How I turned my cousins’ backyard into a outdoor movie theater

November 24, 2020 — by Shaan Sridhar
Photo by Shaan Sridhar

Outdoor movie theaters make for a good movie theater alternative.

It was a chilly August evening, and the aroma of popcorn drifted from inside my cousin’s house. After clicking a few buttons on my computer, a projector lit up and boomed my display onto a makeshift screen.

My cousins and I sat in soft chairs, pulled our blankets over ourselves and got our food ready. We were all ready to watch “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” the first movie we had seen together after months of theaters being closed.

For us, movie theaters weren’t just a place to watch a movie; they were an experience. And it’s difficult to match the experience of a true movie theater: Most TV screens aren’t very large, and drive-in movie theaters have terrible sound quality. 

So we decided to create our own theater.

I am a diehard movie fanatic. My older cousin, a senior at Los Gatos High, is my partner in my love for all things Hollywood, Marvel, Netflix and more. We, along with my two other cousins, a sophomore at Los Gatos High and a 7th-grader at Fisher Middle School, have seen almost every notable movie theater. With the pandemic, we lost one of our favorite activities to do together.

Over the summer, my cousins, who are also my neighbors, and I built an outdoor movie theater in their backyard. All it took was a projector, speaker, an HDMI cable and some leftover items from the garage.

A prerequisite for any outdoor movie theater is some open space. My backyard is full of trees and plants, but my cousins have a more wide open yard.

Once you find a location, you can start building the projector screen. For my screen, I took leftover wood from my garage and fashioned together a 16-by-9-foot wooden frame. 

My cousins draped a white California King bed sheet over one side of the frame and secured it using duck tape. To keep the frame standing, we simply leaned it against the exterior of their house. 

If that sounds too complicated, there are plenty of other options. A freestanding projector screen costs as little as $29.99 on Amazon. You could also hang a bedsheet from an outdoor wall without building a wooden frame.

The next and most crucial component is the projector. Projectors, unless you are a master engineer, are not easy DIY projects, so you’ll have to buy or borrow one. My cousins and I ended up borrowing a projector from a family friend who didn’t use it very much.

I plugged my computer into the projector using an HDMI cable. If you’re using your computer, whatever is on your screen will be projected, so you can use virtually any streaming service. Some, like Amazon Prime Video, have technology to prevent you from streaming their content using a projector. Most, however, like Netflix and Disney+, don’t have these types of restrictions. 

The last hardware component is speakers. I used my mom’s Bluetooth speaker, an Ultimate Ears BOOM 3, and connected it to my computer. Some projectors require the speaker to be connected directly, so read the product manuals beforehand so that you know they can work together.

With the screen and projector set up, all we needed was to get comfortable. My cousins brought some chairs and popcorn from their house, and I brought blankets and snacks. With those final touches, we had successfully created a functional movie theater with a large screen and comfy seats for my family and I to use while enjoying movie snacks.

This setup makes a perfect night out for you and your friends or a fun movie night with your family. Better yet, it’s very easy to take down and put back together. All you need to do is move the equipment into your storage area, and then move it back outside when you’re ready.

My cousins and I have used the setup at their house nearly every other week. We’ve seen numerous films including “Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” and “Mulan.” Before quarantine, we would have seen these films at our local AMC. Now, we see them in our own makeshift theater.

 While I can’t wait for real theaters to open again, the fact is that it won’t be happening anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the theatrical experience at home. All it takes is a DIY outdoor movie theater to bring back the movie magic.


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