There's nothing quite like enjoying a good movie, or experiencing the great outdoors. When both come together, something almost magical happens. The Hudson Valley has a rich culture of enjoying movies outside. Our region alone has more drive-in movie theaters than some entire states, combined. Every year, groups up and down the Hudson River host free film screenings outside to delighted audiences, from spring through fall. Depending on the weather, movies can often be enjoyed outside from April to October, and more and more people are hosting their own private screenings, as higher quality technology continues to decrease in cost.
We've put together some insights to get just about anyone started with the essentials of what they'd need to get started in setting the perfect scene for creating your own outdoor movie theater. Click any of the bold underlined links to open a new window with our personal recommendations.
1. Outdoor Space: Enough to accommodate a couple people could work fine. You'll want enough to fit your audience comfortably, in addition to room for a projector with enough distance
2. A Projector: There are more options available for this, than ever. We personally recommend the Optoma HD141x Full 3D 1080p 3000 lumen projector. It's a solid, full high definition projector (for those with more discerning taste in video quality). It has some of the highest ratings for the lowest price - less than $600 new, and lower for open boxed, refurbished and used models. Another very good, and considerably less expensive alternative we'd recommend is the ViewSonic PJD5155 SVGA 720p 3200 lumen projector. Though, this projector will have less resolution than the above Optoma, which many people may not even notice the difference in video resolution quality. It's around $300 brand new, with open box, refurbished and used models costing less. There are many other great projectors available. No matter what one you decide on, make sure to research it's features to confirm they suit your specific needs and budget, and read any available customer reviews and warranty information, before making a purchase. Click here to view every projector, available.
3. Somewhere to Place the Projector: This could be improvised, but you want the projector high enough for it to have a good line of sight with the medium you'll be projecting on to. It could be as simple as a chair, table or crates, or more advanced like a dedicated projector stand. Wherever you place it, make sure it has room to breathe - they do heat up!
4. A Medium to Project on to: The way you do this could vary greatly with similar results. If you have several feet of light-colored wall available - this could be the side of the house, shed, garage or other building - this could work just fine. A well-placed white bed sheet could do the job well, or if you really want to get serious, you could invest in a collapsible or inflatable screen anywhere from 8-feet and higher, which may give you better picture quality.
5. A Video Source & Something to Watch: Depending on the projector you get and the inputs it has, you could have significantly more options available to you. Starting with the basics work best, though. You could use a DVD player (make sure it has outputs that will work with the inputs of your projector), or a high definition Blu-ray player (which can play Blu-rays in full high definition in better quality than any other format widely available, play DVDs in better resolution than they would be, otherwise, and some have the ability to stream free online content, and more), a laptop computer with appropriate output, or even a tablet. Videos to watch can include anything that you or your friends already own, or rent from a local video rental kiosk.
6. Cables: While many projectors and video sources include cables. You'll want to double check to make sure you have the appropriate HDMI and other video cables, if applicable. You'll also want enough electric cords to run to your projector unit and video source.
7. An Audio Output: Many projectors do have an external speaker, but if yours doesn't or you're looking for a higher level of volume, investing in a basic set of speakers and subwoofer could work well.
8. Something to Sit on: Depending on where you're setting up your theater, blankets could work well, but even easily-moved chairs might be appropriate.
Depending on your proximity to other buildings, local laws, the current wind and drought conditions and other applicable rules, a fire pit can add a special ambience to your experience. There's nothing quite like enjoying some s'mores, while taking in your favorite film. Take care to place the fire pit a reasonable distance from the projector and any other items which would not do well to be exposed to flame or smoke.
Setting the mood almost always includes lighting. Depending on the amount of room you're working with and budget, adding some outdoor lighting can not only help set the tone, well-placed lighting can assist any visitors by illuminating areas they may not be fully familiar with.
What to do When the Weather is Bad:
Obviously weather is a key factor in enjoying an outdoor movie experience. Keep a keen eye on the local weather reports, before planning on showing a movie outdoors. Even a percent chance of precipitation could be enough to rain on your viewing parade.
The really good thing about the above recommendations are that just about all of them can be brought indoors, during less-than-lovely weather. The projector you use outside can just as easily be used inside on a wall, which may be considerably larger than a television - giving you a home viewing experience unlike you may have had before.
Legality: Be sure to adhere to all local, state and federal laws. The FBI warnings at the beginning of every movie, ever, aren't there by accident. You can have your friends over to watch a film, but you can't charge money for it or make the event open to the general public, without express written consent and licensing from the studio who owns the rights to the film or work you're displaying. The exceptions may include when you have permission from its creator (if the creator owns the rights), or if the film falls under public domain work - which, many fine older films do.
A noise ordinance is a very real thing. In many parts of the Hudson Valley, you can't have anything excessively loud outdoors between 11pm and 8am. If you have any neighbors, you'll want to be considerate of them, and keep the volume down possibly earlier than that. Letting neighbors know the nights you plan on having a screening and inviting them over to enjoy a film may bode well for you, too.
If hoping to have a bonfire, you must confirm with your local fire house if one is legal, and what the rules are for having one. It's just about guaranteed it will need to be well-contained and relatively small. Fire safety is a top priority.
Electronics: When using a projector and video source outdoors, you're dealing with electricity. Take care to ensure that all cords are attached neatly, you're using outdoor certified cables when you can, and you bring the electronics indoors at the sign of significant moisture.
Summer Weather: When outdoors, bugs can be a significant issue. Research any relevant techniques for repelling bugs - whether by natural methods or use of a repellent.
Now that we've gotten through all that, go host your own private screening!