Site organizes impromptu outdoor screenings

The inventor of the drive-in, Richard Hollingshead Jr., has been dead for three decades and is mostly forgotten. Bryan Kennedy, a 27-year-old Web designer, has never been to a drive-in. But with an online initiative called MobMov, the San Franciscan is reinventing the ozoner for the YouTube generation.

MobMov.org — MobMov is short for “mobile movie” — serves as a kind of digital clubhouse for about 160 “chapters” around the world, from L.A. to Hyderabad, India, that organize impromptu outdoor screenings. Projection booths usually consists of an LCD projector perched atop a car, a DVD player and an FM radio transmitter for the soundtrack.

But in a fresh twist on this old-fashioned exhibition form, two independent filmmakers have given MobMov chapters the right to screen their latest movies for free, in hopes of building buzz and spurring DVD sales.

Lance Weiler‘s moody frightfest “Head Trauma,” which had a short theatrical tour in 2006, was slated to play at several MobMov chapters on Oct. 20. Closer to Halloween, MobMov will screen the animated “We Are the Strange,” which played at Sundance in January and attracted a following on YouTube. And Fox Searchlight has used MobMov screenings to show trailers for its upcoming releases.

MobMov audiences don’t pay a set price for tickets, but rather donate money to the organizer or purchase snacks from a makeshift concession stand. They typically find out about movies via an e-mail that arrives just a day or two before the screening. “We like that it has a sort of underground feel,” says Kennedy.

Kennedy encourages chapters to pay for non-theatrical exhibition rights. but breaking even on a screening is a rarity, he admits.

MobMov, however, could turn into a new force for promoting titles with cult potential.

“Russ Meyer used to take his movies around the country in the trunk of his car,” says Weiler. “I look at MobMov as something that could allow filmmakers to tour their movies in a new way, reaching a whole bunch of people through this ad-hoc network.”

M dot Strange, director of “We Are the Strange,” says he hopes the screenings will help boost DVD sales of his picture, which didn’t get distribution at Sundance but which he’s selling through FilmBaby.com. “There’s nothing to lose on my end,” he says.

Kennedy says he has never charged admission for a screening, but he isn’t opposed to the idea, which could potentially put money directly into filmmakers’ pockets. He’s also considering letting advertisers pay to show promo spots before the main attraction. Last summer, a Boston-area restaurant paid to sponsor a MobMov screening, in hopes the audience would have a hankering for barbecue from its catering truck.

The MobMov movement is still small; a typical showing will attract 20-40 cars, according to Kennedy. But, he notes, it’s bringing the drive-in experience back to urban areas — where rising real estate values have turned the original crop of ozoners into Home Depots and condo complexes.

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