Create your own DIY outdoor movie theater, and stay entertained during warm spring and summer evenings. Instead of sitting inside and staring at a small screen, kick back in the great outdoors with your very own big screen. You can put the whole thing away when it’s not in use.
Step 1 - Scout the Location
Pick your spot carefully; otherwise, you’ll have to dismantle and re-assemble your home theater. Look for a spot to place the screen where it won’t be affected by the glare of streetlamps. Be certain it won’t block traffic or obstruct someone else’s view. Don’t forget about seating. You want a nice, wide area in front of the screen, too.
Step 2 - Build the Frame
Build a large frame out of an affordable wood like pine. Assemble it out of four 2x4s to create a big rectangle, nailing the corners together. The size of your frame will be dictated by how much space you have to hang it, and how far back you can place your projector. Look at your projector specs for more guidance on this. The frame should be twice as long as it is tall, to capture the 16:9 aspect ratio of most movies.
It’s just a frame, so don’t worry about making it look fancy. If you want to create a really big screen, you may need an extra 2x4 as a brace in the middle. Alternately, use PVC piping to build a frame that’s lightweight and easier to take apart. The PVC is flexible, so it will need more cross bracing.
DIY tip: You can be simple with your DIY movie screen, and simply drape a large, white drop cloth over a clothes line.
Step 3 - Make the Screen
Drop cloths are made out of canvas that naturally resists bad weather, but they can get a little pricey. Save money by buying a roll of vinyl or a large vinyl panel instead. Even a big shower curtain or a plain bed sheet will do in a pinch. Nail your screen directly to the frame or use water-resistant glue to hold it in place. Stretch the screen material over the edges of the frame, and secure it along the backside to create a neater look.
Shortcut tip: If you already have a relatively flat and light-colored wall on your property, the side of a house or garage for instance, you already have a built-in screen that requires no framing.
Step 4 - Set Up the Projector
Get a high definition projector with an HDMI input jack. Place it on a level surface, as high up as you can safely mount it. Remember that nothing can obstruct the line of sight from the projector to the screen, so arrange your seats accordingly. Many Bluray players already have projectors installed.
Step 5 - Set Up the Sound
The image is only half the experience. You also need sound, unless you plan to show silent movies (which can be a fun solution for those operating within a very limited budget). Look for a cheap secondhand sound system at consignment stores and online sites like Craigslist. Transfer the speakers indoors when they aren’t in use; to do otherwise puts them at risk for weather damage and theft.
Step 6 - Add the Seats
Place folding chairs or plastic chairs in front of the screen, avoiding the line of the projector. For a more affordable option, simply set out a few big tarps and several picnic blankets.
DIY tip: Create a fun, rustic seating setting with hay bales.
Step 7 - Add the Lighting
A darkened atmosphere is best for movie-viewing, but you need to have some lighting so your guests won’t stumble over each other in the dark. Add a string of holiday lights across the top of the screen and place them on nearby trees and railings where possible. Use rope lights to define the aisle between seats or on either side of them.
Assemble your screen, your movie setup and your seating, and you’ve got yourself a DIY movie theater. Wait for the sun to go down and host a summer of movie nights.
(With your outdoor theater in place, consider some innovative deck and patio seating.)