Life is a team sport and so much more fun when done with others. Why only watch a movie in your living room with a couple of your friends when you can enjoy it at a grander level with your 50 best friends instead? You can host your own backyard movie night with the right setup.
1. Set the theme.
Start by picking a movie and matching theme for the evening. Hosting a classic baseball movie? Prepare a hot dog bar with trimmings – from simple hot dogs and mustard, to the fancy Chicago-style dog with pickles, onions, relish, and celery salt. A holiday movie might be enhanced with hot cocoa, or even a spiced drink with a simple fire pit and s’mores. The food is a big part of the party, but it can be as elaborate or as simple as you prefer – the connection with the movie theme is what is so powerful and joyful. After you’ve sorted out these details, you can make a fun invitation for email and social media on your favorite free platform. I recommend making the event private if it’s on social media, otherwise you’ll have far more people than you anticipated because these parties are fun!
2. Get a projector.
Once you’ve decided on the movie and matching theme, the fun really begins with the technology. If you don’t already own one, you will need to acquire a projector. Sometimes your office will loan them out, or you can rent one from a local audio-visual company, or borrow one from a friend who wants to join your backyard movie night. If you have multiple options, pick the brightest projector (measured in lumens) with the input that matches the device playing the movie. Lumens are a measurement for projectors, where a higher number typically means a brighter picture. A good starting point is 1,000 lumens.
If the projector only has a VGA connection, get a compatible laptop. VGA is the traditional analog monitor connection, with 15 pins. Otherwise, you can always look for an adapter for the device that will play the movie to your projector.
Typically, an HDMI connection is easiest. Most streaming devices are equipped with HDMI ports, for an easy connection from the streaming device to the projector. If you use a streaming device instead of a Blu-ray or DVD player, make sure you have a solid WiFi connection to prevent buffering during the party – it’s a real drag.
If you use HDMI, you’ll want to make sure that you split out the audio. With HDMI, it carries the sound through the connection, which means you have two options: your streaming device can have a separate audio output or your projector has an audio output. Either way, you will need this audio output for the second part of the setup – the speakers.
3. Soundtracks sound better with good speakers.
Unless you’re hosting a silent-movie night, speakers are required. If you have smaller speakers at your disposal, you may want to limit the size of your crowd so everyone can hear. If you have a larger setup, then enjoy a larger group of guests! Take the audio output from either the projector or the streaming device and connect it into the speakers or the stereo you’ve connected. If the speakers are wireless, connect the audio from the projector or streaming device into one of the speakers that networks to the others. I’ve also found that placing a few plastic plant pots behind the speakers really helps amplify the sound. Do a sound test before you invite your guests. Sit in different areas to see how well you can hear and anticipate that the crowd will likely not be perfectly silent during the movie.
With the audio and video connected, now you need a place to display the movie – and options abound. The cheapest and most basic is a wall or fence large enough to display the image. The visual will look best on a lighter surface, but I’ve even used the brick wall on my home.
4. Set up your screen.
The next step is to find a flat, light-colored bed sheet and tie it tightly so you can project the movie onto it. Finally, if you plan on hosting more than one movie night, it can pay to invest in a bit of hardware. Many of the necessary items are available individually at your local hardware store. You’ll need an electrical conduit and metal connector pieces to create the frame for the screen, a white tarp with grommets (holes with metal rings) for the screen, and short bungees to hold the tarp to the frame you’ve built. Purchasing this hardware will typically cost less than $100. A quick Internet search of “backyard movie screen” can also get you an entire kit for about $129.
Another option is an inflatable screen, which will require constant power. Keep in mind your speakers will need to be louder than the blower motor. Remember to tie the screen to a tree or other unmovable object to keep it upright – otherwise you just have a giant sail.
To ensure a great experience, give yourself plenty of time to test that the projector works properly, that the audio is sufficiently loud, and that the screen is effective. With the logistics sorted out, you can now host your party with delicious food, an amazing movie and good company, all in the comfort of your backyard!
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