Spokane Journal of Business

Just-add-air movie theater

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Sara and Tony Dreher aren't blowing smoke when they say they want to see the outdoor movie make a comeback, but they are blowing air to make it happen.

The Drehers are co-owners of FunFlicks Outdoor Movies of the Inland Northwest, a Spokane-based outdoor movie event provider that uses inflatable movie screens. Tony Dreher says the equipment also has the capability to project video games, a feature that the Drehers say is popular at birthday parties before the movie plays.

The company will enter its third season this spring. The outdoor movie equipment supplier serves all of Washington, North Idaho, and parts of Oregon through its main location in Spokane and a secondary hub in Seattle.

FunFlicks is a secondary venture for the Drehers who both have primary jobs in the health care field.

The outdoor movie season typically starts around April 1, Sara Dreher says, and stretches through the summer.

"You think you have the winter off, but that's when you're planning," she says.

Tony Dreher says they run the company out of their Mead home. The screens, audio-visual equipment, and sound systems are stored in trailers in Spokane and Seattle. He says Seattle has its own set of equipment, and employees who live in that area run its operation on the West Side.

Tony Dreher says the company employs 15 people statewide and hopes to hire additional employees next year. He says there aren't any plans to lease office space at this time. Sara Dreher says although overhead is low when operating a home-based business, the equipment is expensive. The 16-foot inflatable screen, the smallest screen offered by the company, costs about $12,000.

"In this economy, you have to save your expenses where you can," she says.

The Drehers say their company has been contracted in the past to put on shows for Gonzaga University, Valleyfest, and the Spokane Indians minor league baseball team. They say the company's clients mostly are larger organizations, like city parks and recreation departments and schools. FunFlicks recently staffed a viewing party at a community center in Oregon for the annual Civil War football game between the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.

The Drehers say it's typical to have a crowd of 500 people at a large event, but Spokane has been slow to adopt. Sara Dreher says an event is lucky to draw in 100 people here. She says she hopes to see the event popularity grow as the idea gains footing in the Inland Northwest.

"People are pulling together more and that's what this creates," Sara Dreher says of outdoor movies. "It's bringing back community events."

Tony Dreher says FunFlicks typically isn't asked to plan an event from the ground up, but he and his wife often work as consultants to help finalize events they are hired to work on.

He says he is considering growing the business to include an event planner, enabling the company to organize its own events.

Prior to FunFlicks opening, Bellingham, Wash.-based Epic Events & Promotion Inc. provided inflatable screens to the Spokane area, Sara Dreher says.

Tony Dreher says he got the idea to start an outdoor movie business after his son's birthday party, where he projected a movie onto the garage door. He says the FunFlicks franchise offers access to a wider movie database at a more economical price, so partnering with the business made sense. FunFlicks Outdoor Movies is headquartered in Baltimore.

"They were doing exactly what we wanted to do," Tony Dreher says, adding that the business's original goal of having one movie a week pales in comparison to the number of movie events it is handling now.

Sara Dreher says during the first year, FunFlicks booked 42 events, and last year, it booked 95 events. She says FunFlicks is able to do about five events a night between its Seattle and Spokane outlets.

"Parents like it," Tony Dreher says. "They point to where the outlets are, and we do the rest."

Prices for backyard parties range from $299 to $1,199 depending on screen size. FunFlicks has five inflatable screen sizes ranging from a 16-foot screen to a 40-foot screen. The price covers the cost of equipment, travel, and staffing the event, Tony Dreher says.

As a general rule, parties on private property and live-streaming of televised events don't have to obtain licensing, Tony Dreher says, adding that it's left to the customer to obtain licensing if needed. Large-scale events, like those held in public parks or at schools, have to obtain licensing, the Drehers say.

FunFlicks customers can obtain licensed movie rentals through Swank Motion Pictures Inc. and The Criterion Collection, he says. Movie licensure ranges from about $75 to $750 depending on the release date and popularity of the film, Sara Dreher says. Movie licensing isn't included in the price for equipment rentals, Tony Dreher says.

The company is able to play DVDs or Blu-ray discs, or stream the movie or event through the Internet when a connection is available or through a cable network.

"It can be affordable," Sara Dreher says of FunFlicks, adding that she's been impressed with how people often rent a cheaper classic film and make it more exciting by turning it into a themed party.

Sara Dreher says part of the fun in staffing the events is seeing the creativity behind the birthday and backyard parties. She says one event at Camp Promise-West in Vaughn, Wash., a camp primarily for children with muscular dystrophy, put on a movie night showing Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Counselors at the camp dressed up as characters from the movie, she says.

The Drehers say they don't partner with any other businesses yet, but hope to work with mobile food venders in the future.

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