Outdoor Movie Night: A Planning Primer for Perfect Viewing Parties

Nothing is better than hanging a sheet or using the side of a building to show a movie on the big screen. If you’re stuck for ideas on how to spice up your next party, here are a few ideas on how to plan the perfect viewing party.


Be A Good Neighbor

Invite your neighbors to the party. And, whatever you do, don’t set your system up so that it annoys them. Sure, it’s your property (if you own a home) and you can do what you want with it. But, at the same time, there’s no value in annoying neighbors who can ruin your movie night with a call to the cops or seek more childish revenge.

Inviting your neighbors, or just asking them their opinion about where to put your movie screen so that it doesn’t bother them, helps to foster a good relationship with those around you

Finding The Right Projector

You might need a projector rental when you first start out or if you don’t plan on making this a permanent thing. Check out several different projectors before deciding on one to buy.

Test out different movies, test the blacks and lights (so you can get a good idea of how sensitive the projector is and how well it displays darker colors and lighter colors), and test the projector at different times of the day to see how dark it needs to be for optimal viewing.

Finding The Right Screen

You want the DIY look – it’s understandable. And, while hanging up a sheet and calling it a day seems like a cool option, a fully waterproof screen isn’t a bad idea. The Elite Yard Master is just $250 for a 100-inch 16:9 screen and it comes with a stand. The FlexiWhite Bungee & Grommet projector starts at $139 for a 120-inch 16:9 screen.

Either of these are excellent choices and they won’t get beat up by the rain or snow.

Not only are they waterproof, they’ll give you a better quality picture and last longer if you take care of them.

If money is no object, and you want one of the new inflatable screens, you can spend some serious cash on the Airscreen Airtight or AeroPro. Both are manufactured in Germany.

Picking The Right Spot

Where should you put your new movie theatre? You could set it up in the driveway or the backyard or somewhere else entirely. Position is important, because setting it up in the wrong area might make movies difficult or impossible to enjoy.

A lot of people choose the side of their garage or home. It’s naturally flat, and lends itself to movie-watching.

Make sure the ground is flat, that there are no anthills or any other obstructions in the yard that would make it difficult for people to gather and enjoy the movie.

Also, it might be a good idea to avoid aiming the projector at your neighbor’s house or positioning your setup in such a way that it would disturb neighbors.

You’ll need a heavy-duty extension cord, up to 25 feet, and powerstrips. You’ll also want some kind of amplifier and a blue-ray player or maybe the ability to pipe AppleTV, Chromecast, or Roku outside.

Decide whether you want a permanent or temporary installation. If you’re doing a temp installation, all you need to worry about is the power cord (extension cord) and a high-quality power strip. If you’re looking to do a permanent installation, consider digging a trench in the yard and laying PVC pipe – you’ll need at least a 4” diameter on the pipe.

Lay the pipe the length of the yard to where you will have your projector, and run your HDMI, audio, and projector cables through the pipe. Fill the ends with putty and seal it up good with silicone caulk or something else that’s waterproof. You don’t want little critters in there.

If you own a swimming pool, run the cables as far away from the pool as possible.

Getting The Right Movie

Some movies are better than others for outside viewing. In general, movies that are shot in a darker “tone” or use a lot of darkers in the movie (think about films shot at night or with a lot of night scenes) tend not to be as visible (even at night) as movies shot during the day.

Managing Seating

Test out a couple of different seating arrangements. If you’re positioning the screen on the side of the house, then you might benefit from a more classic seating arrangement (rows). If you have limited space, and a strong projector, you could test an arched seating arrangement that curves around the screen.

Using Soft Lighting

Soft lighting should be used for guests so that they can get up during the movie to use the bathroom or get something to eat. Use candles or, ideally, battery-operated lights. LEDs work the best, but keep the light soft and dim so that it doesn’t interfere with the movie.

Keep It Private

Copyright laws prohibit the displaying the movie for profit – even if you’ve paid for the DVD or Blu Ray disc. Sure, it’s yours, but you paid for the rights to watch it, not for the rights to the movie, per se.

Now, if you’re inviting a bunch of friends and family over, fine. You’re not breaking the law. But, you can’t charge admission like a movie theater. And, if you do, you’re taking a risk that an ornery neighbor or someone else turns you in.


About the author: Matthew Bruce is the founder and CEO of Resolution Rentals, a professional film/video and photography production house. They are committed to equipping their clients with the video and audiovisual tools they need, anytime, anywhere throughout the USA. Currently, Matthew is studying at Harvard Kennedy School for a Master of Public Policy degree.