The Hippo


Jul 21, 2019








Outdoor movie night
How to turn your backyard into cinema

By Kelly Sennott

Yes, you can top your Netflix movie night, and the first step is to move it outside. Tie a white sheet to a couple backyard trees, snag a small film projector and pull out a couple lawn chairs so you can enjoy your flick under the stars. It’s the perfect way to spend a summer night.

“Most people really enjoy movies, and especially after this winter, I think people want to spend as much time as they can outdoors,” said Chris Malloy, who runs, Community Events, a Nashua-based outdoor movie and event production company. “And there are only so many great summer nights in New Hampshire. You have to try to utilize every single one of them.”
He and event planner Emily St. Pierre of All the Fuss Events provided a few tips on how to create the ultimate outdoor movie experience, starting with the logistics and ending with the details that give your viewing party that extra oomph, from chairs designed to look like old-fashioned cars to film-themed food, trivia and activities.
The equipment
If you want to go super grassroots, you can buy or rent a projector; Malloy recommends scouring eBay, though they’re also available for about $300 (more or less depending on quality) at stores like Staples or Best Buy. 
Take heed these won’t produce pictures as large or in-depth as what you’ll find at professional events — those materials cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Malloy recommended party-holders test materials out a night or two before the big event, and also that they use a device with an HDMI cord attached, which will also  help project better images.
As for the screen, “I’ve seen people use bedroom sheets, tarps, and I’ve seen movies projected on the side of a house. It works on any sort of white surface,” Malloy said. 
When in doubt, use Google. Malloy said there are many sites dedicated to helping outdoor film enthusiasts transform their backyards into outdoor cinemas.
Once you have the equipment, playing the movie is easy — Malloy said it’s just like playing a regular movie via DVD.
“We find most projectors have some sort of speakers put into them,” Malloy said. “But if you have a home theater that isn’t screwed into the wall, it’s the same process. You can just take that stuff and put it into your backyard.”
For larger events, you could hire a company to cover the technical steps. Malloy’s produces the Greeley Park outdoor movie series, and also Nashua’s annual downtown Dinner and Movie series. (His company also once showed Rocky on the front steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.)
Other logistics
“Timing is the single most important factor,” Malloy said. “It has to be dark; not necessarily pitch black, but it has to be dark.”
So if you’re planning a screening in mid- to late-June, prepare for a 9 p.m. start time. After that, it gets darker about a minute earlier each day.
Similarly, it’s not unwise to choose shorter and brighter films during the very long days.
“Cartoons tend to look the best. The hardest color to project is black,” Malloy said. “Another thing to keep in mind is kids’ attention span. … If you have kids, you may not want to show a three-hour screening of Avatar.”
Malloy also advised staying away from ambient lights. 
“If there’s a street light post or backyard light, that will hit the screen and affect the image. You really want to make it as dark as possible,” he said. 
And to be aware of neighbors and noise ordinances. Let your neighbors know, in person or via phone or email, that you plan on showing a film that night.
“Though if you invite all your neighbors over for a movie, they can’t complain about it,” Malloy said.
Extra punch
The best thing about hosting an outdoor flick yourself is you’re not limited to the constraints of a community or drive-in screening. You can pair it with a barbecue or fire with roasted marshmallows and s’mores (which go particularly well with the film The Sandlot).
St. Pierre and Malloy recommended presenting food and activities that match movie themes. If the film’s Grease, invite guests to wear ‘50s attire. If it’s a superhero flick, ask them to dress in Marvel costumes. Disney movies will require princess dresses, while cosmos pair well with screenings of Sex and the City and The Great Gatsby
“A couple days ago, I saw these parents had their kids decorate cardboard boxes to look like cars, so the yard looked like a small drive-in,” St. Pierre said. “Sometimes there are trivia games associated with movies, and that can get people excited. … Or you could keep it casual with a pre-movie cocktail party.” 
As seen in the May 7, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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