5 Outdoor movie night essentials - Simple guide for beginners

If you plan to hold an outdoor movie night, you want your audience to be happy and comfortable before, during, and after the show. That's why preparation for such an event is very important.
You have a lot to do! Probably not. It depends on prioritizing the essentials. Let's take a look at these five basic requirements for an epic outdoor movie night.

1- Equipment

Outdoor Movie Night Essentials
For your first outdoor movie event we recommend renting your set of equipment before investing into your own unit. By doing so you’ll have experience using that outdoor movie gear and will understand your priorities -- be it an additional subwoofer or a brighter projector.

Here is the list of equipment you will need: 

  • Projector.
  • Screen.
  • Video source.
  • Sound system.
  • Power source.
  • Projector tripod.

Projector

In reality, a projector is the only indispensable item that is absolutely needed for your outdoor movie screening. Unless the plan is to carry your TV outside.

Nowadays, there are a lot of weather-proof and outdoor-ready projectors on the market, but they are not necessary in our experience. Watching content while being rained on is an unpleasant experience in the first place.

Any projector from a reputable brand can in reality be used for screenings outdoors. Projectors by Optoma proved to be very durable. Most of the projectors have a built-in speaker and many of the modern models have a media player onboard.

Here are several models from our store that fit the above criteria:

Which brightness is sufficient for an outdoor projector

[image: find royalty free image of any projector in an outdoor environment (table)]

Usually there’s more ambient light outdoors in the evening than it is indoors: streetlights from your neighbors, ambient light of the big city, the stars and the moon. Consider a brighter projector for your outdoor movie screenings than you would normally use in your living room.

A required projector brightness is related to the screen size. The larger your screen the more light it will require for a vivid image. This can give you a rough idea of screen sizes (diagonal) vs. projector brightness (lumens):

  • 75'' - 1,000-2,000 lm
  • 100'' - 1,500-2,500 lm
  • 10' - 3,000-3,500 lm
  • 16' - 3,500 - 4,500 lm
  • 20' - 4,500 - 5,500 lm

Screens

Open Air Cinema Pro 12' Screen Camp
For those taking your first steps in the outdoor movie events management, a DIY screen or even a white wall will work. But we strongly recommend you use professional solutions. A proper projector screen will make your image contrast better, the colors -- natural, with better viewing angles for your audience.

There is a wide variety of screen categories on the market such as: folding screens, permanent motorized or non-motorized screens and larger inflatable screens.

Read our review of the Three Best Outdoor Movie Screens in 2022.

Screen size

When figuring out your perfect screen size consider the following table (screen size vs. audience size):

 Screen size Audience size
75'' 3 viewers
100'' 5 viewers
10' 20 viewers
16' 200 viewers
20' 500 viewers

Another important factor is the size of your venue. You want to consider the space needed to position your screen, projector throw distance and a comfortable spacing for your audience.

Video source

What is the best and the most convenient source of content in your situation? If you are watching a game with your neighbors you will likely want to opt for a TV box wired to a projector or stream the game online. Blu-rays and DVDs are good for old movies. Popular streaming services such as Netflix or Apple TV+ are another option. Securing good wifi coverage at your outdoor venue is a good idea if you go for the latter.

Being able to project content from various mobile devices would be nice too. Be sure to get an HDMI-to-Apple adapter to hook your friend’s phone to a projector in case (s)he would like to screen their favorite music video after the screening.

Many media players these days support streaming or display mirroring from your phone via AirPlay (Apple) or ChromeCast (Android).

Sound system

A Bluetooth speaker of about 25W would suffice for up to five people and a small screen. With the screens starting from 9’ in diagonal we would recommend a more serious sound system consisting of a pair of speakers and audio mixer for the volume control.

Powered speakers proved to be the most fitting solution because an audio signal is amplified in each speaker. And there won't be signal loss even with the lengthy audio cables.

Here’s a quick list of speaker power vs. audience size, for your reference:

  • 3 viewers - 50W
  • 10 viewers - 100W
  • 20 viewers - 500W
  • 200 viewers - 700W
  • 500 viewers - 2,000W

Power source 

Most of the outdoor movie systems are not very power consuming. Any household power grid should be enough to power up your outdoor movie system. For those who use an inflatable screen, your most power hungry item is going to be an air blower. Another power consuming device is a projector -- ranging from 200 Watts and up to 800 Watts in consumer-grade projectors.

Read our article on How to Reduce Blower Noise During Your Outdoor Movie Show.

Alternatively, if you would like to organize your event off-grid you can use a diesel generator. Note that generators are quite noisy and a good rule of thumb is to use a long extension cable and put the generator away from your screen.

You might also be interested in our article: how to choose the best generator for your outdoor movie event.

