The Ultimate Guide to Planning an Outdoor Movie Night

Have you gotten your popcorn ready? Have you gotten those party invites out? Is your crew or squad ready? Do you want your party to be off the chain or hook or whatever it is kids these days refer to when they’re describing something cool and awesome? “Epic”, maybe? Then it’s about time you’ve started organizing an outdoor movie night at your own backyard. It’s something that’s even more special than a simple get together in the living room watching boxing or MMA or something.

Without further ado, here’s The Ultimate Guide to Planning an Outdoor or Backyard Movie Night. Tips on Planning an Outdoor Movie Night to Remember 101

You don’t need to be as precise as the military or the Navy Seals in order to plan your outdoor movie night. However, it does help to have a modicum of planning and forethought involved in this night to remember regardless of how casual you want it to be. This will ensure you of a fun night when all is said and done.

Here are the tips to keep in mind when planning your outdoor movie night with friends and family or even a romantic one with your partner or spouse. Let’s start with the projector itself then work our way down the list.

1. The Projector

You can use your traditional home cinema projector if you have a long enough extension cord and a power strip to support it. Maybe you might even have electrical sockets outdoors for your convenience. Otherwise, it might be wise to invest in a pocket or pico projector with a rechargeable battery like in the case of your laptop or smartphone.

If you have a party of 5 to 20 people, then viewing movies on a small laptop isn’t the way to go. Furthermore, a widescreen TV is too expensive to be the correct size for viewing for even a small audience. What’s more, you don’t want to place it outdoors for your movie night.

In regards to the pros of getting a mobile projector, they include the following:

  • Affordability: Cheaper than a digital flatscreen or HDTV of similar size.
  • Popularity and Availability: They’ve become more affordable than ever before since the mini projector market exploded.
  • Durability and Outdoor Hardiness: It’s available as a mini projector that works outdoors and shows durability against the elements.
  • Portability: The mobile device version of the projector won’t tangle you up with excessive extension cables since it’s battery-powered.
  • Quality and Image Size: Despite being a pocket projector it packs a punch in terms of projection size, allowing you to project a huge image on a movie screen for your enjoyment.

As for the cons, they include the following:

  • Prone to Dropping: Its small size can lead to things like accidental drops as in the case of laptops and cellphones so be careful about that.
  • Expensiveness: A mini projector might be too expensive so it’s best to use a standard projector with a stand or table as well as extension cords.
  • Lack of Sound System: You need a sound system because even if it has built-in speakers, they’re not large enough to accommodate the sound and music needs of the audience.
  • The Need for a Screen: Although you can project images on a wall, it’s best that you buy an accompanying inflatable movie screen to ensure that you’re not losing detail or clarity from what you’re watching.

2. The Movie Player

The days of having to hook up your DVD player or even your VCR to get a movie playing in your backyard care of your digital video projector are long over. Things are much more convenient and mobile now. You can use USB sticks and external hard disk drive to play whatever number of movies you want at a time, whether you want to marathon the Harry Potter movies, the Twilight movies, the Fast and the Furious movies, the Transformers movies, Disney movies, Pixar movies, and so on and so forth. To wit:

  • Disc Players versus Digital Download: Sure, the option to use DVDs and Blu-Ray discs (BDs) are still available to you. Most projectors will allow you to connect to a DVD player through a cable or even wirelessly. However, there are a number of options available for you to play media, like downloaded files or Internet streaming via YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu.
  • Various Formats: Video content is now available to us in a wide variety of formats, from AVI to MP4 as well as CDI. You can even stream movies in relatively high-quality 720p to 1080p HD resolution. BDs offer you 4K resolution as well (but 8K is too much for projectors at present to render faithfully).
  • Virtually Any Device Most importantly, you can plug and play your projector to virtually any device, whether they’re media players or even HDTVs, their cable/satellite boxes, smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and even directly to your Wi-Fi itself. All you have to do now is choose which movie player you should get, whether they’re saved in a flash drive or streamed through the Internet.

The projector of the 21st Century can be connected through various means, such as the following:

  • USB
  • VGA
  • Wi-Fi
  • HDMI
  • Wireless (Transceiver/receiver package)

However, as much as possible, you should play your outdoor movie with a portable device that’s about as mobile as the projector you’re using. Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with some extra precautions such as umbrellas, tablets, mounts, extensions or extra cabling, cable management, and so forth. You can spare yourself such issues if you go for a compact and convenient solution.

