Even before Covid shut down all the cinemas, pimping up one’s home theater setup as far as one’s space and budget would allow was becoming a hot trend. And now that the Omicron variant is fading, many people are feeling more confident about hosting or attending social gatherings. We’re seeing a resurgence of ads for Super-Bowl snack platters and the like. Doubtless Oscar-Night watch parties are already being planned. The biggest screen available has become the focal point for many a soirée.
What our collective screen fixation, large or tiny, says about modern society is a matter for another essay entirely. We’re here to contemplate a more celebratory question: Why not make showing a movie — something brand-new and much-anticipated in your geek circle, or some old beloved favorite — a centerpiece of your next social gathering, or even a big event like a wedding, graduation or retirement party? And while you’re at it, why not transcend the confines of your home media den and throw the thing up on a cinema-sized screen?
There are several entities in the mid-Hudson, both commercial and not-for-profit, now making it easier for you to do just that. You can choose to bring your party to a movie theater for a private indoor event or have the screen, projector and sound system come to you, to set up under the stars, in a tent or a rental hall. Read on for more about three resources available for this purpose right now.
Hudson Valley Backyard Cinema
A brand-new local business that brings portable screening setups to private events, Hudson Valley Backyard Cinema is the latest brainchild of Kingstonians Kari and Chris Politylo. “We just launched about three weeks ago,” Kari says. “We are very familiar with the event the Rosendale Theatre s-rental business. We noticed a few backyard movie businesses in the Southwest areas of the US and thought it could be a good fit for the Hudson Valley.”
The couple has been running Paramount Photo Booths since 2013, providing a popular amenity that lets event attendees as well as hosts go home with custom-designed mementos of a special day. “We’ve had our photo booths everywhere, from basement birthday parties to weddings at private estates,” writes Kari.
Now the Politylos are taking their event business to a new level, having acquired a 16-foot inflatable screen, a 1080P high-definition projector, high-quality sound system, Blu-Ray/DVD player, seating, accent lighting and popcorn and candy concessions — all portable. “I expect that it will be rented for birthday parties, family movie nights, date nights, neighborhood gatherings et cetera,” Kari says. “The nice part about this idea is that it’s very pandemic-friendly, being that it’s an outside activity.”
Package prices for backyard screenings range from $299 to $499, depending on what bells and whistles you want. There’s an additional travel fee for setups outside a 30-mile radius of Kingston, and a $99 deposit required when you book a date. To learn more, visit www.hvbackyardcinema.com.
In the thick of the pandemic, when movie theaters couldn’t open their doors to audiences, their operators were scrambling for alternative ways to generate income. Not-for-profit cinemas were especially hard-hit, since most of them are too small to sell enough tickets to pay for film rental costs when patrons have to be seated in small separate pods.
Upstate Films’ two new directors, Jason Silverman and Paul Sturtz, “figured out how to take the show on the road with outdoor screenings,” as they note on their website, www.upstatefilms.org. They acquired their own portable projection system and spent much of the summer of 2021 showing Hollywood classics, cult films, and even some documentaries at places where the public could safely gather, often with live music accompaniment. The Hudson Valley Picture Show, as they dubbed the series, visited such venues as Opus 40, the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Del’s Roadside, the Maverick and Art Omi.
This cinematic roadshow is slated to return in the summer of 2022, with Kaatsbaan among the new sites on tap. It’s available on a rental basis as well. “Since you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you. We provide a movie-size 16-by-nine-foot image on our new screen using our high-powered portable projector, plus plenty of sound with a pair of thumping loudspeakers, and even fresh hot popcorn with our moveable feast popcorn machine!” Upstate promises. “We’re ready when you are to liven up a summer evening with socially distanced cinema under the stars.”
There’s more to the story than that, however. Even before the public health emergency, not-for-profit film exhibition venues were looking to diversify their income streams by making their indoor screening spaces available on a rental basis for private events. At times of day when the regular film schedule isn’t in progress, Upstate Films will book the Starr Cinema in Rhinebeck and the Orpheum Theatre in Saugerties to outside groups or individuals.
“We haven’t actively promoted it, but we do a couple a month,” says Sturtz. “Quite often, we hosted birthday parties during the height of the pandemic. It’s a pretty popular thing.”
The price for such a booking varies quite a bit, he says, with a baseline of $600 for Upstate Films members and $675 for non-members. Staffing the theater is part of the cost, along with the fee for the film rental. “We do need to pay for exhibition rights. We can’t legally just show a movie to a big group of people without paying the distributor.”
Sweetening the deal is the fact that, Upstate being a 501c3 organization, part of the event rental fee is tax-deductible. According to Sturtz, they need about a six-week lead time to book a theater space for an event. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about availability.
Another local option for renting a theater space for a private celebration is offered by the Rosendale Theatre, another not-for-profit that has been struggling to stay afloat during a protracted time of no income from ticket sales.
What makes this space different, and especially appropriate for a wide range of events, is its splendid wooden stage, sturdily rebuilt in 2015 with the intent of presenting live theatrical and musical performances year-round on non-movie nights. Pulling down the movie screen adds the potential of using projected backdrops. And during the lull in operations necessitated by the pandemic, some of the seating in the first few rows of the theatre was removed and replaced by a hardwood dance floor.
“People have used our stage to get married. We’ve hosted lectures, conferences, panel discussions, battle-of-the-bands concerts by New Paltz Rock. Private schools have rented it to put on a play. Now that we have that dance floor, people can use it for dance, exercise and yoga classes,” says director Carrie Wykoff. “If someone wants to rent it for a party, they could have a movie be part of that. We’ve had a fair amount of memorial services where they showed slide shows.”
One couple who rented the Rosendale Theatre to stage their wedding, Glenn and Dyana Warnock, shared a love of horror films. “They showed their favorite horror movie for their friends, and then got married,” Wykoff recalls. They then moved the entire wedding party next door to the Belltower catering venue for the reception.
In the near future, it will become easier to add a beverage menu to an event in the theatre itself, as the organization is expecting approval from New York State for a beer-and-wine license any week now.
As with Upstate Films, price points for hosting a private event at the Rosendale Theatre will vary depending on the resources needed, “How many hours, how much technical support they need, what time of day,” says Wykoff. “If it’s a movie, they have to pay for licensing.” A one-time licensing fee can cost from $50 to $350 and up.
“If they own the rights to the film, those are different circumstances. We had one woman who wanted to show her short film to her friends and the crew in the early afternoon. All expenses were covered, and it was not cost-prohibitive.”
To find out more about what the Rosendale Theatre can offer in terms of screenings and other private events, to schedule a walk-through of the space, or to discuss costs, e-mail Wykoff directly at email@example.com. Or come by to see a movie and check out the new tavern facility as soon as it’s open.