How to create an outdoor cinema in your garden – a step-by-step guide

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  • There’s nothing quite like kicking back with a cold drink and some yummy snacks to watch your fav flick with friends. And this summer, why not make in an alfresco affair and get clued up on how to create an outdoor cinema.

    Going to an open-air movie night is a popular summer tradition, but have you ever thought about setting up your own at home?

    Outdoor living is getting bigger every year, from outdoor kitchens, to outdoor bars ideas and of course, outdoor living rooms. We just can’t get enough of our outdoor spaces and are keen to utilise them as much as possible, all year round, so setting up an alfresco cinema experience is surely a no brainer.

    It doesn’t take much technical know-how, and it doesn’t have to be expensive either, but follow our guide on how to create an outdoor cinema and your only worry will be choosing which film to watch.  Right, someone pass the popcorn!

    How to make an outdoor cinema

    1. Find the right location

    Image credit: Garden Trading

    Whether you’re setting up your outdoor cinema at the bottom of the garden or on a balcony or roof terrace, make sure you have a piece of ground that’s dry and sheltered from the wind.

    You could use fairy light ideas to decorate the space, but make sure you turn any lighting off before you start the movie so they don’t affect the picture. Also, try to avoid pitching up in a spot where streetlights or bright indoor lights might reflect against the screen.

    A flat surface such as a wall or fence is a great place to set up, just make sure there is enough space in front for sitting. You might also want to think about being close enough to a power outlet (and the loo too!)

    2. Invest in a projector

    Movie projector on top of folder blanket outside for garden cinema

    Image credit: Future Plc/Polly Eltes

    It used to be the case that decent projectors were hugely expensive and could only be used in blackout situations – something hard to achieve in a living room, let alone in your garden. However, the latest models are bright enough to use with the lights on and have plummeted in price. They’re also quieter and more compact, so you needn’t worry that an annoying whirr will spoil any dramatic moments.

    When you’re shopping for a projector for your outdoor cinema, you’ll see each one has a lumen measurement. More lumens make it easier to see the projected image in bright conditions. In a garden after dark, we recommend at least 3000 lumens for a movie-theatre experience.

    3. Connect a video source

    You’ll need something to play your film on, and this could be a DVD or Blu Ray player, a laptop or a streaming device such as an Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV box, which you’ll need to connect to your projector through its HDMI port.

    If you want great sound, you can connect a speaker through your projector’s 3.5 mm jack, or look for a model with Bluetooth. Go for the latter and you’ll be able to connect wirelessly to a one of the best soundbars or speaker, and put more bang into your blockbuster. Or if it’s late and you’re watching alone, you can connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones so you won’t disturb the neighbours.

    4. Create your cinema screen

    Outdoor cinema set up with candles and fairy lights Lights4Fun

    Image credit: Lights4Fun

    The easiest and cheapest way to do this, is to peg a white sheet to your washing line, or string it up between two trees. You may want to weigh it down at the bottom so that it doesn’t move around in the breeze.

    You could also make your own screen by sewing together pieces of blackout lining, which you can buy by the metre. Tack lengths of timber to the top and bottom and attach screw hooks to the top, then hang it over a row of nails on a wall or garden fence.

    If money is no object, you could buy or hire an inflatable screen from a company like Inflatable Products.

    5. Make sure your guests are comfortable and cosy

    Firepit on patio with armchair and fairy lights

    Image credit: Future Plc/Dominic Blackmore

    If the best spot is on the lawn, lay a groundsheet on the grass to protect against any moisture or bottom-troubling rocks and stones, then layer blankets, cushions and beanbags to up the comfort factor. You could make your pop-up outdoor cinema more sophisticated by throwing down a few rugs, and setting out chairs, benches or even hammocks to relax on.

    Just make sure everyone has a good view, and keep a few blankets aside or perhaps light a fire pit in case it gets colder later on. Obviously, it goes without saying to keep the firepit a safe distance away from your sheet ‘screen’, as you don’t want movie night to go up in flames!

    6. Prepare a feast

    Saucepan of popcorn and filled bags surrounding it

    Image credit: Future Plc/Polly Eltes

    This could be as easy as pouring popcorn into bowls, filling a bucket with ice and stocking it with bottled drinks, so all you have to do is reach down for a refill. For something more substantial, light up the barbecue or invest in an outdoor pizza oven and host a pizza party.

    You could also have a go at making your own lemonade. Simply mix the zest and juice from 6 lemons and 2 limes with 200g of caster sugar, and 1.5ltrs of just-boiled water. Leave the mixture to cool and then chill it in the fridge. We love the trick of using fairy cake cases to identify everyone’s drinks while keeping insects at bay. Simply pop a straw in each drink, then thread on a cake case upside down with each person’s name on it.

    Whatever you decide to serve, don’t forget to light some citronella candles to ward off annoying mossies.

    How do I set up an outdoor cinema?

    First, pick a spot that will lend itself to a comfortable evening viewing. You’ll need a flat surface to project your movie onto, whether this is a wall or fence, or simply a sheet strung up between two trees. Make sure you can sit far enough back from the screen for it to be comfortable. You don’t want to get a neck ache from staring upwards all evening.

    Most projectors are wireless but if your model needs to be plugged in, work out how you’ll safely get power to your garden.

    Do a test run of your equipment before any guests arrive and check the weather forecast ahead of time too.

    What do you need for an outdoor movie night?

    Aside from a screen, a projector and your chosen movie, you might want to think about creating a cosy seating area for yourself and your friends to chill out in. Cosy blankets and cushions will go down a treat, especially as the evening gets cooler. Snacks and refreshments are a must-have too, so grab a cooler box or set up a barbecue nearby for interval snacks a-plenty.

    You might also want to consider letting neighbours know your movie plans in advance too. A late-night box-set marathon could disturb the peace, but if they’ve had a fair warning (or even an invite) you shouldn’t rock the boat too much.

    Does it need to be dark for an outdoor cinema?

    This depends on the quality of your projector. The very best models don’t need a pitch-black night to work successfully, but no matter what model you choose, you’re always going to struggle if it’s a very bright, sunny day. It needs to be at least getting dark before you try to air your chosen film, but check with your projector manual for the best advice.

    Additional words: Holly Walsh

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