Firefly Outdoor Movie Company

June 1, 2019 | by stephanie hobby

When warmer weather finally hits, we're all anxious to enjoy the fresh air and lazy summer evenings. One great way to take advantage of both, without spending a dime, is to catch a movie in one of Billings' parks with Firefly Outdoor Movie Company, now in its sixth year.

Jamie Canning and her husband Barrett started the program after their youngest child was born. “We noticed that there weren’t a lot of things for young families to do, especially for free, so we started looking at backyard entertainment options,” she said. Other communities were drawing large crowds to outdoor movies, and they thought it would be fun to bring that to Billings.

Every year, Jamie and Barrett (and their children) sort through the new family releases and pick which six to show; it's usually a mix of new movies and classics like Star Wars or The Sand Lot. For six weeks in the summer, starting the last day of school and wrapping up mid-August, Firefly Outdoor Movie Company sets up in Billings' parks on Friday nights (Saturdays if the weather doesn't cooperate). The location changes every week, so you're bound to be close to at least a couple of them.

It’s entirely family-run; Jamie and Barrett find all the sponsors for the programs, advertise, and coordinate the food trucks for the pre-movie fun. They have a couple of helpers who assist with set up and tear down, but otherwise, it’s the Canning family who is responsible for what has become a much-anticipated, summer tradition.

“It comes back to finding things to do with your family that’s not going to cost an arm and a leg. We just like to get people outside in the parks, enjoying our lovely summers,” said Jamie.

One logistical challenge is Montana's delayed sunsets; in July, some of the movies can't start until 10 p.m. That's a late night for kids who are generally in bed two hours earlier, so the Cannings have made the pre-movie experience just as enjoyable as the show.

Food trucks and a pre-show dance help make the evening fun even for little ones who will conk out long before the lights go up. Some of the sponsors offer entertainment too.

“It’s always really cool before the movies start, just seeing all these families on their blankets having dinner and playing and spending time together,” said Jamie.

Movies in the Parks has been popular since its inception and continues to grow. Jamie estimates that the program is now drawing between 500 and 1000 people, and adds that the first show of the year is usually on the last day of school, which typically draws the largest crowd.

“It’s been growing now that more people know about it. They look forward to the schedule every year,” she said.

Generous sponsor support keeps the Movies in the Park free for families, and in fact, a portion of their fees supports the scholarship fund for Billings Parks and Rec, enabling participation for kids who might not otherwise get to go to camps and activities.

If you want to host a fun night with families and friends in your own backyard, you can rent the needed equipment from Firefly. The package comes with a 12-foot screen, sound system, and projector, and the Cannings will set it up and show you how to use it. If you’re stumped for ideas on what to show, Jamie says Disney and Pixar movies are generally a safe bet. The system can also be used for karaoke or game systems for an unforgettable game night experience.

If you’re willing to make the drive, twice a summer, Firefly Outdoor Movie Company heads to Makoshika State Park, known for its amazing fossil finds, to show Jurassic Park movies in the amphitheater. Hiding speakers in the bushes, making it sound like a T-Rex is right behind you, gives an extra hair-raising experience to unsuspecting moviegoers. 

Dates and locations are subject to change, so keep an eye on the Firefly Outdoor Movie Company Facebook page and website: FireflyMovieCo.com.

This year, the movies are as follows:
  • May 31 The Incredibles 2, Pioneer Park
  • June 14 Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse, Optimist Park

  • June 28 Ralph Breaks the Internet, Rose Park

  • July 20 The Lego Movie 2
, Pioneer Park
  • Aug 2 Hotel Transylvania 3
, Veterans Park
  • Aug 16 Mary Poppins Returns, Stewart Park

Originally printed in the June 2019 issue of Simply Family Magazine

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