When Drew Clark’s first year of political science studies at the University of Arkansas suddenly and unceremoniously ended in March, he trudged back home to Little Rock with little idea how we would fill the hours during coronavirus confinement. Less than two months later, the Little Rock Central High graduate has launched his own business leveraging his love for movies and the shared entrapment many people are feeling due to COVID.
Clark created Arkansas Mobile Theater, an entertainment company that brings clients the movie theater experience via professional projection, sound and screening equipment to group events and backyards. The service immediately touched a nerve among people sick of sitting indoors.
“The business is actually doing surprisingly well,” Clark said. “Yesterday (May 14) was the first day that we put up ads on Facebook and we’ve had five bookings for events thus far.”
An avid movie buff – his DVD and Blu-ray collection comes in at more than 1,100 titles – and with an eye on a career in entertainment law, Clark sees the company not only as a needed service, but also something that plays to his passion.
“Doing this little side hustle is perfect for me at the moment. It’s right up my alley,” he said. “We’re keeping people interested in movies. I think some people just kind of long for that experience and we are happy to help people get that.”
Clark received the equipment setup – which includes projection and sound equipment, a 12-foot screen and a 20-foot screen – as a 19th birthday present May 9 from his parents and used it to throw a one-of-a-kind movie/birthday party with his friends. Not long after that, the idea for a business was born.
“I gotta get give credit where credit is due. My dad totally plays a major part in this,” he said. “After (the birthday party), my dad let me know that we own the equipment now, so we could really do what we wanted with it. He had this idea that we should try to make our money back on it.”
The younger Clark had zero experience with entrepreneurial pursuits, so collaborating with his father – Ken Clark, founder of Chenal Family Therapy in Little Rock – was invaluable in determining pricing and figuring out how to promote the venture.
“My dad was happy to help me run the business,” Drew said. “It’s what his dad did for him; his dad loved to teach him aspects of business, so he’s really doing me a great service. I’m really proud to be a part of it with him”
His father’s help notwithstanding, Drew said it didn’t take a lot of business savvy to recognize there was a market for this kind of entertainment.
“I think there are probably a couple different factors that play into (demand),” he said. “One of them is everyone’s just a little stir-crazy to an extent and anything that gets them out of the house, even a change in the routine, is probably exciting.”
“Another aspect of it is with movie theaters not currently in operation, it’s hard to get that experience. I think there’s absolutely a demographic, and I’m part of that demographic, that totally misses movie theaters. We all understand the reason for those movie theaters closing down right now, but it’s still a bummer that you can’t watch movies on the big screen like that.”
The company has more going for it than an entertainment-starved audience. Arkansas Mobile Theater’s equipment delivers premium sound and a sharp picture and differentiates itself from other set-ups with screens that resemble those found in a brick-and-mortar movie house. Drew said this provides a superior viewing experience over inflatable screens that suffer from ambient noise from the blower that keeps it inflated.
“The clarity and the sound that we have are amazing. That’s honestly one of the most impressive parts,” he said. “You’d expect being in a parking lot in your car you wouldn’t be able to hear well sitting 40 feet away from the screen We have four speakers we can set up and that will totally make it loud enough. If you are anywhere near the vicinity, including in your car, you’ll be able to hear it.”
“We also have an FM radio option so if you’re in your car and you want to keep your windows up, you can just dial into a certain channel and it will sync right up with the movie.”
The service is surprisingly affordable; clients pay $300 for three hours on the 20-foot screen, for which Clark provides set-up, tear-down and runs the equipment. The fee is slightly less for the 12-foot screen for comparable time. Additional hours are charged at a nominal fee, allowing for double features. The equipment components can also be rented on a per-piece basis for do-it-yourselfer screenings.
Clark said at present, plans are to remain in the private event business and not operate as a commercial drive-in or walk-up theater, but he wouldn’t rule it out in the future. He said even as movie theaters begin to come back on line, he sees a number of opportunities for company growth, including after he heads back to college in the fall.
“Assuming that it continues to be at least somewhat viable, I would absolutely take the equipment back up to Fayetteville with me and hopefully keep profiting off it up there,” he said. “I think especially on a college campus, you could tell people, ‘Hey, you give me 300 bucks, I’ll set you up with movie equipment and you and all your friends, your sorority, your fraternity brothers, you can all sit around and watch a movie together.’ In a place as socially big as college, you’d get people who could put together a pool of money and make it a pretty cheap venture.”
“One area we’d really like to get into is partnering with charities for fundraising events. We know it’s a tough time for those types of organizations and we’re happy to donate our equipment and our time.”