This startup wants to create the future of movie theaters in a 32-foot trailer
By Chris Morris
Tucked away in the parking lot of an easily overlooked hotel not too far from the Las Vegas Convention Center sits a red and white trailer with the word “Chill” sprawled across it. It’s one of the many CES adjacent displays that most people barely take note of as they hustle to and from appointments.
But sitting in that trailer, Balaji Krishnan is hoping to change the way people go to the movies.
Chill Theaters is a startup that looks to merge the theater experience, with a vibrant big screen and cinematic quality sound, with the comfort of the living room. The soundproof trailer is equipped with a 100-inch OLED screen (technically QLED, since it’s a Samsung), powerful Klipsch speakers, and a fully stocked bar.
Chill will begin operations next week in the Bay Area. At present, it’s just the one trailer, but it has broader expansion plans.
“Our vision is we want to bring private movie theaters to everyone,” says Krishnan. “The mobile movie theater is the first step, but we also want to talk with apartment complexes and such. We want Chill Theaters to become an amenity. They have a pool or gym, but they don’t have movie theaters.”
To rent a theater, people pay by the hour, with a three-hour minimum. Chill will bring the theater to you. Rates start at $9 per person per hour, and could go as high as $50 for premium events, such as the Super Bowl.
For now, you won’t be able to catch films that are showing in theaters. It’s limited to streaming services (you’ll have to log in to your own account, too) and physical media. Not in the mood for a movie? Chill can also be used as a gaming theater.
Krishnan says the trailer can accommodate up to 12 people, but having spent some time in Chill, I can confidently say that those would have to be very good friends who don’t have any personal space issues.
Watching a film in Chill isn’t anything like going to a theater. The chairs swivel and more closely resemble something out of a show home. And while the screen is certainly impressive, it’s still very obviously a TV, albeit a high-end one that’s more than most people can afford.
The sound system is powerful, with plenty of bass, but it still fell a bit short of what you experience in a theater to me.
That raises the big question about Chill. Why would people want to pay for an experience they can get, to a slightly lesser degree, at home?
Krishnan thinks the upgraded experience and the chance to watch with friends will be the draw.
“I really enjoyed when new movies launched on the streaming platforms during COVID time,” he says. “I have a 65-inch TV and I have the soundbars [in my living room]. It’s okay, but not great. I wanted to watch cricket [matches] in my [home] setup with friends, but Top Gun Maverick is a movie I really wanted to watch in the theater.”
Long-term, he says, he hopes to work with studios to screen new films in Chill Theaters, noting that by doing so, they’ll be able to charge per person, versus not knowing the size of the audience on pay-per-view or streaming platforms.
“We want to have studios launching their movies at your place, but they should be collecting the same amount of money or more,” he says. “So we have a camera outside [the Chill theater] and we know how many people are in the trailer. It should not be either/or with streaming and theatrical releases. . . . We are trying to bring them together.”
Before that happens, though, Chill Theaters needs to find an audience—and build its fleet up from more than one trailer. Using barkers to grab people’s attention as they wander the streets of Las Vegas is one thing. Surviving in the real world is another entirely, where happily ever after is hardly guaranteed.
Correction, January 15, 2024: A previous version of this article misstated the location of Chill theater camera. It is outside of the trailer.