Outdoor cinema screenings were a huge trend in 2019, and it looks like – despite everything that’s happened since – drive-ins and sit-outs are making a careful comeback. Even so, if you’re not ready to face the crowds (or never were), why not host your own outdoor film party at home?
Garden cinema ideas: setting up your silver screen in seven steps
A garden cinema night is a great way to hang out with people while staying socially distanced, and it’s much more convenient than going out. You always get the best seats, and have full control over the guest-list, menu and dress code… bliss! Plus, you’re not just limited to films – once your garden cinema is set up, you can use it for TV, video streaming or gaming.
What better way to spend the summer than having a mini film-fest at home? You don’t even need a conventional garden – if, like me, you’re currently limited to a balcony or roof terrace. Once your outdoor cinema is set up, it’ll become your go-to spot year after year for parties, date-nights and family hang outs.
Here’s our super-easy seven-step guide to creating the best outdoor viewing experience, along with a bunch of gorgeous garden cinema ideas to inspire you.
Scope out your spot
The ideal location for an outdoor cinema set up needs three key things:
- A flat, sheltered surface to hang your screen (or a stable floor for self-standing screens)
- A projection device (and associated power supply)
- Somewhere practical to sit with an unobstructed view of the screen (look out for light pollution from street lamps etc. too)
These are really the bare essentials, and anything more than that is going to be a plus, comfort-wise. If you’ve already got some nice garden features – like a patio, deck or covered area, you’ll probably want to try and incorporate them.
Working with a bare-bones garden? No problem! Try setting up a tent or gazebo to make your film screening more cosy (especially later in the year!)
Prepare a projector
I remember when home projectors used to be seen as some kind of specialist equipment (no thanks to insanely high costs). This just isn’t the case any more, and there are ways to create a garden cinema on any budget. Projectors are also quieter and more compact than ever before, and are capable of producing much better images in partial light.
If you’re happy to make a hefty investment, look for projectors with a high lumen count – at least 3000. The lumen measurement indicates how easily you’ll be able to see the on-screen images in brighter lighting, so if you want to start showing films before dusk, the more lumens the merrier. High-end projectors typically start at about £700 for this kind of cinema-level experience.
Right at the other end of the budget are smartphone projectors. Although the picture quality might not be Oscar-worthy, they can usually give you about 8x screen magnification for around £20. Connect your phone to a bluetooth speaker, and you’ve got yourself an entirely wireless little cinema in the palm of your hand. Perfect for a couple of people watching together, or for a solo movie marathon.
Connect your content
It sounds simple, but don’t leave it to the last minute to hook up your video source – it’s a recipe for technical difficulties! Obviously there are heaps of options available, so whether you’re connecting your Apple TV, Chromecast, laptop or TV, make sure you’ve got all the wires you need to reach your projector.
Think about sound, too – most projectors have a standard 3.5mm jack that you can plug speakers into, or you could look for a model with bluetooth connectivity if you have a soundbar. Sound dissipates much more outside than it does indoors, so you can probably err on the side of speakers with more power.
Don’t forget about your neighbours though! If you live close to any other houses, keep the sound respectful or connect bluetooth headphones – or, I don’t know, invite them over?
Set up your screen
Just like your projection equipment, there are several options when it comes to outdoor cinema screens at home. Your favourite option will depend on whether you’re trying to create a garden cinema on a budget, and how much use you’re expecting to get out of your screen.
Student film budget: Hang a crisp white sheet from a washing line, from two poles or between two hooks fixed to your wall or shed. You might need to fashion something to weigh the bottom down and stop it flapping in the breeze (like pegs).
Indie film budget: If you want something a little more professional, there are several options for mid-range cinema screens at home. It’s possible to sew a DIY projector screen that works pretty well. Just stitch some blackout lining together (when you go shopping, remember it’s white), and attach strips of timber to the top and bottom. Add screw-hooks to the timber at the top, hammer some nails at the right height onto your fence, and you’ll be able to hang your screen whenever you like.
Or, simply buy a projector screen, which will offer great picture quality and cost somewhere between £20-100. If you’re happy to pay a little bit more, you could get a motorised one that unrolls with a remote control.
Blockbuster budget: As the outdoor cinema trend has been growing, so too have the number of places you can buy (or hire) an inflatable screen. Remember you’ll need a power supply for the air pump, and that these can get quite noisy.
Decide on your decor
Not every movie night needs the outdoor party treatment, but a couple of small touches can make the evening more pleasant while you’re watching.
For example, a little bit of light is helpful while everyone gets settled (and possibly to help people find their path to the toilet mid-movie). Fairy lights or lanterns are subtle – we’ve got loads more garden lighting ideas if you need inspiration. Whatever style of lighting you prefer, check that they’ll be easy to turn off when the film starts.
Finally, stock up on citronella candles and diffusers – biting bugs like mosquitoes hate it!
Create some comfort
The joy of bringing the cinema to you is that there’s no limit on how comfortable you can be. Yes, you could simply lay a blanket and some cushions out on the lawn, but why stop there?
If you haven’t already got a decent set of garden furniture, now could be the time. A cosy sofa, reclining armchair or even a luxurious swing-seat would help you enjoy your film nights in style and comfort.
Or, you could go for more casual seating – a set of chilled-out deck chairs, or a hammock, maybe? I’m also a big fan of outdoor bean bags.
Haven’t tried one? You’re missing out, seriously. Whichever kind of seating you choose, always load your guests up with cushions and blankets to stay snug once the sun sets.
For those of you that are really serious about enjoying yourself, I’ve got some suggestions for you. First: fire pit. Second: hot tub. Either of these little babies will keep you warm all night, and are experiences you just can’t get at a regular cinema. Need a bit more convincing? Check out our fire pit ideas and hot tub ideas next.
Secure your snacks
The final touch to any film night: snacks. It could be as simple as banging some popcorn in the microwave, or as elaborate as nibbles that fit into the theme of your movie. Personally, I’m in favour of ordering a takeaway so someone else gets to do all the hard work.
It’s equally important to keep your guests hydrated throughout the film. Bring a cool box outside with you so that everyone has easy access to a chilled beverage whenever they need one (this also saves you having to pause the film while people top their drinks up)!
That’s really all there is to setting up your own outdoor film fest – hopefully some of these garden cinema ideas have inspired you! Unfortunately, we don’t have a guide for helping you choose what to watch… you’re on your own with that!