How to Set Up a Backyard Movie Theater

As the weather warms up, make Friday night extra fun with a backyard movie theater.
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With spring on the horizon and warm weather with it, it’s time to begin thinking about fun at-home activities. One of our personal favorites is the always-exciting “homemade drive-in theater.” Maybe you have kids who love backyard movies, or maybe you love them yourself. One of the best things about a backyard movie theater is that people of every age, gender, and occupation enjoy them.

Whether you are planning a warm-weather family activity or a cozy Valentine’s date for two, we can think of a lot of reasons you should know how to set up a backyard movie theater.

Items You Need to Set Up a Backyard Movie Theater

You might have in your head that you need loads of expensive gear for a decent backyard theater. The truth is, you only need a few key items. The rest can be adjusted to fit your budget, theme, and purpose. Before you begin setting up your backyard movie theater, make sure you have some form of the following items in your possession.

  • Movie Projector
  • Large, Flat Surface (can be a screen, a sheet, etc.)
  • Speaker System
  • Seating Arrangements

Tips for Setting Up a Backyard Theater

What your theater looks like primarily depends on your backyard’s layout. However, no matter where you live or what your backyard looks like, you should apply the following 6 general tips.

1. Get creative with the screen.

You definitely need a projector, but the good news is that you do not need an accompanying screen. Sometimes projectors are sold with screens, but if yours came solo, have no fear. Simply grab a light-colored sheet off your bed or from the linen closet. From there, you can choose from several different ways to hang your “screen.”

  • String a rope or clothesline between two trees (or two support beams), then hang the sheet from the rope with clothespins. Make sure to pull the sheet as tight as possible to prevent wrinkles, which result in movie distortion.
  • Pull the sheet taut against your fence line, then use strong tacks on each corner to hold it up.
  • If you own a rolling frame or “closet on wheels,” attach the sheet to that. Make sure you place it on level ground.

Anywhere flat and visible makes a great place to hang your sheet. Of course, if you own a screen, go with that instead.

2. Choose a specific “atmosphere” to focus on.

Know your audience. Homemade cardboard cars make cute props for a kid’s birthday party, while ambient lighting and soft blankets make a better date. Additionally, while backyard theaters typically make great spring activities, they work in cold weather as well. Just make sure you arrange for cozy seating and cold-weather snacks (hot cocoa, anyone?).
If you are stuck on seating, try scattering blankets and rugs out on the grass, picnic-style. For a date, you can also fill an inflatable pool with blankets and pillows for a soft outdoor “bed.” Lawn chairs, outdoor furniture, etc. all work great. Just make sure all seats are in view of the screen.

3. Test the tech ahead of time.

While the classic “friend’s dad struggles to get tech up and running during party” move is a rite-of-passage for every get-together, sometimes it’s nice to skip that step. Whether you are the mom, dad, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, etc., we recommend testing everything ahead of time. You’ll thank us when your activity is saved from a broken projector.

4. Plan for plenty of snacks.

Of course, no backyard movie theater is complete without a vast array of less-than-healthy snacks. Popcorn, candy, nachos, and other classic movie theater snacks add a touch of authenticity to the event. Again, if it’s cold outside, keep the weather (and atmosphere) in mind.

5. Set up before it gets dark.

Finally, we recommend getting everything ready a few hours in advance. Not only does this allow you to test your tech, but it also ensures that you can fully enjoy your activity when it’s time to begin. Trust us, it’s no fun to wrestle with sheets and lighting and food when it’s dark out and you were supposed to start 30 minutes ago.

6. Have fun!

Ultimately, setting up a backyard theater is all about having fun with your family, friends, partner, or even yourself. Relax and enjoy the show!

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