Setting Up a Backyard Movie Night
Thursday Jun 16th, 2022
During those beautiful summer nights, it doesn’t matter where you are in Canada, you want to be outside. It’s natural, and let’s face it, the past few years have driven many to upgrade their own backyard retreats, so you’ve got a good reason to be out and about in your own space.
Upcycling and repurpose trends show no sign of abating, and we’ve already seen signs of the backyard undergoing radical redesigns, adding features like pizza ovens, outdoor kitchens, and bars. Why not extend that idea and bring your home theatre outside? What says summer better than a drive-in (or walk-in) movie night? In the spirit of the popular staycation trend, let’s look at how you can set up a backyard movie night.
The scale is up to you. It can be as simple as moving a TV onto a balcony or as elaborate as a dedicated outdoor cinema with surround sound and your own version of a concession stand. Be mindful of your surroundings, of course, since the light and sound could impact your neighbours. You may be able to land in their good books, though, with VIP invitations to opening night!
As with any backyard project, a little planning keeps your outdoor theatre on track. To show your film, you must address four main technical aspects:
- sound; and
- streaming or viewing devices.
Moving a flat-screen television to your cinema site solves the first three aspects easily. Your TV handles everything. If you have a smart TV, a streaming service, and your wi-fi signal reaches your outdoor screen, then it’s all taken care of except for the popcorn and seating.
That’s great for an improvised Saturday night showing, but this is your taste of Hollywood at home! Going big makes your movie a special event. A bigger setup may also be a launch pad for weekly events through the summer months. Let’s look at each of your tech needs.
From cheaper hundred-dollar options to thousand-dollar light cannons, there are plenty of projectors to fit all budgets. Your projector is likely the biggest budget item for your theatre, but you do have options. Check with audio-visual services in your area or try an online search for video projector rentals to manage costs. In terms of quality, you’ll want to look for a projector with between 2,000 and 2,500 lumens.
Don’t forget to scope out your electrical requirements, too. Make sure you have suitable access to power or extension cords that can handle the power needed.
Your theatre could be equipped with a white bed sheet pulled as flat as you can make it, but you’ll get better results with a purpose-made projection screen. These are usually crease resistant, so you’ll have a flatter surface, and their reflectivity is higher than your average bed sheet, enhancing the visual experience. Screens of various sizes are surprisingly affordable.
If you have a large, flat surface, perhaps the rear wall of a garage or the side of a shed, hang a piece of plywood that’s been treated with projector screen paint. That’s right, screen paints are a specialty product that makes it much easier to create a permanent theatre. It may be the answer if you plan to start a summer movie club!
Wireless Bluetooth systems are perhaps the most versatile way to go unless you already have a suitable outdoor speaker system. The key to a good sound presentation is balance, particularly if your theatre is in a tight suburban neighbourhood. You want a volume that’s loud enough to overcome traffic and environment noise, but not so loud as to disturb others. Remember, too, that long summer days mean your movie night may have a late start after sundown.
Streaming and viewing devices
Your options here may depend on the capabilities of your projector. Some pair easily to smartphones and laptops, so all your streaming options are still accessible. Many projectors also accept video connections from DVD and Blu-ray players. You might even want to dust off the VCR for one last viewing of those VHS tapes in the basement.
If your audience is comfortable on a blanket on the lawn, then seating is easy. Otherwise, it’s time to gather camp chairs, patio sets, or whatever you can rummage that will be comfortable over the course of your viewing event.
Another fun option if you have a pool is setting giant floaties and watching from the water. This is perfect for really hot summer nights, although it may make snacking a little difficult.
If you’re hosting the event for kids, you could set up a “drive-in” movie with cardboard “cars” for each child to sit in, complete with blankets and individual snacks inside. Plus, it helps keep everybody settled for the whole movie.
Food and drink
Food and beverages are perhaps the most fun to plan. Depending on who’s enjoying the movie, you can cater specifically to their tastes. For kids (or the more traditional movie watchers among us), popcorn, candy, soft drinks, juice, and even things like warm pretzels can be perfect. Set up a small table in the yard with everyone’s favourites and let people help themselves. Or, pre-pack snacks into little baggies or boxes so each person can grab one on the way to their seat.
If you’re planning an adults-only night, you can up the ante with more appetizer-style foods and cocktails. You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of coolers and ice nearby, as well as a full selection of drinks for your guests.
No matter who’s coming over, easy-to-find garbage and recycling receptacles are a must. This will help expedite cleanup later on and prevent garbage from finding its way onto your lawn.
Bits and bobs
If your yard has unwelcomed guests in the form of flying and biting insects, don’t forget bug repellent (sprays, candles, or other devices) and covers for any food items that will be hanging around.
Summer nights can cool down quickly, too, so watch the forecast. Have blankets or sweaters at the ready in case a chill sets in. You can also extend movie season into the fall with propane area heaters.
It may also be fun for the kiddos to have a full “camping” experience outdoors. Consider setting up tents and sleeping bags so the outdoor fun doesn’t have to end when the credits roll.
If the availability of streamed content has made indoor movie night ho-hum, invest in your backyard cinema and have another reason to anticipate the return of summer each year.