Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Backyard flicks

Inflatable screen turns outdoor movie-viewing dream into reality

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Lights, camera, full moon, action.

When Earl Kellington was four years old, his family lived on the outskirts of Winnipeg, a stone's throw from the Perimeter Highway. On warm summer evenings, Kellington and his parents would sit on their patio and try to figure out what blockbuster was playing at the Odeon Drive-in, a kilometre or so away.

"We could see the screen clear as day but of course we couldn't hear anything," says Kellington, 43. "But it was still fun to pretend we were at the drive-in."

Film buffs in the market for an old-fashioned, drive-in movie experience nowadays have a couple of options: they can pile into their vehicle and head to Morden, Killarney or Flin Flon -- three Manitoba communities that still boast outdoor cinemas. (The Odeon, Winnipeg's last drive-in theatre, closed for good in 2008.) Or they can give Kellington a shout and view the latest releases in the comfort of their own backyard on one of two ginormous, inflatable screens the River Heights resident purchased from an American company called Open Air Cinema.

"I've been doing DJ work for 21 years," says Kellington, the owner of Bulldog Music Professional DJ Service. "I only started marketing my backyard movie business on Facebook a few weeks ago but it already has more likes than my DJ stuff, which kind of makes me wonder why I waited so long."

Kellington never considered watching his favourite flicks under the stars when he began researching inflatable screens two years ago. At the time, he was staging a ton of video dance parties for high school students but the aluminum-framed unit he was using was cumbersome, he says. Plus it always required a second set of hands to set up and disassemble -- issues that would not be the case with the blow-up variety.

After Kellington's order arrived in the mail last summer, he went online and noticed that people south of the border were using their screens to run movies at events like birthday parties, company picnics and soccer wind-ups. So Kellington did a bit more digging, discovered nobody in Manitoba was offering a similar service and -- pass the popcorn -- made the decision to add backyard drive-ins to his resumé.

Movie night works like this: Kellington arrives about 90 minutes before sundown to figure out the best location for his equipment, which also includes state-of-the-art speakers, a DVD player and a front or back projection unit. Before he fully inflates the waterproof monitor, he tethers it to a fence and/or garage with a series of heavy-duty straps. That's because blustery conditions, not mosquitoes, are Kellington's biggest adversary.

"The screen itself is pretty light -- it only weighs about 20 pounds when it's completely blown up -- so yeah, wind is definitely something I look at when I'm checking the weather channel."

Kellington has a number of titles to choose from but usually he leaves it up to the hosts to pick the movie. But because his contraption towers above most neighbours' fences, discretion is an issue, he explains after he is asked about renting his services out for, well, how can we put this, a stag, perhaps?

"Obviously, we don't want people next door who are taking their dog outside at midnight to see something inappropriate or hear unsuitable language."

That said, Kellington isn't too concerned about being forced to endure popular titles like Frozen week in, week out. "It's really no different than playing music at a social and having to listen to Paradise by the Dashboard Light for the millionth time," he says with a chuckle. "After a while you kind of get used to it."

Kellington's prices vary according to what night of the week you book him for and what size of screen you're after. "I have two (screens); one is 13 feet tall by 18 feet wide and the other one is 8 by 12. I also provide a microphone if it's for a birthday party and you want to make announcements before things get underway."

Response has been overwhelmingly positive so far, Kellington says. "Everybody's saying pretty much the same thing: how they remember going to the drive-in when they were kids and how they're so glad their children can have that same experience, now."

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Like a lot of parents, Dennis and Nicole Araujo were flummoxed last October as they were trying to decide what to do for their youngest son's birthday party.

In previous years they'd done "the swimming-thing, the bowling-thing and the magician-thing -- twice," but this time around, Brodie, who was turning six, had requested a video-game party, Nicole says.

One night after supper, Nicole and her eldest son, Koltyn, 9, were hunting for ideas online when they spotted a blurb from an American company advertising a mobile video-game truck -- specifically, a self-contained trailer designed to host video-game parties. They called Dennis into the room to have a peek, too.

"The first thing out of my mouth was, 'What's this?' My second reaction was, 'Wow, that's kind of cool,'" Dennis says. "We'd always kind of had it in the back of our minds to have a business of our own and the more we looked into it, the more we thought, 'Maybe this is something we can do.' "

Fast-forward seven months: in mid-April, the Araujos flew to Raleigh, N.C. to get their first look at their new "baby" -- a 32-foot trailer that, on the inside, is home to four 50-inch, high-definition TVs and one 60-incher. Not to mention almost every game console on the market, LED lighting and stadium seating for as many as 24 youngsters.

"Up until then all we'd seen were pictures on the computer but when we finally saw it in real life, we were like, 'Yeah,'" Dennis says.

After a few trial runs in the Araujo's driveway, Curbside Game Box made its official debut in May at a birthday party in River Heights. (Curbside Game Box is Winnipeg's second video-game trailer; last year, a Texas franchise called Games2U -- -- hit the streets with a fully-equipped trailer that seats 12 and features four big-screen TVs inside.)

"The mom in charge of the party had it organized so that the kids would have their cake in the house first, then pile into the trailer when they were done," Dennis explains. "Except we got there about 30 minutes early to set up and after the kids saw us, they were all standing in the doorway, going nuts.

Dennis remains inside the trailer while the party is in full swing; he's not a "big gamer," he admits, but since the kids aren't allowed to handle any of the electronics, he keeps busy changing games, handing out remotes and offering tips.

The Araujos charge a flat rate: a two-hour party is $249 plus tax, Monday to Thursday -- a price that jumps $50 on weekends. (You can also rent the trailer for one hour, for $199 plus tax.)

If you want to get an up-close look at Curbside Game Box, it will be on-site at the Sunova Centre in West St. Paul on July 1.

"It will be part of all the free, Canada Day stuff that's going on, that day," Dennis says. "The plan is to cycle kids in and out every 20 minutes."

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 D11

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