Setting up an outdoor movie theater is an exciting endeavor, and in order to help you get everything you need and be prepared for whatever comes, we’ve made a list with all the best gear, tips, ideas, and solutions for the entire process!
And if you want movie suggestions, take a look at our movie lists!
1. Setting Up Everything
Let’s get down to business. To set up an outdoor movie theater, you will need the following gear:
- A video source
- A projector
- A screen
- A sound system
This may sound like a lot, but if you’re creative and a little lucky, you can either DIY or borrow everything. But you may also want to set up your own thing, so let’s see all the options!
First, you should decide what will be your video source. This could be either one of these:
- Your laptop
- Your DVD or Bluray player
- Your cellphone
You can stream video from your cellphone to a projector, but this feature is usually reserved for the most expensive ones and you might need specific cables. If in doubt, any of the first two options are cheaper and easier to set up!
Now, let’s figure out what will be your projector. Here are some ideas:
- If you already own a projector, just use that one.
- Borrow one from a friend who owns one - just take good care of it!
- If you’re looking to purchase one, try to find the ones with the highest possible lumens - this is the brightness of the projector. 2000 lumens is the ideal, but if you don’t want to spend too much, you can settle for a little below that - it will also work.
- If you find projectors costing from $500 to $1000, don’t freak out - you don’t need anything that expensive - this one costs $80 bucks, and there’s also this one and this one. These are far from the best on the market, but for our plan, they will do just fine!
Make sure your video source and projector of choice have the same input and output connections!
Then, you should decide how to set up the screen. Here are some ideas:
- Do you have a smooth white (or bright) wall in your backyard? That can be your screen.
- Simply attach a white sheet to a fence, and voilá! You have a screen! Likewise, you can just drop a white sheet over a garage door.
- Build a DIY screen like this one - it won’t cost you much more than $20 bucks. Here’s another idea!
- Purchase a portable projector screen like this one or this one - these have the advantage of being foldable, so you can safely store them away for future movie sessions.
IMPORTANT: If you’re planning on making the movie session during the day, you should pay extra attention to what screen and projector you’ll pick. Projectors, in general, are made for dark rooms - the brighter the area, the more lumens the projectors should have, and the more expensive it will be. Also, you would benefit from a black screen instead of a white one. Therefore, we recommend a night session if you want the cheaper and easier solutions.
And at last, you should set up the sound system. For this, you can use any one of the these:
- A set of good stereo laptop speakers could be enough.
- Even a decent Bluetooth speaker linked to your laptop could work wonders.
- Pretty much any guitar amplifier linked to your laptop with an adapter cable (you can borrow the amplifier and get a cable for a few bucks).
- A home theater system - harder to install, but perfect sound.
- Boom boxes or simple sound systems - most of them have auxiliary inputs, meaning you can use them as speakers the same way you would an amplifier.
Phew, seems like a lot of stuff, right? Don’t worry - you only need to pick one of each. Now that you have a plan, let’s move on to the next steps!
2. Setting Up a Comfortable Space
Lay blankets and pillows on the ground
You’ll likely have all you need for this part already. To make everyone nice and comfortable, lay blankets and pillows all over the ground, so people can cuddle up and be ready for the movie!
You can also go for old of inflatable mattresses! Better yet, you can take advantage of inflatable or simple backyard pools, but instead of filling it with water, you can fill it with your pillows and blankets!
If you’re doing this over grass, you can lay a plastic canvas or rugs under everything to provide some extra protection for your pillows and blankets.
It’s also a good idea to repel bugs from the area beforehand. Check out this article for more info on that!
Use soft lights
Projectors work better in the dark, so you will want to make sure your lights aren’t bright enough to affect the movie screen.
Protect the cables
For this setup, it’s almost inevitable to use a lot of cables, so be sure to keep them away from where people will be walking so no one trips over them, and take precautions to keep them away from water or pets that might chew on them. Also, bring enough extensions!
3. Tasty Snacks!
No movie session is complete without popcorn!
But you can also improvise with a bowl of sweets and a variety of beverages for everyone to enjoy. Take a look at what Annie Selke made for her outdoor movie theater!
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