Mobile Movies: Getting Gigs & Keeping Them Legal

July 11, 2015 by Mobile Beat

By Ryan Burgeroutdoor movie

In the last issue we showed you what you needed technically to do “big screen cinema” gigs in the most basic form. Now that you have the basic tools, how do you go out and get these events?

Ideally, you want to be finding potential clients for these events before they have even thought of it, so we will cover how to pitch groups on doing such an event. We’ll also discuss handling the calls when they are already interested in doing such events, as well as going after already established movie night gigs.


The best potential lead for these movie events is every city’s parks and recreation department. I’d recommend you start with your own town where you hopefully already know some people that can get you your start on this. This is the ideal group to talk to, and honestly, I’d offer to do it for free. Yes, I said for free. Just like how many DJs do their first celebrations for relatives and friends at no cost to get the experience, I’d recommend you offer it in your own neck of the woods for the ultimate price of $0. As we will discuss later in the pricing portion of this, your services do have some value, and that value needs to be established with them as a discounted deal so when it takes off as a cool event that the city does every month, you can make some money off your investment and time. But you need to start somewhere.

Other groups that would consider doing such an event include committees of residents that might organize the local community festival, and charity groups like the Lions Club, Jaycees, or similar. Be aware though that the charity groups run on practically no budget and will be hoping you will do it for free all the time.


If you have marketed yourself well with details on your site about your new services provided, they will hopefully find you via a Google search. Or potentially they have you on file as a DJ, and you just need to update them that you now offer big screen cinema services. This is where you will need to have pictures of your screen and system setup. Make sure to show it in what would be considered its natural setting with it darker, and a movie on the screen, preferably something family friendly with a noticeable character big on it to the point that they could probably identify the movie based on the photograph. In the past we have used shots with Spongebob Squarepants, a Pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek or similar. This is where doing a local gig cheap or free allows you to have a live environment for promo pictures, showing families watching the movie more than just your gear setup and a movie on the screen.

When you are talking to this potential customer the goal, just like when you are the DJ for a wedding, is to provide more service than they are expecting. Explain to them how you have done this before and know how to work with the movie licensing groups, handle some pre movie entertainment, work with sponsors and more.


In Des Moines, as mentioned before, there are more than a couple of groups doing movies on a regular basis during the summer. Some of these groups have gone as far as already purchasing full sets of hardware to do it themselves. Obviously we are too late with them, but due to the challenges of this event, there are opportunities to pick up a gig when the organization decides to “call in the pros.”

One of our elementary schools did movie projection themselves the first time and that was their test run to see if they were going to do it for real with us the next semester. They set up a projector taken out of one of the classrooms, used the gym sound system and projected on one of the big white walls of the gym. It worked, and as I found out when they called me, they knew they wanted to have a professional do the job the next time, but didn’t want to do the higher level event before testing it themselves first.

Thus, whenever you are able to attend another mobile movie event, you need to do research. Be there about 30 minutes before it is scheduled to start and see who is running the event. Is it a volunteer group with a OfficeMax projector and a sheet hung on the wall or an outside service like yours? Take notes and then use those notes to set up an appointment or at least a scheduled phone call a week or so later. Come to them with productive ideas they can use to improve their event. The ideas need to consist of more than just “use me instead.” Give them some genuinely good ideas with no strings attached.


Now here is where things get a little messy. Just like how I have seen good DJs work for $600 and bad DJs work for sometimes multiples of that, you have to price yourself well enough so that you are making money off of the event but not hurting yourself by turning down other gigs to do an event for fewer bucks.

I would recommend you consider pricing such services similarly to the range you would charge for an average wedding reception or large-format school dance such as a homecoming or prom. In my market that means it would be between $800-$2,000, depending on many factors. One important factor is the day of the week they want to do the event on. Chances are it’s a Friday or Saturday. I would recommend that the first discount/free gig you do be on a Friday if at all possible, since that’s likely a less busy day for your DJ business, especially during the summer when outdoor movie events happen.


As part of my research for this article, I contacted a couple of the companies that my clients have used to legally show movies to an audience, namely, the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) and Swank. Any time you are bringing together a group of people not in your home or business for something that is not a normal activity for that group and are showing a movie, you need to pay for licensing. Watching movies in your home with your family, extended family or whatever is just fine. But, for instance, showing a movie at a family reunion in your backyard with 100+ people in attendance is something that might be on the edge, and I recommend talking with one of these agencies.

