Step 2: Gathering the equipment you'll need

Picture of Gathering the equipment you'll need
To run a guerrilla drive-in, you'll need:
  • Bright Projector (1200+ lumens)
  • FM Transmitter
  • Power Inverter or Power Generator with Inverter
  • DVD player or laptop
  • Car

I'll detail these components below, so you'll know what to look for:

The cornerstone of any mobile movie, the projector is what makes the magic happen. As such, you should plan on spending the most on this part of the kit.

That said, you can find the best deals by searching craigslist or ebay for used projectors. With how rapidly projector technology is improving, you can get a $1300 projector from last year for less than half that price today. However, keep your eye on the bulb price. If the bulb is anywhere near death (usually around 3000 hours), it's going to cost you $300 or more to replace.

When choosing a projector, select one with the highest lumens you can afford. 2000+ is optimal, but 1200 or more will suffice if you're on a budget. Other useful features include lens shift (which allows you to reposition the video without moving the projector itself) and a zoom lens. Both combine to make it much easier to just drive up and start projecting films. A zoom lens in particular is vital if you want the most flexibility in where you show your films.

Less useful features are positioning legs (you could just use a blanket), HDMI/720p/whatever high quality projection (most of it will be lost by the fact you're projecting *onto a wall*). Widescreen (16:9) is also usually overhyped - you can always gain the screen real-estate by zooming out and moving your car further from the wall. So if cost is a driving factor, choose brightness and zoom over the other features.

I've had lots of luck with Epsons and Panasonics, and some luck too with InFocus. Oh and LCD projectors often have a brightness/color advantage over DLP. Expect to spend anywhere from $500 to $5000 or more on a good projector.

FM transmitter
You'll need some way to get the soundtrack to your audience. You *could* set up a bunch of speakers on hooks like the days of old, but why do that when you live in the future!

Now, don't run out and grab yourself one of the $30 iPod transmitters. It won't work. You need a transmitter that can transmit sound 150ft+. The only one that I am familiar with is the Ramsey line -
I use the FM25b model, but I hear the FM30 has more features. These units come in parts, meaning you'd need a soldering iron (and an EE degree!) to put them together! Luckily, they're readily available pre-assembled on eBay for about $150.

DVD player or laptop
I personally use my old and crusty laptop to show movies, because it offers the best flexibility in film formats. I often open up a show with the mobmov logo and cartoon short, and then do a 10 minute intermission in the middle.

If you don't have a laptop, any old DVD player should work as well. If you have a mac and iDVD, you could even split the movie into chapters with an intermission that brings you back to the DVD menu. Another viable option is to use an old Xbox or other gaming system - you can often use it to play DVDs (especially if you get a "chipped" version), and you have the added bonus of being able to play games during intermission! Super Mario Bros, here we come!

Power Inverter or power generator
To power all this fancy equipment, you'll need to bring your volts with you. It's very unlikely that you'll find a suitable outlet anywhere nearby your urban cinema. Luckily, your car has a built-in powerplant, which can be conveniently harnessed to power all this equipment!

All you need for this is a basic power inverter. Always opt for more power than you need, so in the case, choose an 800W+ (continuous, not "peak") unit. I'm using an 800W model and it does the trick. Whatever inverter you buy, be sure it's a "modified sine" or "pure sine" inverter. A good quality modified sine inverter will set you back about $50-$100. A pure sine will be more like $400. Square sine will cause interference and may damage your equipment. Pure sine inverters are better on your equipment, though I ran my equipment for 2 years on a modified sine inverter without issue.

You'll have to connect the inverter to your car battery, which in your car is probably under the hood. If it is, you'll need to run a cable yourself or head over to BestBuy or someplace and have them run it for you. For my car, this only cost $20. If you do power your equipment in this manner, you'll need to keep your car running, as car batteries don't enjoy being drained all the way down.

A far more efficient and environmentally friendly (albeit more complicated) method is to use a power generator with built-inverter. These relatively small beasts are made by Yamaha and Honda, are pretty quiet, and start at around 1000w. I'd choose the smallest-wattage unit your set up requires, as more power typically means a louder generator.

While I used to use the first method of keeping my car idling, increasing gas prices got me thinking a bit more about it. As it turns out, you can power your whole kit with a single, massive marine battery and a power inverter. Just get yourself a battery charger. I got my charger on ebay for about $50, a Schmacher SpeedCharger. It's nice because it can report the % remaining charge in your battery, so you can see what's left after a show. For the battery, I bought a Costco 115 Amp Hour deep cycle marine battery. While longevity is uncertain, I keep it charged through the winter, and a full show only drains it to about 40%, so it should last awhile.

It's still probably easiest to power your equipment with an idling car -- but car engines are not designed to idle for long periods of time, and you'll be putting undue stress on it if you idle it for too long. Also, it's probably the least environmentally-sound method. If you can afford the extra $150, run your kit with a marine battery.

Your Car
If you already own a Toyota Prius, you've in luck! You've got the perfect car for powering your drive-in! Basically a battery on wheels, the Prius has the battery in the trunk, so there's no drilling required to plug in your inverter.

If, like me, you don't have a car, consider renting one from Zipcar or another hourly "car sharing" shop. Especially if you rent a Prius or use a generator, you don't need to make any "modifications", so it's perfect!

That's about it for the equipment. Now, put on those gloves, cause this is where the real work begins!
oaky84 years ago
what projector do you use?
from research i have done it seems like you have much more than a 1200 lumen projector. I am planing on starting my own guerrilla drive in scene here in my city. I just want to make sure to get a projector that will be bright enough.
SpaceRat8 years ago
Neat idea! I like to see entrepreneurs doing something creative. And I really miss going to the drive-in ! If you would like a really nice projection screen, consider checking with your local billboard company. They use these really heavy rubberized fiberglass tarps for billboard signs, and will probably give you one (or more) used . The biggest usually are about 15' X 50' , and will last for years. Just turn the backside out, and there ya go!
barnes SpaceRat8 years ago
My friends dad owns a billboard business as I learned last night when I saw his truck that had a big bumber sticker that said "Ask me about billboards!" On the topic of FM Transmitter, I just picked a 350ft+ transmitter for an amazing $21. Some guys selling them, and they are going fast on eBay. I havn't recived it yet, but as soon as I do I wiill be sure to approve it if it works. The projector seems so expensive, so I've talked to some friends to invest with me, until we can pay it off selling candy and donations. I can't wait to get this running, sounds like such a fun idea. Double feature zombie flicks, yes please!