Bright idea passes the screen test

Urban Entertainment drive-in cinema on inflatable screen
Urban Entertainment drive-in cinema on inflatable screen

THAT quintessential American experience, the drive-in movie, is coming to Sheffield with a classic piece of homegrown film fare.

Sheffield’s own The Full Monty is to be screened at the Don Valley Stadium next month on a giant inflatable screen in front of rows of cars

Michael Hayes of Urban Entertainment sizes up his 40ft  screen.

Michael Hayes of Urban Entertainment sizes up his 40ft screen.

The man behind the drive-in event is Sheffielder Michael Hayes whose business, Urban Entertainment, has been taking outdoor cinema to different parts of the country since last year.

The heyday of drive-in theatres in the US and other countries with sunny climes was the Fifties and Sixties but they declined in the Seventies through the onset of home entertainment combined with increasing value of land. In recent years there has been a revival with the introduction of guerilla or temporary drive-ins.

“I have always been into film and the concept of drive-ins intrigued me, although I had never been to one,” says Michael Hayes. “At first I was thinking of setting up a permanent one somewhere but the price of plots of land didn’t make that realistic. So the idea of mobility came around because I knew there were several suitable spaces in Sheffield.

“I began to look into it and heard about these inflatable screens made by a company in America,” continues the man who grew up at Parson Cross and now lives in Chapeltown. “I spent weeks and weeks researching online and finally sent away for one.”

It was 10ft by 7ft and the plan was to hire it out for backyard parties and barbecues. There was an immediate problem, however, because Michael discovered that electrical parts of it weren’t compatible with the British grid. In particular the fans which are installed to control the flow of air into the inflatable frame around the screen.

“I was gutted when smoke starting coming out of it but luckily I found a firm in Sheffield which was able to convert it using German-made components. Within a couple of weeks we were up and running using a projector I’d acquired from Greens, the golf bar on Trippet Lane which had closed.”

Soon Michael was thinking even bigger and came across online a firm in Germany which was operating largescale PVC inflatable screens. “They were where I wanted to be in three or four years time but I seem to have got there in three or four months.”

First Urban Entertainment were involved in Sheffield Entrepreneurs Week when their screen had a prominent place at the Millennium Gallery promoting local businesses. As a result of the publicity generated from that the German company, Airscreen, became aware of them online and contacted Michael.

“I went over to Germany and they persuaded me to part with a lot of cash,” he reports. “I thought, if I am going to do it I might as well go for it properly.”

He acquired two more screens, one 40ft by 22ft for drive-ins or large outdoor events in parks and stadiums of up to 5,000 people and another 24ft by 13.5ft for events of up to 1,000 people in city centre events or for indoor showing in school halls and exhibition conventions.

To his surprise, the main demand so far has been for the large screen, mostly in the London area. Through the summer they have been booked for a series of screenings throughout the summer at North Weald airfield in Essex.

“That was enough for me to leave my job (as manager of a designer menswear shop) and commit full-time to getting the Urban Entertainment brand out there. We screen in HD, that’s what sets us apart. We have the best system you can buy anywhere.”

It was this that secured a prestige booking this weekend from MGM who are launching a season of Westerns on the MGM HD channel with an open-air screening in a park in Ealing of Clint Eastwood’s A Fistful of Dollars.

The Don Valley event will be the first one that Urban Entertainment have staged themselves rather than operated for charities or promoters. There will be certain amount of paperwork involved in securing licensing, a radio frequency from Offcom (The sound is transmitted via FM to car radios) and Health and Safety regulations, but Michael has become a dab hand at this.

From the early days of drive-ins, the concession stands have beem very much part of the experience. “We will be using local food suppliers, including locally-produced popcorn and ice cream,” says Michael who thinks the the Don Valley Bowl is a perfect location in terms of access and facilites.

So far American classics such as Dirty Dancing and Grease have proved popular choices but for Sheffield The Full Monty was a natural.

There are already bookings coming in for next year. That’s when I see the business expanding. We’ve got ideas for live sport transmissions and for weddings (photographs and when with some full-time staff. At the moment he relies on friends to help out since it requires three people to set up a screening.

Tickets for The Full Monty at the Don Valley Bowl on Sunday, September 11, are £25 a car booked via the Arena box office.