The types of electronics or devices that you can play outdoor movies on for your backyard barbecue and movie night includes the following:

  • Tablet
  • Laptop
  • Desktop
  • Apple TV
  • USB stick
  • DVD player
  • Smartphone
  • Amazon Fire Stick
  • Portable hard drive
  • Blu-Ray or BD player
  • Wi-Fi (Internet streaming)

However, when picking a media player, you should take your audio into consideration. If it’s a small gathering of 5 persons or less, you can depend on the combined sound systems of your modern projector’s built-in speakers plus possibly the speakers of your laptop, smartphone, or tablet as well as your Apple TV.

With that said, your media player and projector speakers might not be loud enough or carry the best audio quality when push comes to shove, especially if your party is larger than 5 persons. In such cases, you might need to connect to speakers or a sound system to your choice of media player. We will tackle your audio needs next.

3. The Sound and Audio System

Avoid having your guests second-guessing what they’re hearing from the screen unless you have the kind of movie screening party wherein what you’re watching is ultimately background noise. Some viewers, like Star Wars or Star Trek fans, want to be able to hear the dialog they so love, whether they’re watching something ironically or unironically for enjoyment.

You want famous quotes like, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” from Casablanca to be heard loud and clear to avoid disappointment from your party guests. To wit, here’s what you have to work with.

  • A Separate Audio System: The most practical solution is to have an audio system that easily connects to your choice of media player so that you have a visual display via your projector and audio display via your speakers for your home drive-in cinema needs. How you should go about setting up or arranging the audio or sound of your backyard movie screening could be the most complex aspect of planning this party.
  • Built-In Speakers Are Inadequate: As previously noted, the majority of projectors made at present in the 2010s (as well as the upcoming 2020s, presumably) come with built-in speakers. However, they tend to be of low-wattage and don’t exactly have high-definition, high-fidelity sound quality. Therefore, your listening experience might be compromised by depending on them.
  • Same Deal as with Flatscreens: It’s the same deal with home cinemas and flatscreen TVs. Because TVs nowadays prioritize being as flat and thin as possible compared to the big box TV sets of old, they tend to have mediocre built-in speakers. Soundbars have become all the rage in the home entertainment field because of customers who wish to go back to the time when TV sounds are loud enough for their needs.

When it comes to backyard movie nights, you definitely want to make sure that you can connect via Bluetooth or some other wireless technology to a sound system, speakers, or even individual earpods if it’s a BYOS (Bring Your Own Speaker) kind of party.

You have two options when it comes to your outdoor speakers and sound systems.

Cabled

  • You will have to use the same rigs as your home cinema, but you have to put them outdoors and find ways to keep them away from the elements, like rain or excessive heat. You could get a huge umbrella or place them in a covered court or sorts so that they can blare away in your backyard while minimizing elemental damage. Also, even though they use cables, you should still limit the mount of cabling and wiring.
  • When going the cables route, you have to manage not only the extension cords to make them work but also how you’re supposed to place them all across the stage where you’re supposed to put up your inflatable or DIY projector screen. You want to specifically avoid octopus connections (with sockets connected to more sockets to create “octopus arms”) and spaghetti wiring (the cables and wires should be neatly arranged instead of looking like a plate of spaghetti).

Wireless

  • Use Bluetooth speakers instead. They’re wireless and they can pick up sound through the Bluetooth airwaves the same way your radio is able to pick up signals from the radio waves. Indeed, they’re your best bet if you don’t wish to overcomplicate your sound system. They also automatically limit your wiring and cabling by paring it down to zero. They do away with additional cables and they can be quite loud enough for use in a drive-in theater environment.
  • They’re also much easier to manage compared to their cabled counterparts since you only have to worry about sheltering them from rain or snow as well as hot weather with outdoor umbrellas, tables, stands, and the like. You should get Bluetooth speakers like AOMAIS. They’re waterproof, robust, and feature booming bass high-watt sounds that really immerse you right in the action. They’re also quite affordable to buy at eCommerce sites like Amazon.

