Two teens. Thousands of people in quarantine. One good business idea.
That was the spark for BackyardFilms, a small business started up this summer by two enterprising teens at Woodside High School.
Their idea? Bring the movie theater to your backyard.
"BackyardFilms specializes in the outdoor movie experience, the perfect social distancing activity during these uncertain times," the teens wrote in a Nextdoor post to announce their startup.
The teen entrepreneurs, seniors Connor Spackman and Danny Salinger-Brown, said that with movie theaters closed throughout the Peninsula due to the coronavirus pandemic, they decided to bring the movies straight to people's homes. Book them for a night, and they'll set up on your lawn with a 120-inch screen, a high-definition projector, surround sound speakers and a movie of your choice.
Popular picks this summer have been the Tom Hanks movie "Greyhound," Disney's recorded version of the Broadway musical "Hamilton" and the kid flick "Spies in Disguise."
So how's business for the young impresarios? Booming, according to Salinger-Brown. "We've had a gig almost every night this summer," he said. "It's awesome."
Since June, BackyardFilms has set up outdoor movies for children's birthday parties, family movie nights and neighbors just wanting to have some fun while stuck at home. The boys serve homes in Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside, Redwood City, San Carlos, Palo Alto, Los Altos and Portola Valley.
Spackman and Salinger-Brown, who are both 17, created BackyardFilms on a dare. They had just emerged from a long, strange spring semester taking classes online after the coronavirus forced school campuses to close. As summer began, things didn't look much better: Many local businesses were closed and the prospect of a summer job was out.
That's when Spackman's older cousin, a local business-savvy professional, came to the boys with a challenge.
"He said if that we came up with a great business idea, he would put together the money to help us start it," Salinger-Brown said.
Later, the boys were at a friend's house watching a movie from a projector on the wall, and the idea hit them. "We realized that we could bring this to other people's houses," Salinger-Brown said.
Customer response has been strong, the boys said — including some who even said that getting together with friends for an outdoor film helped their mental health.
Atherton resident Clary Riskas hired BackyardFilms several times this summer, with her family enjoying classics like "Father of the Bride" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" on the lawn. She said the outdoor film was a perfect way to get friends and family together while still maintaining social distance.
"I think the boys are wonderful," she said. "I actually had my grandkids over to watch them, hoping they would be inspired."
Another customer, Palo Alto resident Rebecca Stolpa, said she was impressed by the challenge the boys had taken on. "I think it's an excellent way for kids to experience what a small business goes through," she said.
Besides entertaining families, Spackman and Salinger-Brown have made awareness of the coronavirus pandemic key to their business, with a website promising that COVID-19 safety "is our #1 priority." The boys clean and disinfect the movie projection equipment between uses, and they're sure to wear masks and gloves when visiting customers' homes.
Word about the teens' business has spread quickly — first, through Nextdoor, then through some old-fashioned flyers dropped off in neighbors' mailboxes, then, most crucially, through word of mouth.
"The main way we got customers was by doing a job, then they spread to it their friends, and they spread it to their friends," Salinger-Brown said.
With BackyardFilms' successful run this summer, they have no intention of stopping. While school started this week, Spackman said that with school sports postponed and classes fully online, they're taking advantage of the more flexible schedule. "We're not under the same time crunch that we'd normally be under," he said.
Both boys are active at Woodside High School, playing varsity basketball and lacrosse. Salinger-Brown said he is unsure what he wants to do as a career someday, while Spackman said he plans to study engineering in college.
But would they ever want to become full-time entrepreneurs?
"Yeah, possibly," Salinger-Brown said. "This experience has shown me that it's a nice thing to have your own business because you have control over it. It's a lot of independence."
As for Spackman, he said, "I would definitely be open to starting a new business ... As long as I have another good idea."