Fremont, Nebraska: Outdoor Movie Man Likes to Entertain

Homegrown Outdoor Movies with Larry Koski or Freemont, NebraskaSome moviegoers wander into Bayliss Park early on Fridays to toss around a Frisbee or play in the small fountain before settling down on the grass at dusk. "I'm usually there by 7 p.m.," said Larry Koski, 69, of Fremont, Nebraska. Using ropes, Koski raises a small projection screen onto a homemade wooden frame that sits in the bed of his truck. "I nut and bolt it together. It takes about 15 minutes," Koski shrugged. "I actually have two different screens that I use." Most movies are shown on a standard size, but Koski likes to pull out a 14-foot wide letterbox for older films in a widescreen format. "I also have a theater in my basement and backyard," Koski said. His home entertainment system includes an 8-by-10-foot screen, theater chairs and a Nintendo Wii system, which is a favorite of his two grandchildren. "The backyard has a 16-foot roll-down screen," he said. Neighbors pull up lawn chairs and enjoy the show. "I just like to entertain people," Koski said. "For many years I would go to the rest homes in Fremont and entertain them with old black and white movies like Charlie Chaplin." He visits Dodge, Nebraska, each year to run films on the side of a white-washed building for "Pizza Days." "I've been doing this about 20 years," Koski said. "Word got around and kept spreading. I've been as far as Center, Nebraska, about 300 miles round trip." Koski started "Flick and Float" to entertain Fremont children. The program was quickly adopted by Omaha pools. "It's about the only time that kids can bring floats," he said. "You can't have the lights off with people swimming, though. It's not safe." In Omaha, an aqua guard patrols the pools in flippers and full scuba gear while the movie plays. "This year, my biggest crowd was 'Shrek the Third,'" he said. He played the popular animated movie in several locations, and around 250 people packed Bayliss Park to see it on Friday, July 25. "We can't just get any video and show it," Koski said. "We got to get the license for a public performance. It's pretty expensive for just one show." The Bluffs Art Council pays the bill for the summer series in town. Fremont Parks and Recreation pays for Monday night movies during June and July. "People sit in their cars and tune in on the radio," Koski said. "It's just like a real drive-in." Koski was able to work at the Council Bluffs drive-in on West South Omaha Bridge Road before it was sold and closed in January 2007. "I was working at the Fremont drive-in when the screen flipped over during a tornado," he added. "Too bad we weren't playing 'Gone with the Wind.'" His fascination with motion picture mechanics began early. "I used to make 16mm films back in high school," Koski remembered. Originally from New Castle, Penn., Koski worked in his local theater before joining the Air Force in 1959. "I ran the base theater in Lincoln, Nebraska," he said. "Admission was 25 cents and 15 cents for military personnel." Koski remembered that popcorn and pop were only a nickel. "I got out in 1963, and I just stayed here and worked for Marcus Theaters (previously Douglas Theaters) in Omaha," Koski said. "I have worked in just about every theater in Omaha." Koski even met his wife, Sandra, in the theater. He ran the projection booth and she sold popcorn and tickets. "I still work one day a week at the 20 Grand, if I want to do it on my time off," he said. The nature of movies has changed since Koski worked at the first American six-plex in the Westroads Mall. He now runs 20 screens simultaneously from a room longer than a football field. "I walk roughly three or four miles on a shift," Koski calculated. Digital film is taking over the industry, and while Koski accepts it, he embraces where movies came from. "I still develop 16 mm motion picture film in my basement for other people," he said. He can create announcements, make repairs to damaged frames, and even generate a replacement title. "There are a lot of film collectors in the United States," he said. "At one time, I had about 600 print films in my basement. Now my DVD collection is growing." Koski recommends titles such as "Driving Miss Daisy" and "The Notebook." He also enjoyed the "old" Star Wars trilogy, which was the longest running series of film he ever witnessed. "I like a movie with a good story," Koski said. "Memphis Belle," will be the last free show that Koski airs in Bayliss Park, in honor of Air Force Week. "We start right about 9 p.m.," Koski said. "Sometimes we start out with Warner Brothers cartoons."

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