4. The Outdoor Movie Screen

You have two choices when it comes to your outdoor movie screen. The most obvious and least headache-inducing choice would have to be buying an inflatable movie or projector screen. The one that involves more participation, planning, and construction on your part is to make your own projector screen either out of a cheaper kit, an old bedsheet, or through painting a fence or wall of your house with projection screen paint to make it reflective enough to perfectly capture the image of your projector.

01 Different types of projector Screens 05 Inflatable Projector Screens

Inflatable Projector Screen

The inflatable projector screen is a great movie screen for movie viewing outdoors that you don’t have to (and can’t) mount to any ceiling, floor, or wall. You can also buy models so big they don’t usually fit in your typical basement or indoor room, making it many times bigger than your average home cinema screen. That’s why many people prefer outdoor viewing versus home cinemas.

In regards to this screen type’s pros or benefits, they include the following:

  • They’re quick and easy to set up.
  • Inflatable projector screens are affordable.
  • You can cheaply buy large inflatable screens.
  • They’re light and easy to move around unlike tripod screens.
  • They’re quite bigger than their legged or table counterparts.
  • Their inflatable stands make them stand up on their own like bouncy castles.

As for the cons or detriments, they include the following:

  • Storage can be hard because they can get quite bulky.
  • You need an electric blower or air compressor to maintain their inflation.
  • The blower or air compressor requires cabling and power as well.
  • There’s a constant fan sound from the air blower that’s quite noisy.

DIY Projector Screen

If you’re the do-it-yourself type of guy who can make your own screen that’s halfway decent if not cost-effectively superior to what’s available in the current market of outdoor projector screens, then, by all means, you should try your hand at making your own screen. Just be aware of the pros and cons of such screens that might or might not be worth the effort in building them from scratch.

Read More: The Different Types of Projector Screens (17 Types)

In general, a DIY projector screen kit offers the following benefits or pros:

  • The kits securely attach to the ground.
  • They are easy to store away and collapse as well.
  • No annoying fan sounds to keep anything inflated.
  • Fixed frame kits are among the sturdiest screens around.
  • Kits are cheap, affordable, and come with purpose-built screen material.
  • There are easy-to-assemble kits available if you’re not the most DIY-enthusiastic homeowner out there.

In addition, this projector type also provides the following detriments or cons:

  • Their tethered feet need to either be set or hung up.
  • Inflatables are easier to erect compared to DIY projector kits.
  • They’re fragile enough to damage and break when a guest falls into them.
  • Their sizes are more limited compared to their inflatable screen counterparts.

As for a DIY projection screen you made yourself, the have the following advantages.

  • It’s free since everyone has spare bed sheets available to them.
  • It’s easy to hang up a bedsheet then use it to project your movie projection.
  • You won’t have to buy special equipment or materials for your bedsheet screen.
  • The projector paint is cheap and so are the brushes.
  • Painting your fence and wall with screen paint is relatively easy and quick to do.
  • Once you decided to paint your wall or fence, do so with the color gray instead of white for the best results.
  • You don’t have to set up a wall or fence for movie screening. Just clean them up occasionally and you’re good to go.
  • All you need is to paint them with reflective projection paint and the blurriness they usually exude will vanish.

Here are the disadvantages of making your own projection screen.

  • Usually, sheets are more trouble than they’re worth.
  • Sheets could get blown by the wind or end up “Gone with the Wind”.
  • Bed sheets tend to get creased or wrinkled, leading to image warping.
  • The projected image will be of poor quality because of how thin a bed sheet is.
  • Even with the paint applied, the image quality is usually not worth it on a fence or wall.
  • Painting the wall white is terrible at absorbing light from the projector compared to gray.
  • A wall or fence can get vandalized or the projector paint can peel off over the years, requiring reapplication.
  • Depending on the dimensions of your wall, you might not be able to project your movie at the optimum or best height.
  • The money you’ve saved on buying an inflatable screen will be spent having to paint the whole wall or fence with paint that’s not made to last outdoors.

5. Miscellaneous Considerations

Once you’ve shopped for the right projector, movie screen, media player, and audio system, then you have several other things to take into consideration to make your backyard screening a successful one. With that said, let’s cover the most common question regarding showing movies in your backyard—”Is it illegal?” The simple answer to that is, “No.” However, you need to take some things into consideration, particularly your neighbors. Afterwards, you need to properly setup the party itself.

