5 Tips for Backyard Movie Night

Dragging a TV and extension cord outside for the kids might be fun, but you can do even better. ©iStockphoto/Thinkstock

When drive-in movies debuted in 1933, they gave car-loving movie-goers the choice to forgo the theater experience and watch movies with their friends and families in their own vehicles. And by the late 1950s, our love for outdoor movies generated the most drive-ins we'd ever see in the U.S. Today, our laptops can give us one better than that: backyard movie night -- without the confines of the car. And unlike community outdoor movie nights, when you host your own you get the ultimate flexibility. You get to choose the movie, you get to choose the snacks, and you get to choose the crowd.

But this isn't an IMAX experience; there won't be any air conditioning. And not everyone will want to sit on the ground. Let's talk tips about seating first.

For some of your guests, sitting on the ground is about as much fun as watching a movie on an old black-and-white TV. ©Hemera/Thinkstock

Perhaps one of the biggest no-nos in throwing an outdoor movie night is the assumption that everyone will want to sit on the ground. They won't. Maybe it's due to lower back pain (which nearly 5.5 million Americans alone have) or maybe it's nothing more than a wet grass comfort issue. To keep your movie-attending audience happy, provide plenty of seating options, and be creative [source: ACR]. Some guests may prefer lawn chairs or folding chairs to sitting on the ground, but a hammock, chaises and other lounge furniture could make for an even greater escape. Don't forget the moisture-resistant pillows and cushions, and have a stash of blankets ready for your guests.

Want to make your outdoor movie party really special? Take a cue from high-end movie theaters and offer burgers with gourmet toppings. ©iStockphoto/Thinkstock

While popcorn and M&Ms have been movie theater concession staples for decades, there's no reason you can't shake things up a bit. Upgrade the theater standard with a popcorn bar featuring flavors such as kettle corn and cheese, and mix-ins such as chocolate chips or your favorite movie theater candy if that's more your taste. And get creative with other food ideas. Prepare picnic-style options (or encourage your guests to bring their own picnic baskets), set up a taco buffet, or combine movie night with some backyard grilling. Make hot dogs and burgers, roast some marshmallows -- for s'mores or just because.

Also consider placing a few small, collapsible tables around for plates and glasses, particularly if you're serving more than finger foods. And if you're planning on serving adult beverages, keep in mind that just one 12-ounce beer significantly increases your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes [source: Shirai].

Address Noise Issues
It’s a good idea to invite the neighbors to your outdoor party -- they’d probably love to come. ©Hemera/Thinkstock

Any time you're planning to make noise in your yard in the evening it's good policy to let your neighbors know beforehand, or risk the chance of having a noise complaint filed against you. The easiest solution? Usually an invitation to your event is enough to pacify even the most sensitive ear in your neighborhood, but even if your neighbors aren't the type to complain, don't dismiss noise issues. Under the rules of the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, for example, audio devices -- that includes your DVD player, speakers and any other gear in your movie-playing setup -- are considered a noise nuisance depending on the time of day you're using them, and if your movie is easily heard beyond 50 feet (15.2 meters) of the property boundary of your yard after 11 p.m., you could be cited [source: MRSC]. Check with your local municipality to find out if there's a similar ordinance.

To help reduce noise, consider adding a solid, as-tall-as-possible fence around your property, especially if you plan to have regular backyard movie nights.

Dress Rehearsal
Test your projector and other equipment before your guests arrive! Even if you’ve used the same setup before, there’s always a chance that something could malfunction. ©iStockphoto/Thinkstock

It's the stuff of host anxiety dreams -- you settle into your seat with a plate of snacks only to find that the projector won't turn on, the audio won't work, or there's a rather intrusive seam running down the middle of the screen. A dress rehearsal will give you a chance to work out the kinks before your audience arrives.

Use your dress rehearsal to test your video projector, DVD player and speakers, as well as experiment with different screen materials and even screen size. A test run will quickly determine if your screen is a good viewing shape and angle, and if there are any other concerns that might detract from movie viewing. For example, try different areas of the yard, as some spots may seem perfect until, for instance, the street lights come on. And street lights -- any lights -- are a concern because movie night has to be dark. Your projected movie will look best when no other light source competes with the projector. The lighter color the screen, the better, too.

You only need four things to show your backyard movie: a DVD player (or your laptop), an LCD projector, speakers and a white screen. Outdoor movie setup costs range anywhere from a DIY budget to thousands of dollars for high-end equipment -- there are numerous configurations to suit any budget. For instance, keep costs down by renting a projector, and project your movie onto a white (or very light-colored) wall or DIY screen made from white blackout shade fabric, white butcher paper or a white vinyl shower curtain or sheet cut to your specific size needs.

Bug Control
You’re going to have to make it clear to this party crasher that he was NOT invited. ©iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Blood-thirsty, West Nile-infecting mosquitoes have a way of killing the mood, and dusk can be some of the worst hours to be outside if you're trying to avoid becoming a target. What can you do? Well, there's the go-to DEET-containing products. But if you're trying to go chemical-free, there are other options. Try burning citronella candles, oils (such as in a few strategically placed Tiki torches), or incense, for instance. If you're planning regular movie nights, consider landscaping your backyard to fit your bug-free movie-watching needs. For example, some plants are natural mosquito repellents and planting them around the yard will keep those flying pests under control 24/7. Some common kitchen herbs -- rosemary, basil, and lavender, specifically -- are good at controlling mosquitoes, and a study at Iowa State University found that the primary ingredient in catnip oil, nepetalactone, is a natural mosquito repellant 10 times more powerful than DEET (as an added bonus, it also repels cockroaches) [source: ScienceDaily].

Be sure you don't allow standing water in your yard, whether that's in your clogged gutters or empty planters; mosquitoes breed in standing water.


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Author's Note: 5 Tips for Backyard Movie Night

I have fond memories of being a little kid, in pajamas, bundled in blankets in the back of the car with my best friend in the world and watching a showing of "Bambi" at the drive-in theater. Fast forward a couple decades and here I am making backyard considerations for entertaining. Up until seeing just how simple creating a modern-day outdoor movie setup can be, I had only to date included a s'mores-making fire pit.


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