Tuesday, July 6, 2010

outdoor movies

Of all the movies we've watched outside these last three years, the musical Hairspray (above) has probably been my favorite. It has all the elements of a great outdoor movie experience: vivid 60s color, infectious songs, and a sly, sweet sense of humor.

We are lucky in that despite very hot summers, our local Delta Breezes generally keep the evenings cool. So when we got a projector to show movies in the house, we naturally started thinking about how to project outdoors, as well. The biggest obstacle was in creating an inexpensive, reusable screen. We pondered this problem for years until coming across two sources of inspiration.
The first was a pair of ancient concrete patio stands from my dad's backyard. I looked at them and realized that they would be perfect support for a frame made of pvc pipe. We had various odd lengths of 1" pvc in the barn so using our available materials and aiming for an aspect ratio of 16:9, the frame was designed to be 14 feet long and 7.5 feet high. Here is what the frame looks like fully assembled:
It's a little wonky, I know. The securing bolts in the stands were rusted solid, and the pipe rattles around loosely. The two stands are also of slightly differing heights, so a river rock must be dropped inside one of them to bring the screen level. A small slab of concrete is under the center footing, as well. High tech this is not.
The second serendipitous discovery was of specialized pvc fittings called snap clamps. I chanced upon these online while looking at greenhouse plans--apparently they are meant to secure shade cloth and vinyl to outdoor growing structures. After having struggled with a couple different ways of attaching the screen to the frame, snap clamps turned out to be simple and foolproof.
The screen is simply blackout shade fabric sewn together to fit around the edges of the frame. One of my early experiments involved lacing through grommets. Though the idea didn't work out by itself, it does help firm up the fabric in conjunction with the snap clamps.
Additional security is provided by, um, bungee cords.
We learned through trial and error to prop it against the house. Those same cooling Delta Breezes tended to blow this lightweight screen back and forth like a sail no matter how much additional bracing we used.
It's homemade, to be sure. But when the projector is turned on it, none of the seams or sags are visible--just a brightly illuminated moving picture. I would love to hear your suggestions for outdoor movies in comments--what would you want to watch on a summer night?

(P.S. One of these days I plan to add our screen to this very cool site


  1. It was so much fun to watch Hairspray last summer at your house! I love being outside in the evening with good friends and a good movie. I will have to think of ideas that are rated for everyone...I tend to have off humor etc.

  2. Well, if my kids had their way, we'd be watching one of the Star Wars movies. I think I might want to watch The Princess Bride or something like that? You know, come to think of it, I think almost any movie outside, with good company is a good movie :)

  3. Ferris Bueller! Chicken Run!

    Love that Dad's laundry stands are being put to good use, especially for movies. He would love that.

  4. Oh, Singin' in the Rain. And Adam's Rib!

  5. Thanks for all the great ideas--I will definitely be using them. Some of my favorite movies are included! Through Twitter, I've also had suggestions of Harold & Maude, Shane, The Good the Bad & the Ugly, Eloise at the Plaza, Jungle to Jungle, and The Blair Witch Project (we'll have to skip that one, as I'm too jumpy to watch something like that outside in the dark).

    And amazingly, look at the blog I found today via Google's own list of notable blogs: chickenblog. What are the odds?!

  6. Love this DIY project. What a great way to entertain family and friends at home!

  7. So glad I came across this info! I'm in charge of a back to school night at my kids school and I need all the ideas I can get. I do not sew!! Any other options out there that aren't that expensive? THANKS

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      Sorry--I only just noticed your comment today! A non-sewing screen option could be just white paint on a smooth surface: the side of a house, a piece of plywood, etc. I know I missed your back-to-school night deadline, so I hope you found something workable. :)


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