Behind the Scenes: Andrea O’Hagan

Andrea O’Hagan explains how Covid-19 has diversified her pop-up cinema business.

Aerial shot of drive in cinemaAt the beginning of 2020, experiential, open air and live events had been seeing a great growth annually of around 8% in the UK as people increasingly looked for ways to spend time with their family and friends in a relaxed, exciting and fun environment. During this time, the outdoor events business made up over £1b of the entire events sector’s worth (valued at £42.3b).

However, the shape of this is set to change (perhaps permanently) during and following the Covid-19 pandemic. The general public currently feel a great deal safer in an open air environment where there are far lower risks of catching the virus. There has been a lot of coverage stating that being outdoors is much safer than indoors.

In a documented study of more than 20,000 cases only 6% were associated with transmission in completely outdoor environments, and these were predominantly crowded events like markets and rallies (not socially distanced, seated open air cinemas). That leaves 94% of cases associated with indoor environments.

With the rise in cases of coronavirus this year, and restrictions on mass gatherings across the globe, the event industry has been hit hard, really hard. Some brands have been able to use innovation to turn their events into a virtual experience, but this is not possible for all businesses, particularly live events. Outdoor cinema, however, has flourished both as a drive-in and open air cinema model.

The comeback of drive-ins
In the age of social distancing, we have seen a meteoric boom in the popularity of drive-in cinemas. Movies bring people together; they educate, evoke emotion and inspire audiences. During this time of restriction, drive-ins have been able to offer a safe, distanced option for people desperate to get out and do something. And, for many businesses offering this type of event, it has been a new avenue to diversify their offering when they are unable to run their usual annual events.

Cars at drive-in cinemaAn example is Pub in the Park who have toured each year with top chefs and great music acts. This year, they have set up Drive and Dine, bringing fine food to their drive-in cinema across the country.

The drive-in has also been used as a model for live music festivals, theatre productions, comedy shows, bingo and even karaoke. It seems it is one of the only types of events that people in heavily restricted areas can attend legally and safely in their bubble.

At Firefly, we have had our busiest drive-in year to date with people hiring our services from a range of different sectors. As early as June, when lockdown restrictions began to ease, we ran our first drive-in for a private customer in their paddock. It was an event to thank staff for their loyalty and patience during the difficult times of lockdown. The event was so relaxed; a breath of fresh air after lockdown. Guests either sat in their cars, sat beside their cars or even snuggled up in their open boots to watch Bohemian Rhapsody under the stars. Even though they weren’t technically together, you could hear the singing and laughing of friends reunited at last.

Another avenue that opened up for us (as a result of restrictions) was a three day drive-in event for Porsche. The luxury brand offered all its regional customers tickets to the drive-in event. There was very little that Porsche could do for their customers during 2020 but a drive-in fitted with the automotive sector as well as ticking all the boxes for contact-free, socially distanced entertaining. The event itself was a magical experience hosted in the stunning floodlit grounds of Chenies Manor with a mocktail bar, stone-baked pizzas and an ice cream cart.

Porsche owners were treated to classic movies (featuring the brand) including Disney Pixar’s Cars and Le Mans 66. We even developed a Porsche-branded mobile ordering service so that all food and drink could be delivered directly and safely to the parked cars. We expect more automotive and other sectors to follow this trend next spring and we have already earmarked some suitable venues.

Seating at drive-in cinemaCinema complexes have hit the news due to the fact that many have sadly had to close their doors for the foreseeable future. Covid-19 has been particularly cruel to this sector due to general restrictions within venues and a sense of fear from the general public but also the lack of blockbusters to hit the screens, with some studios making the contentious decision to stream new premieres straight to Sky. The big screen experience offers many people a regular form of escape, some people attending several times per week. As The Guardian so aptly put it “Cinema brings hope in a way laptops cannot”.

The desire to watch a film on the big screen has meant that all our own-brand outdoor cinema events this year have sold out in record time. Large outdoor spaces mean that queues can be avoided, ticket holders can sit comfortably 2m apart, and food and drink can be delivered straight to them in their seats. In fact, the demand has been so big that we have also run unprecedented numbers of private screenings in customers’ own gardens.

For the first time this year, our calendar has been filled with private bookings including a growing number of UK celebrities that have opted to run their own outdoor cinemas in the comfort of their gardens. Some have even added beanbags, deckchairs and bell tents to make evenings truly special. One thing that has been in our favour has been the wonderful weather this year so people have been able to get together outdoors, wrap up in a blanket and enjoy a classic movie under the stars.

Now that winter is fast approaching, and local restrictive tiers are in place, it is difficult to see how people will still be able to enjoy their local cinema visit – whether it is to the Odeon, a drive-in or a pop-up cinema. It will be a difficult time but hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, going to the cinema will become a weekly treat for us all once again.

For us at Firefly, we are planning a socially distanced indoor event in the beautiful venue of Ditton Manor. Although we have had to implement a wide range of Covid-19-measures, we hope that it will still provide our customers with some much-needed Christmas spirit.


Andrea O’Hagan and Alice Collins are co-founders of Firefly Events, a provider of pop-up and drive-in cinema experiences with a wide range of screen sizes. Suitable for indoor and outdoor use, Firefly’s flexible approach means clients can either hire equipment to run an event in-house or opt for a fully managed cinema package. 01628 302125 /

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