How to Turn Your Backyard into an Outdoor Movie Theater

April 23, 2019
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[Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2018. At that time, the photographs include images of friends & family joining for a backyard movie party. We’ve updated the tips for the times to help you #PowerThrough while staying home & practicing social distancing].

Looking for some creative ways to occupy your family while practicing social distancing? Warmer weather opens up plenty of new activities in the backyard. We’d suggest finding activities that switch things up a bit and help kids stay energized and excited. Consider moving your family movie night from the couch into the backyard. You can spend time together gathering supplies, setting up the space and ultimately enjoying a movie in the fresh air. 

In this guide, we'll show you how to turn your backyard into a movie theater in a few easy steps. The good news is if you're a camper, you probably have most of the gear you need to pull this off. Let's dive in:

List of Supplies:

We’ll go into detail about each of these items in the body of this article, but here’s a quick run down of the supplies you’ll need to pull off a backyard movie:

  • For the screen: One lightly colored bed sheet, grommet kit, hammer, two ropes, and a ladder.
  • A space for everyone to sit. Think camp chairs, blankets, pillows, etc.
  • Snacks (skip directly to this section for our recommendations).
  • Lighting: Grab your BioLite lanterns and string lights to make it easy for the family to move around your space when the sun goes down.
  • Tech (skip to this section to view our favorite speaker and projector).

Now that you have all the supplies, here are 6 simple steps to turn your backyard into a movie theater: 

1. The Screen

There are a variety of ways to build an outdoor movie screen - we went with a simple tension route. Grab a ladder, a white (or lightly colored) bed sheet, a grommet installer kit, a hammer, and two ropes. Install grommets on each corner of your sheet. In a pinch you can cut a hole sans grommet but keep in mind not to pull too hard on the sheet as it could rip. Attach carabiners & rope to each corner. Identify your screening wall - with our tension-based set up, spots with access to a tree branch, beam or fence are ideal. Hoisting time! One side at a time (and with the careful use of a ladder), wrap your climbing rope around a tree/branch/beam. Pull simultaneously until you reach a desired height. Secure the rope in place with a slipped overhand knot for easy removal post-movie.

2. The Seats

Head to the gear closet and look for a mix of high/low seating so you can create an indirect version of stadium seating. Near the front, lay out blankets built for the outdoors like Rumpl’s Puffy line. Outdoor blankets can easily be tossed in the wash so don’t be afraid of a little dirt. It’s nice to have a couple extra blankets on hand in case it gets chilly when the sun goes down. For more elevated seating, grab some camp or beach chairs and set them up behind the blankets so everyone can see the screen easily.

3. The Snacks

Let your fire play host – seriously. Once you’re set up it’s likely that everyone (kids especially) will be eager to start the movie but you may need to kill some time while you wait for the sun to set. Occupy their time with an interactive snack bar that allows them to customize their eats. In our setup, we’re re-imagining two campground favorites: campfire and s’mores. The BioLite FirePit’s smokeless flames make it perfect for the backyard (no shuffling around mid-movie to avoid plumes of smoke). The family can gather round to build their own wood-fired treat of s’mores and it’ll be dark before you know it. Looking for a tabletop option for your s'mores? The CampStove 2 is a great way to fire up your snacks with an even smaller footprint.

Our friends over at SMASHMALLOW make s’mores feel brand new again with their unexpected flavors like Cookie Dough, Mint Chocolate Chip, and Strawberries & Cream. (Our favorite? Cinnamon Churro – you’ve been warned). 

If you’re looking to make it a dinner and a movie, head over to the recipes section of our blog for some ideas. (Editor's note: Forgot the firewood? The FirePit's dual-fuel system means you can load it in with charcoal and you're good to grill).

4. The Tech

We used Anker’s Nebula Capsule for our projector. It is incredibly easy to use, just set it up on a table in the middle of your seating area making sure it’s just the right distance from your screen. In a pinch, just look for portable projectors on Amazon. If you need to keep it powered up, position a BaseLantern XL nearby to serve as a backup power source.

Once you’re squared away on the visuals, you need a speaker so everyone can hear the film. Outdoor Tech’s Turtle Shell 3.0 was built for nights just like this. One of the best parts of this speaker is that it's scalable: you can daisy chain multiple Turtle Shells together for surround sound, perfect for larger groups or if you've got some competing ambient noise like a nearby street. (It’s also ideal for listening to music before the movie starts).

5. The Lights

Before the sun goes down, take a bit of time to set up the right area lighting so the night goes off without a hitch. We chose to hang up SiteLight Minis around the movie screen. String lighting not only sets the ambience but also helps people navigate their way to and from their seat without fumbling around or using their phone’s flashlight. After the movie starts place a few SunLights into party mode on your snack table so friends can see the snacks they are grabbing without being disruptive. While you’re at it, place a BaseLantern XL in the middle of a group hangout area to make it easy for everyone to find their way back to their seats.

6. The Film

Thanks to Anker's projection technology, you can easily stream from Netflix, giving you a huge library to choose from; here's a list of some of the best outdoor/adventure films available for streaming right now and below you'll find some of our personal favorites:

  • Planet Earth - Seasons 1 & 2 of this incredible nature documentary are on Netflix. Sometimes you just need to sit back and be amazed by the world we live in.
  • National Parks Adventure - A team of modern day explorers adventure through national parks across the United States to showcase their beauty.
  • Our Planet - This British nature documentary series was created specifically for Netflix and worth a stream. 
  • 180 Degrees South - An adventurer and documentarian retraces the steps of Yvon Chouinard & Doug Tompkins 1968 trek to Patagonia.
  • Chasing Ice - This documentary follows James Balog as he and his team set out to track the planet’s rapidly melting glaciers over a multi-year period.
  • Endless Summer - The iconic 1966 documentary following world class competitive surfers on a global surfing adventure.
  • Meru - A group of ambitious climbers document their trek up Mount Meru.
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