home theatres would do so. The concept of mobile movie drive-in theatres is very much here and projectors can even be set up inside a car with a flat windshield.

    The Screen

    Flat walls on which you can project the picture are a must. If this is not available find a way to put up a large white cloth of the same size (such as a sheet). You would have to position your projector so that you get the clearest image and still have sufficient room for cars to be parked on either side to view the movie.

    DVD players

    The range of this equipment in today’s market is amazing, and the equipment should be compatible with your projector. In fact you can even use a laptop which has a VGA or HDMI output that would easily serve the purpose.

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    Energizing Your Systems and Getting the Audience

    Powering Up the Equipment

    If you are using a car as the base for the projector and DVD, you can easily use the battery terminals of your car to power up your equipment through an inverter which will convert the DC power to the required 110 V AC required by most equipments. Do not stint on the capacity of the inverter as this is the heart of your power source. If you require 300w of power, look for an inverter that will give you at least double, if not more, than that output. This is because battery capacity diminishes over time and you may run out of power when you most require it. Portable silent generators can also be used, but the sound is still audible and can be distracting. Alternately set up a separate battery source for your drive in theatre. You can also arrange to run your car if the hum of the engine is acceptable.

    The Sound System

    For this you need to set up an FM transmitter which would have a range of about 150 feet so that sound is easily transmitted to the sound systems of the cars that would drive in to your theatre. You need to be careful to see that the frequency you use does not clash with other transmitters and may need to do a little research before you can hit on the correct one. Hook up the transmitter to your power source and the sound output on your DVD and you are ready to roll.

    The Audience and Other Considerations

    Once you have tested your equipment and are sure that it will work, you now have to get those cars in to your drive-in theatre. If the space is restricted, just telling a few friends and acquaintances may more than fill up your lot. Alternatively send out a few SMSs or E-mails and ask for confirmations. Let them know the movie you are screening.

    You need to be careful to see that you do not infringe on copyrights and may need to get the permission of the company owning the movie. They may charge you some license fees but it is better to be on the safe side of the law. If you do not charge admission and show the movie to no more people than would fit in your living room or media room, you would not require any other permission. If local police permission is needed, get it, and see that you do not disturb your neighbors.

    You can make up your costs by asking for donations, or by setting up some food or cold drink stalls.

    And once you have the audience make sure you tell them the frequency to tune in for the sound, and of course, the time of the next show.