As Eileen Korte, Licensing Manager for MPLC (, explains, “Prior to home video cassettes, the only way to see a movie outside of the theatre was by renting a 16-millimeter print directly from the studios or an authorized sub-distributor. That studio would then mail you a copy of the movie for public viewing. When video stores were created or founded, people stopped calling the studios because they wanted to obtain that content on the road from a local Blockbuster store. However, that license requirement still remains the same.

“When you rent a video,” she continues, “or even when you buy it or stream it from Netflix…that content doesn’t come with public performance rights because it’s intended for personal, private use only. So whenever you’re showing outside of your home or even in something like a residential community—a shared area in a residential community like a park or a clubhouse—you need a public performance license.”

The MPLC offers indoor licenses called the MPLC Umbrella License. This license is paid for on an annual basis of $110-$265 and allows schools to show movies that are not part of their regular curriculum plans and are planned for general entertainment. And that’s where the distinction comes in, when the group is gathered in a gym or similar place and it’s not for purely educational purposes. While this rate is lower than some other avenues, the key is that it’s only for indoor showings and only for “20th Century Fox and 600 other educational independent and specialty producers like Discovery Channel, and Scholastic.”

This type of license is also common for libraries, senior centers, and homeowners associations that want to regularly show movies to their patrons. You can check out more information at or by calling 800-462-8855. While I’m sure that there is a great selection of movies and programs available through these sources, the other company that I spoke with, Swank, has a different option.

Swank Motion Pictures ( is the most common licensing group that we have worked with, although most of the time our company is not making the direct connection with Swank. Swank is the place to call for one-time showings, outdoor movies and for a better selection of content.

Rachael Pickerell from Swank spent a lot of time with me on the phone with me on this article and her assistance is appreciated. She is the rep for our area that most of our clients would be working
with, thus when we hear from a new group wanting to do a movie event, we will refer them to her.

The basics on costs through Swank follow:

Outdoor Pricing: Title Specific Licensing
200 people or less: $175-$350 per title
200-500 people: $350-$550
500-1,000 people: $500-$850

Indoor Pricing (Community Centers/Event Centers):
50 people or less: $100 / (6) or more indoor screenings in a year, $75
50-100 People: $150 / (6) or more screenings in a year, $125
Over 100 People: same as outdoor pricing (see above)

*If you are charging admission for your movie, you’ll pay the original licensing fee OR 50% of your box office income, whichever is greater. If you are selling concessions, you won’t have to report that money back to the agency.

Rachael outlined the normal licensing process:

  • “You’ll complete the form attached (you can include your credit card information if that is your preferred method of payment or feel free to leave it off).
  • I will set up your account and we will discuss specific movies/pricing.
  • You will confirm the movie/date / I will send you a confirmation of price, date, and title in the form of a pre-invoice.
  • You will pay for the license, and the movie will ship.
  • Your event will be a success! If you couldn’t show the movie due to an unforeseen circumstance, please let me know and I will make sure to make a note on your account that you’ll have 1 year to reshow your movie at no additional licensing fee.
  • You’ll return the movie.”

Rachael obviously enjoys her job and really works as a consultant to the groups showing the films. She said “I think it does take a little bit of research and just knowing what would work best for your group. But what I see as the most popular, especially for these outdoor shows—you know, 90 percent of them I’d say are these really family friendly shows. So think about your really popular animated titles or PG titles. That’s where I see the most success in these shows. But screening your events, I think, is really important. Or making the events more of—not just showing a movie and putting it on, but also having an event that goes along with it.”

Another agency that came to my attentions right before sending this article to press was Criterion Pictures ( They cover 20th Century Fox, Dreamworks and others on an exclusive basis and I found out about them when researching showing The Princess Bride for one of our clients. They function in a similarly to Swank Motion Pictures in most ways, as you look at movies they can license for you and submit information for a quote online at
So, we have the gear covered, the gigs covered—and your butt covered on licensing…in the next issue we will tell you how to take mobile movies “big time” by raising the bar on gear and services offered.

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This is the general editors account for Mobile Beat Magazine and Website. Who reads Mobile Beat online and in print and attends Mobile Beat events? DJs, VJs and KJs to start with, especially those who own and operate mobile entertainment services. They provide music, video, lighting and a myriad other entertainment choices for corporate events, wedding receptions, dances and innumerable other gatherings.

Filed Under: 2015, Video Jockey Tips