Article on Flix Outdoor Cinema

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This article first appear in the Projected Picture Trusts’ Rewind Magazine.

This article is about a series of outdoor film screenings which took place at Loughborough University over the late May bank holiday 2011; and which saw me return to being a student for a few days, as I was reunited with students at my former Students’ Union at Loughborough. For those that that don’t know, it was Flix – Loughborough Student Cinema is where I learnt to project and where my love of cinema really started.

It was a fairly last minute decision by the Students’ Union that they wanted an outdoor cinema, and Flix had never attempted one before in its 65 year history. However, they were lucky that I was still a regularly contact of these and this is how the PPT became involved with supplying the equipment. I was then able to provide with advice and support gained from previous experience with screenings at Glastonbury Festival.

In theory it should have been a straightforward borrow of PPT equipment that had previously been used for the October weekend last year, but this wasn’t possible as Flix wanted to show modern films which require a red light reader for the (modern) sound tracks, and to be able to output in stereo.

This meant that a Victoria 4 had to come out of storage and be brought into use. Over a series of weeks, the ‘Wednesday Crew’ worked on the projector and on a cutdown Westrex tower. As with all these things it ended up being a little last minute, with work still being done on the Friday morning the equipment was being picked up.

At Loughborough they had built the screen frame out of scaffolding and attached an old screen to it – the screen has been damaged when it was in use in the auditorium, but it was still in good enough condition that it could be used over the weekend.

The ‘Projection Room’ was 3m x 5m with 3m clearance and 2m above ground all made out of scaffolding and then covered over. Thankfully there was access to a forklift truck which made getting all the equipment into the projection area very easy. The box provided plenty of space to work (in fact I’ve worked in smaller boxes in London). There was a minor issue that the projector system require 3 phrase 16amp the students union could only had 3 phrase 64 amp supply outputs! Thankfully with some help from a cable conversion we were able to power up the projector. Unfortunately the output on the projector wasn’t the required input for the mixing desk that in turn powered the amps and the speakers (just stereo). This was solved by a last minute dash to Maplin (thankfully they are open until 20:00 on a Friday!) and a quick soldiering job!

Of course the one issue with outdoor screenings is that you can’t do a real line up or picture correction until it is dark or at least dusk. So one of the first tasks was for us to focus the bulb, a task that I knew the theory of but had never actually carried out. But we managed to get a fairly even light across the screen and a reasonable picture for Narnia which was the film on the Friday evening – which was aimed to keep the crowds entertained while they waited to go into the Friday Night Disco in the main Union building.

On Saturday we suffered a disaster when one of the fuse wires broke and stopped all the equipment from working. The problem is that at 22.00 on a Saturday night it is not possible to get fusewire from anywhere (not even the mega sized Tesco sells it), so the film was shown instead in the usual auditorium on campus.

Sunday morning we arose early in order to obtain Fusewire from Maplin in order to get the equipment up and running again, which it did once we had put the right size in. Usually on a Sunday Flix will show a film at 17.30 and 20.30 but it had been decided that they would show the 17.30 in the auditorium as usual and then move the 20.30 to 22.00 and have it outside. The film happened to be ‘Paul’ so that was the Sunday screening and after some careful alignment we managed to get a very reasonable scope image outside (it did involve some cardboard and gaffertape to help compensate for the aperture plates which came with the projector).

Monday’s screening was of Toy Story 3 and again we spent time making sure that we had the best widescreen image that we could (which involved moving the projector physically in the box). The image looked fantastic, but there was a period of time when there was a chance that the screening would be moved inside because there had been threats of thunderstorms. In the end it  was decided the screening would still go ahead outside and so all the deckchairs that were being used for seating were brought out. In the end there were around 100 students in the audience.

This event could not have happened without the help and support of the Student Unions Events Crew, Venue Management, the members of the PPT (especially Len Belcher, Ken Draper, Phil Bogner, Brian Philips). But it was a very successful event and despite the few hiccups and the guys at Loughborough were so impressed that this is now likely to be an annual event.

And this is an area where I think that the PPT will become more important in years to come – i.e hiring of equipment, both for use in film showings but also as props.