How to Build a Backyard Movie Theater

What You'll Need
PVC pipe
Elbow fitting
T-connectors
Caps for pipe
Large bed sheet
Hot glue and hot glue gun
Large black trash bags (optional)
Tape

Some folks set aside a room in their house and turn it into a home theater, but what about setting up a movie theater in your backyard? Today's technology makes it easy to create a movie screen with little to no building involved.

Outdoor Screen Location

Decide where to set up the screen. Allow plenty of room for inflatable chairs, large sheets, and on-ground seating. Consider whether there are any nearby light sources you can't control, like a streetlight or a neighbor's porch lamp. The brighter an area is, the less convenient it will be for viewing projections.

Projector

The most basic element of your portable cinema, a consumer projector can be purchased for anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Pricing depends on the resolution (measured in pixels) and brightness (measured in lumens). It seems like a big investment, but once you have one, you might wonder why you never did before. Make sure you get the accompanying wires and adapters to connect to whatever device you'll be using to play your movies, and identify a power source the projector can use.

Sound System

Another element with a wide price range, speaker sets can be as cheap as $20, and run well into the thousands for fancier models. Depending on how many people you plan to watch with, and how noisy and/or open your chosen area is, you might be able to get away with something as simple as the sound from your laptop, or you might want to spend a few hundred dollars to get clear, high quality sound. Again, make sure you have all the connections you need, including an extension chord if you won't be near an outlet.

Screen Type

If you're lucky, you might have access to a large, white wall space you can use as a background. If not, you'll need to set up a screen of some kind. If you don't want to make your own, you can buy a portable or inflatable screen, both of which are available online in assorted styles and sizes. Most models come with fabric sleeves for storing the screen and hardware between showings. Pricing runs from $80 to $250, depending on size and type.

Most portable screens come with poles to insert into the ground and cords and clips that secure the screen to the poles. Setup time can be around 15 to 20 minutes. Inflatable screens connect to a power outlet and fill up in a matter of minutes. Inflatables come with tethers and stakes to keep them secure.

Inflatable outdoor movie screen on a lawn with lawn chairs.

Building a Movie Theater

If you choose to put together a backyard movie theater from scratch, you just need a few items: PVC poles, connectors, and a thick white bed sheet. You might be able to pull this off with just a sheet and some rope, but be aware that the folds and curves will be difficult to smooth out without a frame of some kind to create tension in the fabric.

Step 1 - PVC Screen Frame

The frame requires 10 pieces of PVC pipe with a 1.5-inch diameter. You'll need two eight foot pieces, two four foot pieces, and six two foot pieces, along with four caps, four T-connectors, and two elbow connectors.

Step 2 - King-Size Sheet

A thick, white king-size sheet will make the best homemade movie screen. You can substitute a canvas drop cloth, but like the sheet it will need to be large enough to make a four foot by eight foot screen. This means whichever fabric you choose, it should measure eight by 16 feet.

Fold the material in half. If using a sheet, fold so the hem along the seams is showing. In other words, the sheet should be inside-out. Measure the folded material. As long as it's four by eight or larger, it should be fine.

Step 3 - PVC Layout

Lay the material on a flat surface, then place one of the eight foot pieces with attached elbow connectors along the top (wide end) of the material. Measure the width, and make a mark at eight feet. The connector may make it a little longer, which is fine. Use scissors to cut away any remaining material.

Step 4 - Hot Glue

Carefully apply a layer of hot glue along the right side of the material, and then along the left side from top to bottom. Press gently and let it dry for several minutes. Once the hot glue has thoroughly dried, carefully turn the material outside-in so the seams are not visible. Use a hot iron to remove any wrinkles in the material as the screen needs to be free of distortions.

Girls lounge on pillows for an outdoor movie.

Step 5 - Frame Top

Lay out the two eight foot pieces of PVC on the ground, parallel to each other, about four feet apart. Next, lay the four feet pieces between the two longer pieces to create a rectangle.

Insert each of the four foot tubes into the two elbow connectors on the top piece. Connect the bottom of the four foot tube and the bottom piece of eight foot tube using a T-connector on each end.

Step 6 - Frame Legs

Connect two of the two foot pieces together with a T-connector. Make two of these. Next, insert another two foot piece into the into the third opening of the T-connector on the screen top. Stand the screen up and insert each of the legs into the T-connector on each of the two pieces. Place the caps on the ends.

Step 7 - Installing the Sheet

With the frame standing upright, pull the sheet screen onto the frame until it's taut with no wrinkles. If the light from the projector passes through the screen, tape large black trash bags to the back.

Step 8 - Make Popcorn

You're ready! Happy watching.