Your suggestions for rigging a sidecar-portable 4’x11′ projection screen?

This Friday night, we’re going to be showing John Carpenter’s “The Thing” out in the snow, which of course is the best place to see a movie about a horrific alien shapeshifter trying to outwit and absorb a team of antarctic scientists (scientists with flamethrowers, naturally — “The Thing” is one of the canonical “kill it with fire” trope movies.

I’m pretty sure that I can get the Commando Projector started: after about 18 hours on a 2-amp charge, I figured out the sweet spot on the choke, and I got it up and running. Here’s a picture of the rig (this will be relevant further down):

GDI rig

We’re going to be down on the banks of the Brandywine. There’ll be power, a fire pit, and even a bathroom, so we’ll be as comfortable as you possibly can be when sitting still for ninety minutes watching scientists deal with sled dogs that… no, I won’t describe it here. It’s TOO DAMN SCARY. If you really want to know, you can go over to the Guerilla Drive-In site and read all about it.

KOA Brandywine

The part that I’m scratching my head about right now is how to get a screen the right shape for the image thrown by the anamorphic “scope” lens. 16MM “scope” is the widest ratio, says the Internet: the image is 2.74 times as wide as it is tall. That means that if the image is four feet tall, it’s going to be just shy of eleven feet wide. I diagrammed it in OmniGraffle:


I’ve been thinking: the polyester curtain we used for Meatballs? Probably not wide enough. The awesome aluminum-framed screen that Tom L. brought for Cannonball Run II? That’s six feet wide, which means the image would be only two feet tall. I don’t like inflatable movie screens — they seem like they’d be both fragile and noisy.

I figure that I can carry a stack of quarter-inch plywood pieces on the sidecar — maybe I could bring six pieces each 22″ wide by 48″ tall, and then assemble them into a pretty sizeable widescreen. As an added bonus, I could use only three sections for a “regular” movie, which would be 66″ wide.


The problem I’m struggling with is how to hang them all in a straight row. A few months ago, Kate took me to an outdoor quilt show where I saw a really ingenious system to hang the quilts — they were using standard sawhorse brackets with long 2x4s to make, essentially, eight-foot tall, twelve-foot-wide sawhorses. They disassembled down to not much more than the lumber and a couple of brackets. But I can’t carry 2x4s over six feet long on the sidecar. Rabbeted 2x4s and wingnuts? Seems wobbly, especialy since eleven feet of quarter-inch plywood will get pretty heavy.

Right now, I’m wondering if maybe instead of using quarter-inch plywood, I could use quarter-inch insulation board, held together with lightweight plastic channel. That way, the whole thing would be light enough to rig easily, but stiff enough not to flap in the breeze like fabric would.

Any suggestions, O Internet? It seems a shame to waste the bright, w-i-i-i-ide image we’re going to get from the scope lens this Friday. I’d welcome your suggestions! How could we do this without 200 pounds of steel and carriage bolts?

PS. I figured we’d paint the screen just good ol’ white to begin with, and then if it seems worth it, get a gallon of that glass-bead paint on eBay or something.

PPS. Full directions to Friday’s showing are at the Guerilla Drive-In site. See you there!

9 responses to “Your suggestions for rigging a sidecar-portable 4’x11′ projection screen?”

  1. Hey John, I don’t know if Scott Smith (another GDI member) mentioned to you or not, but our church has a large portable screen, 9×15 or so, that I could borrow anytime. Wouldn’t work outdoors, but just FYI.
    And if you ever needed a 200yo gothic stone structure with spooky bell tower, we could provide.


  2. Thanks, Subewl! I hear the coffee is excellent there, too. There was something I wanted to show there, but was hesitant to ask a minister. Was it “The Omen”? Well, I’m sure we could think of something appropriate 🙂
    And thanks for letting me know about the screen. 9×15 is much bigger than usual!


  3. Dude… Posterboard! Not the thin cardboard stuff but the thicker (1/4″) stuff with the foam in the middle. And maybe some sort of giant easel with sand bags for weight?
    Or… OR… we construct a giant PVC rectangle with holes drilled on the inside and blast steam through the tubing, and create a giant steam screen!!! Ok maybe not w/ the wind.


  4. I have no doubt whatsoever that such a screen would be awesome, portable, bright, and cost about a bazillion dollars. But I’m sure you’re right. RoseBrand in NYC, purveyors of theatrical fabric, sell projection screen material by the yard; maybe we should buy some tent poles and kind of make one?


  5. For a permanent screen, ne of the best screen materials made is white Formica. It is available in rolls, but I am not sure if Home Depot or Lowes carries it. For the quick fix–a huge plastic tarp–rolled with ceiling white paint. It would hold up for at least one show. Use bungee cords with the grommet holes to hook it to the trees down there.


  6. Chris, I was almost 100% sure I was going to go with four 3×5 sheets of “handyboard”, but I think a tarp might well be the way to go right now. I’ll be heading to home depot soon!


  7. Screen, eh? How about assembling a break-down frame of threaded PVC pipe from Home Depot? The sheet, tarp, or screen material could have sewn sleeves and the frame would assemble through it all. Sections could have cotter pin holes to stretch sheets for wet/dry etc. It could all break down to drop into the hack.
    Your theater might also need a tailgate flagpole with drive-on flagpole stand for your Guerilla Drive-In Theater FLAG, aerial video camera, banner, or lighting–strobe lighting. EXAMPLE ONLY
    I have one of these poles and have flown 2 3×5′ flags in 40 MPH gusts without collapse or moving the parked sidecar “in gear”. It weighs nothing and I still have room for my two medium to small passengers in the CA Friendship III rig.
    AND, you must do “the making of” filming for your techie fans!


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