Neighbors: If you’re lucky, you won’t have neighbors to bother with your outdoor movie night. Most people have neighbors, though. More to the point, the last thing you want to do is have a backyard movie night and then get a noise complaint or disturbing the peace charges from your neighbors, leading to police intervention at worst or strained relations at best.

You can head off the pass any issues or bad blood with them by inviting them to your screening in the first place. This significantly reduces the chances of complaints. Even if they don’t attend they’ll appreciate the thought for sure. You can also keep complaints from happening even if they decline your invitation by doing the following:

  • Well-Disciplined Guests: Don’t let your guests be noisy and rowdy enough to disturb your neighbors’ sleep.
  • Lowered Movie Volume: Reduce the volume of your movie to levels that won’t wake up the neighborhood.
  • Avoid Objectionable Movies: Don’t show any movies with objectionable scenes that they or their children might see.

Portable Charger and Spare Batteries: Your portable projector will run out of juice sooner or later, especially if it’s running through a whole gamut of long-running movie franchises such as the Disney Animated Film Series or Lord of The Rings plus the Hobbit Trilogy. Spare batteries allow you to keep the projector running while you charge one battery on a spare charger or projector. A portable charger or power bank serves as a lifeline for a battery that’s already running low.

Subtle Outdoor Lighting: Your cabling and cable management should coincide with your lighting placement since your ambient lights will dictate how “lit” or visible your party will be. Don’t use too many lights since that could affect the clarity of the projector image or projection on the big screen. However, you should still invest in just enough lights that aren’t just Christmas lights so that your audience knows where they are and what they’re stepping on in your lawn. Don’t let them trip or anything!

Invites: Naturally, you should send out invites to those whom you want to attend your party. You can send them online via SMS, email, or through virtual postcards. You can also send them by “snail mail” or by handing them out to your neighbors or office coworkers. The easiest people to invite are family since they’re the likeliest ones to attend. Then you can ask your closest friends to attend as well, with the expectation that they might cancel for whatever reason.

Seating Arrangements: You should have steel chairs or stackable polypropylene chairs available for your guests to sit on. It’s okay to have an excess of chairs but it’s awkward when you lack chairs for all of your guests. Having a standing-room only kind of movie screening is never a good thing, especially if you’re not screening the same movie over and over in order to give multiple guests the chance to sit down and watch it. Make sure you have spare seats that outnumber your guests to err on the side of caution.

Food, Snacks, and Drink: Some particularly rich people might invest in a popcorn machine in order to be able to feed all the people in attendance. After all, when you’re having a movie screening, the last thing you need is a heavy meal. You want something light in order to keep the focus of your audience on the film itself. Unless of course the movies are serving as background noise, in which case you can get away with food like hotdogs and whatnot. A popcorn machine ensures more people can be fed for cheaper though.

Bug Spray, Zapper, or Lotion: It’s going to be buggy out there at night. It’s particularly true if you have lighting arrangements all over your house in order to allow your guests to see where they’re going in your lawn or backyard. In such cases, bug zappers are definitely a great investment, followed by some bug spray to seal the deal. Get some fragrant insecticide so that you can avoid giving those with allergies or hay fever something to literally sneeze at. Also consider investing in bug repellant lotion.

Safety Precautions: You should have several safety precautions included in your movie night, including umbrellas in case there’s rain, a backup plan of having your movie viewing in your living room and flatscreen TV if you can’t do it outside, and various other problems that might crop up. You should have contingency plans from A to Z. You should also have a fire extinguisher, emergency lights, possible fire exits, and so forth on hand to keep everyone safe and sound.

03 - 10 Gadgets for an Amazing Backyard Movie Night Experience 00

Final Thoughts

Read this ultimate guide on planning your outdoor movie night and use its recommendations as a reference point and framework for a truly unforgettable night for partygoers and cinemaphiles everywhere. You should take care of the details outlined above to make sure it goes off without a hitch. You can get this right the first time without involving great cost on your pat as long as you plan a few weeks ahead rather than mere days or hours before the important movie night. Keep a checklist of the equipment and other details noted on this list that extend beyond the projector.

James Core
I write dozens of helpful informational articles based on topics that I have identified again and again throughout my research and work experience. I am here to help you find the right projector.

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