Nowadays there are powerful battery stations available on the market. They are still relatively pricey, but can already power up a simple outdoor movie setup consisting of a projector and any projection screen that needs no air blower to work.

Projector tables and tripods

Technically speaking, you can use any stable surface or an object to place your projector on. But a specialized projector table or adjustable tripod will certainly make your life easier. Projector tables are usually made with useful shelves for your laptop or accessories. Projector tripods have an adjustable platform to tilt and shift your projected image.

When setting up your projector before an event keep in mind that it needs to remain stable the whole time so you don’t readjust your projected image in the middle of your show. Also we recommend you to put the outdoor projector at least 15” above the ground to avoid the possible accumulation of dew.

2- Lighting and decoration

Backyard Movie Night Decoration

Your event will mostly happen in the dark so your only decorations are things glowing in the dark and lights (candles, garlands, LED lights). Be sure to leave on only ambient lights that do not intervene with your projected image.

Having a flashlight is a good idea since you will need to pack away your outdoor movie equipment after the event.

3- Seating

Bean bags for outdoor movie party

When thinking about seating for your guests, keep in mind that it needs to be comfortable enough for the viewers to sit through a movie that is at least 90 minutes long, as is often the case. Our favorite type of seating for a small outdoor movie event are bean bags. Not only they are comfortable and adjust to the posture of a person sitting, but they are also warm and cozy, as temperatures in the evening go down with every passing hour -- if not minute.

Knit weighted blankets might also prove to be handy. Unlike weighted blankets designed like duvets filled with glass or plastic pellets, knit weighted blankets -- composed of knit yarns -- are both soft and warm, but also breathable.

4- Drinks

When it gets hot -- something with ice, ice-cold beers or iced coffee;
It may get cold -- winter ale or stouts, Hot Toddies or sangria;

Whether it is champagne or coconut water for the New Year's Day, Guinness and green beer for the St Patrick’s Day movie events -- as the spirits are lifted up make sure to keep those liquids away from the electronic parts of your equipment.

5- Snacks

A clear classic of a movie night is popcorn, which tastes better outdoors. A barbecue would be a great addition to any backyard party.

We advise that the food that you serve is convenient to eat right at your guest’s sitting area and that the process is not distracting the rest of the folks in attendance.

It is a good move to prepare some candy and sweets for the kids.

Best Content to watch outside

Several ideas to think about when you choose content. Ask yourself whether the kids will be among the audience and if the title of your choice is rated accordingly. We don’t recommend choosing movies that are normally enjoyed by niche audiences. Family films, PG-13 rated action movies or dramas will work better not to put off your guests.

The following titles prove to be the most popular for outdoor movie screenings:

Short films are a great choice when your audience doesn't feel like dedicating their entire attention to a 90-minute-long feature film. And it wouldn’t look impolite -- if in-between the films -- someone decides to switch to other activities at your party.

Long-awaited sports games or live events -- most enjoyed with friends -- is one of the favorite types of content for your backyard movie theater.

Your outdoor movie system doesn’t have to be at the center of your party, yet it may create a pleasant and -- if need be -- a slightly sophisticated atmosphere. Background content such as music videos often do the job when it comes to creating the right dynamic among the guests.

Turnkey outdoor movie systems we recommend

For your backyard party a 12' Home Outdoor Theater System by Open Air Cinema is a turnkey solution from our store. It includes a 12’ x 7’ inflatable screen -- good for the audiences from 1 to 100 people.

The system includes all the necessary components, such as a bright Full HD projector, a pair of powerful outdoor speakers and a media console to control your event with.

All wiring and extension cords are included as well as some handy extras, such as an iPhone-to-projector adapter, a flashlight and a tarp to put your inflatable screen on.

How to make the outdoor movie night party fun 

How to make your Open Air Cinema party fun

Firstly, we recommend you check the local weather forecast. Showing movies in the rain is simply put: a bad idea.

Also take beforehand note of the evening temperatures at your venue and in the immediate area, as late summer days can be hot when the sun is up -- but it then gets chilly in the evening.

You’ll want to decide by what hour to invite your guests. A useful rule of thumb for outdoor movie events is that you can begin your screening 20 minutes after the sunset.

However, it is a good idea to invite your audience well in advance. How about playing some music, while people are getting comfortable in their seats, chatting and mingling in the run up to the actual screening!

Conclusion

Preparation for an outdoor movie night is very important. Lots of tiny details to keep in mind and check beforehand. From keeping an eye on the local weather forecast before the party to confirming if children are expected to attend, to ensuring that the food you serve is suitable for consumption right at your guest’s sitting area.

Lighting and decorations, projector tables and tripods. And then -- of course -- your outdoor move gear, the right kind of a projector and sound system to fit your audience size.

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