Create a Backyard Movie Night for End of Summer
Setting up an outdoor movie theater in your backyard is a great way to celebrate the balmy, twilight-imbued last evenings of summer. And if that weren’t therapeutic enough for the soul, you’re also making time for a little culture, wholesome entertainment and togetherness with your favorite people.
The setup requires a little bit of DIY prep and planning, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Not only do you get to curate the ambiance, the refreshments and the moment, you get to play entertainment director and hand pick your favorite films of all-time. It’s the perfect platform for creating good vibes and stirring up nostalgic memories of your first ever drive-in theater experience and movie night at going away camp.
To help you create this magical cinema experience in your own backyard, we’ve compiled a list of 6 steps to follow to get set up and ready to call action. With the right tech and equipment, yummy refreshments, and some cozy creature comforts borrowed from indoors, you’ll be ready for your big screen debut by the weekend.
1. Set the overall vibe
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To create a comfortable, inviting vibe, lean into what mother nature already has on offer...the beautiful night sky, gentle breezes, the moon and maybe even a few twinkling stars. Come up with a floor plan that mirrors a successful party space, with good flow and distinct areas set up for entertainment, refreshments, and gathering for conversation.
It’s a smart call to bring in supplemental lighting in the form of solar lanterns or string lights, not just for ambiance, but for safety too. Pick a décor style that fits the season—like rustic southwest or coastal New England—or riff off of the theme of the movie and include silly props like vintage lingerie hanging from a clothes line and toy binoculars for everyone with a showing of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Whether you make it chic and aspirational or gimmicky and over-the-top, it’s all about creating a narrative as if you’re showing a movie within a movie.
Whatever vibe you end up setting, don’t forget the bug spray and citronella candles. Late summer and early fall can still be buggy and you wouldn’t want a few buzzing pests to ruin the fun.
2. Build your big screen
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We’ve all experienced a warped, wrinkled movie projected on to a white bed sheet or the exterior wall of a building, but with a little extra effort you can improve your video quality greatly. A portable projector screen can be purchased for under $200 and they come in a range of sizes up to a sprawling 300 inches. Look for indoor-outdoor versions if you want one with a little more durability. You can even consider a projector and screen bundle, which guarantees your setup will work well together.
When setting up your screen look for a spot that isn’t prone to wind or the foot traffic coming in and out of the house. Butted up to an exterior wall or fence is usually your best bet. And if you’re putting up your outdoor movie theater on the fly, by all means, go with the mounted white sheet. Sometimes MacGyvering a low budget set up can add an undercurrent of humor, which is especially fitting if you have a comedy cued up for the evening.
3. Create comfortable seating
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Think of creating your seating area like you would if you were designing your seating around your TV area inside the house. You’ll want to map out a floor plan that gives every person a good sightline to the big screen. Rather than create a straight row or rows of seats like in the theater, think smaller pods of seating that allow for conversation and connecting with your guests.
For a laidback feel that also works well if kids are in the audience, mix in “floor” seating using cozy wool throws and fleece blankets layered on top of each other with big, cushy or woven floor pillows peppered about for customized comfort and to promote cuddle time. We like layering lots of texture and contrasting neutral plaids and tonal patterns for a rustic, boho vibe. We’ve even seen a backyard movie theater with tents set up with their entrances propped open facing the screen that act as little bungalows. Don’t be afraid to get creative and try something completely novel and new.
4. Set up a refreshment stand
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You’ll want a few yummy snack options on hand and a fun theme refresher or small-batch cocktail that you can make ahead. A vintage tiki bar or bar cart can double as a snack station, or a simple card table draped in pretty tablecloth will do. With crisper weather starting to creep in, we love an apple-themed mocktail like apple cider brewed with cloves and cinnamon or hot cocoa with all the fixings like pillowy marshmallow and shaved cocoa nibs served in enamelware mugs. Make your drinks ahead and serve them from a thermos, carafe or beverage server that invites self-service.
For snacks, consider homemade popcorn flavored with fun combos like coconut-curry or truffle oil and pecorino cheese, all pre-portioned into paper lunch bags. For a healthy option, pour hummus or dip into the bottom of individual serving cups and fill the rest of the cup with fresh veggie wedges. Opening the old delivery app and ordering your favorite local pizza is always an option and rarely disappoints.
5. Equip your sound system
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Assuming you don’t already have an outdoor sound system installed, you’ll want to rig some decent outdoor speakers so you can enjoy the full cinematic experience. Outside, you have to factor in wind, traffic and chirping insect noises, so you’ll want to make sure your system is loud enough and has good clarity of sound.
Your projector’s built-in speaker can sometimes cut it, but you’ll want to do a sound check on a prior evening. Better to use the projector’s analog output that lets you connect with auxiliary speakers that have analog input. Your best bets are Bluetooth speakers, a soundbar or any indoor speakers that you can connect with an audio cable.
6. All About the Ambiance
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Create a dreamy space once the sun goes down by stringing cafe lights overhead. Opt for low wattage bulbs that will cast a soft glow without stealing the show. Use a stake near one corner of your projection screen and another in a back corner to help create a false ceiling – perfect against a backdrop of stars. Keep a small battery operated lantern nearby for quick trips indoors.