Make the Perfect Backyard Movie Theater: At the drive-in, life doesn’t end when the movie starts. On the contrary, life asserts itself. People eat dinner in covered dishes. They drink cans of beer from coolers hidden by the gate. Children play stubbornly on dimly lit playgrounds. I’ve seen great games of multi-frisbee at drive-ins. And dogs.
Yes, we hang the speaker on the window. And sure enough, we watch the movie, even from the back seat. But no one goes to the drive-in for a movie. We go to the drive-in to stay somewhat outside as we watch our stories unfold against the waxy disk of the summer moon, the sunset, and the dark light, 30 feet above us.
In the backyard, it’s even better. When someone rolls up a bed sheet in their backyard to watch West Side Story again? Count me among them. It is a conscious kind of film-watching, a creation of sound and light, against a poor, incomplete slogan. The dancing looks better against a bed sheet. Big band music sounds better when the wind blows.
It’s a conscious kind of outdoor living, one that doesn’t take the comfort of an Adirondack chair for granted at dusk. Here, at home, life ends as you call it. You can lie on the lawn. After all, it is your property. your weed You take care of this place during the day.
In the end, perhaps any summer night is to forget. And maybe any film is merely coincidental when set against the larger world. All this is just light and sound above the crickets. But with a backyard movie, you can sit back and take a look at the stars. You are out and about in the movies too. Stars are visible everywhere.
Gear and setup
A few times a season, after my kid’s peewee football practice, we’d take everyone over to the neighbor’s house. He had installed speakers and a projector pointing at a wall. We’ll watch a classic football movie—remember We’re Marshall, Rudy, Titans. It’s a great atmosphere outside on a summer night.
How to make a silver screen
One thing you don’t need to buy all cloth for is the screen (although we will use some cloth). All you need is some PVC pipe, a long piece of fabric, and a trusty sewing needle to make a great backyard silver screen.
- Sew four pockets to the stretchable fabric (see diagram above). Note that there is a 2-inch-wide unstitched gap in the center of the long edges of the fabric. This creates a gap in the pocket into which you insert the PVCT fitting.
- Use a miter saw to cut three pieces of PVC to 60 3/8 inches and four pieces to 52 inches.
- With a 1/8-inch twist drill bit, drill a pilot hole in the top of the two PVC elbows for the screw eyes. The location of the pilot hole is important. If it is too close to the end of the pipe, the tip of the screw will prevent the pipe from entering the elbow. Insert the two screw eyes from which you are hanging the screen.
- Slide the four 52-inch pieces of pipe into the fabric pockets. Insert a tee into the unstitched gap at the top and bottom of the frame, and push each pipe into the horizontal socket of each tee.
- Insert a 60-inch piece of pipe into the vertical sockets of the top and bottom tees.
- Slide the four elbows onto the ends of the 52-inch-long pieces. Two elbows with screw eyes are placed on top of the frame.
- Insert the remaining two 60-inch pieces of pipe into the elbow socket to complete the frame.
- To hang the screen, attach a carabiner to each screw eye. Then loop an appropriate length of thin, strong rope (we recommend a 1/8-inch paracord) through the clips and tie it around a tree branch, raised deck, or other tall, sturdy beam in your yard.
Can you use a sheet as a projector screen?
Just like above, a plain white sheet works best. It doesn’t have to be a bedsheet, either. Any piece of smooth, white cloth will do the trick. The trickiest part of using a sheet as a projector screen is hanging it properly to avoid wrinkles, folds, or movement.