Our family has been dreaming for a while of putting together a DIY backyard movie screen and system! We purchased our projector two years ago even. Finally this weekend we did it. It took some teamwork and some learning lessons, but we loved our results. Since we learned a few things with the set up, I couldn’t wait to share our secrets and tips with you. This post contains affiliate links, this means no additional cost for you but I receive a small commision for the referral.
DIY Backyard Movie Screen
Here’s one of the biggest things I had noticed previously, a plain white sheet lets a lot of light through. The trick is to use a dark sheet backing. You’ll want to buy two sheets, one white and one black. I purchased mine at Target, but you can get them at Amazon too. The twin size seems to work well for our space and the 16:9 screen width. Our Target sheets are about 68″ x 96″.
Now you need to attach the two sheets together. I do sew, so I plan to neatly sew the two together for future movies. However, this time since we were trying to hurry I just used safety pins to pin the two together. I used about six pins on three sides, the top and the two sides. I highly recommend finding some space to lay the sheets out carefully to pin together. This will help prevent any buckling from mismatched pinning. To sew the sheets together I’ll be sure to wash them beforehand.
Hanging Your DIY Movie Screen
Mounting is the next huge issue we had to tackle. I initially saw a facebook post that showed using yard shepherd hooks and a curtain rod with clips, and planned to do that. Then I priced shepherd hooks at $25-$35 a piece, to get the tall ones that would work for a big screen, and decided to skip that plan. However it is a great plan if you want something portable, perfect for camping. You could also simply buy a retractable screen, like what we used in the good ole’ days of school.
Since we already have a swing set with a long beam, I went with the idea of utilizing that. I purchased a simple curtain rod from Target. The longest I could find without paying too much was 84″ wide. That seemed to be good since we were limited to about 88″ in width on the open swing set beam. This did mean that I had to fold over 12″ on one side of the sheet screen to measure 84″ across.
My original plan was to create a sewn channel on the sheets and slide them onto the curtain rod. However, I realized that I didn’t really want to spend the time messing with that for setup and for take down. So instead we decided to drape the edge of the DIY screen sheet over the curtain rod and attach it together with safety pins. This worked, but I later found some bag clips in my drawer and those seem like the way to go. Just make sure the clips you get open wider than the width of your curtain rod. These beach chair towel clips would probably work well. The trick is to make sure you have a smooth hanging sheet with no buckles or waves.
Secret for a Great Picture – Choosing the Right Backyard Movie Projector
As I said earlier, we have been planning this for years. When we purchased our projector two years ago we had researched and discovered that LUMENS is an important number you need to look for. The higher the lumens, the brighter the light/picture. You can find a lot of “affordable” projectors that have low lumen ratings. We purchased a 4500 lumen projector and it worked perfectly. I would worry about a lower lumen projector since as you can see the remaining daylight still made the picture faint. I can’t locate our exact projector any longer, but here are some ideas:
You’ll also want to be sure to get a projector that has WiFi if you plan to stream movies. Get one that has HD 1080p quality and the 16:9 screen ratio. Those should all be pretty standard and I “think” the ones linked before have all of those. Plus, a projector with HDMI input(s) and audio inputs will make your setup easy.
Secret for Great DIY Backyard Movie Party – Timing for Dark
The time of year when many of us want to host a backyard movie night is summer time. For many of us that also means long daylight hours. If you want a great image you need to time your movie for darkness. Here in Seattle sunset was 9:07 pm, and you can see from the first image that at 9:18 pm the screen lighting was still a bit faint. By 9:23 pm things were better, and by 9:43 it was pitch dark. Plan your movie start time for 10-20 minutes after sunset to keep the kids from complaining they can’t see.
Tips for Sound in DIY Backyard Movie Screen
Your projector will probably come with speakers, maybe even some ok ones. But there’s a good chance it won’t be good enough. Especially if you’re planning a backyard party with multiple kids and ambient noise. I’m married to a bit of an audiophile who had to create awesome sound for our backyard movie night. I’m letting him explain things here on how he set ours up.
For audio, the projector we have has a built-in speaker, but the quality and volume output leaves little to be desired for big movie sound. So instead we used a wireless speaker system that we situated behind the screen. Our particular speaker has a wireless transmitter than plugs into the RCA Audio Out jacks of the projector. You can also use most any other portable sound system that allows for some sort of auxiliary input and then run the necessary cables. However, Bluetooth speakers are more common nowadays, and you may be able to find a projector with Bluetooth capability, or you can buy a relatively inexpensive RCA-to-Bluetooth adapter. Then you can simply use your favorite Bluetooth speaker.
Tips for Watching Movies
At first we had no idea how to actually watch movies. Were we going to need to bring out our laptops? Hook up the DVD player? The projector we used is blessed with multiple video connector types such as HDMI, RCA, Component, SD card, and USB. For our first movie, we used the Amazon Fire Stick, which utilizes the HDMI port, to have full access to Netflix and Amazon Video. But keep in mind, to use devices like the Fire Stick, Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast, you need to be in range of a WiFi network fast enough for streaming video. If you’re not, you may have to rely on an offline format such as DVD.
Tips for Comfortable Viewing
To make our family’s backyard movie night really cozy and fun, I set up a bed area for the girls. We used an inflatable mattress, pillows, and blankets to create their viewing area. A tip is to put a sheet or tarp down on the ground to help protect the mattress from puncturing. We also had to grab some extra pillows to help them raise up their heads for popcorn snacking and movie viewing. These floor loungers would be a fun idea too!
First things first…we got lucky with our distances and were just able to get the projector to fit behind the mattress for the screen. The distance is a tricky thing to measure and I had already set up the bed before Paul hooked up the projector. I recommend you setup your screen and projector first for optimal size & distance, then put your lounging viewing area in between and around. Parents can watch along in some nice zero gravity lounge chairs.
Now you’re ready to pop some popcorn and settle down with some snacks. These tips will help you pull of an amazing backyard movie night. And it won’t even take that much time. From start to finish I’d say we spent two hours getting everything set up. I expect it’ll be quicker each time since we now know optimal placement and hanging techniques!