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How to make a movie screen in the yard and other tips for an outdoor movie night

July 16, 2014 at 8:56 AM ET

Video: Parents magazine’s Laura Fenton joins TODAY to demonstrate how to set up movie night in your own yard at an affordable cost.

What's better than a move night at home? Taking it to the backyard. Invite over some friends, grab the blankets and popcorn and head outside for a movie night under the stars. Parents magazine lifestyle director Laura Fenton is sharing tips for hosting a backyard movie night with family and friends.

Screen assembly

With the right equipment, you can project your movie onto any light-colored background, such as a white wall or a garage door. However, if you don’t have a flat, light-colored surface, it’s easy to make your own screen by following these steps:

  1. Use a staple gun to attach white blackout fabric to 10-foot lengths of 2-inch x 4-inch wood. Screw an eye-hook into each side of the top of the planks of wood and tie roping to each in order to stabilize the screen.
  2. Stand each piece of wood up in a bucket and fill it with gravel. The stones are heavy enough to keep the screen in place. Move the buckets away from each other, stretching the fabric until the screen is taut.
  3. Pull the anchoring ropes out to the side and attach them to tent stakes pressed into the ground. This ensures the screen is stabilized and secure.

Be sure to place your projector on an even surface. Hook it up to your DVD player or laptop through an HDMI cord. If you’re not ready to invest in your own projector, ask your local library or school about rental options. Some offer basic projectors between $10 and $50 day.

Invitations

If you want to go the extra mile beyond a phone call, a handmade invitation is one cinematic way to set the scene. Enclose a paper ticket from the party store, or if you prefer to send a digital invite, get in the movie spirit with a video invitation.

Set up the snacks

Sure, the movie is the main attraction, but food is a close second. Recreate the excitement of the snack bar with a homemade popcorn stand. Use glass jars to hold plain popped kernels, then lay out mix-ins like candy, pretzels and dried fruits for movie-goers to create their own custom combinations.

Make your own custom seasoning combinations like pizza flavor (parmesan + oregano), cinnamon sugar (sugar + cinnamon) or BBQ (brown sugar, paprika, cumin, chili powder and salt). Lined paper bags normally used for coffee beans are a perfect way to serve your kernels. If you have kids at home, let them decorate the bags with colorful tape before the party. 

A make-your-own soda bar is a healthy and fun alternative to classic soda. Set out seltzer, juice blends and fresh fruit for kids to create colorful, movie-themed drinks, or whip up any of these three kid-friendly juice blends:

Muppet Mix

  • 3 cups pureed watermelon
  • 2 cups apple-strawberry juice
  • Seltzer to taste

Tangled Tonic

  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 2 cups grape juice
  • Seltzer to taste

Fantasia Fusion

  • 5 cups pineapple juice
  • 1/4 cup coconut cream
  • Seltzer to taste

Set the scene

Start by ushering guests into the “theater” with a hand-drawn chalkboard sign, embellished with white dots in each letter for a marquee-like look. If you haven’t already sent tickets with an invitation, this is a great opportunity to pass out tickets to each little moviegoer.

To create seating, lay out cozy blankets and pillow on the grass, so that guests can spread out and make themselves comfortable. Lanterns and string lights provide festive décor and a whimsical lighting source, so little ones can see their way in the dark. Wooden crates and trays laid on the ground can hold snacks and drinks for guests to sip on during the show.

Continue the movie theater motif with handmade signs for your snack bar. Cut the words “POPCORN” and “SODA” from brightly-colored paper and use a hole-puncher to give the marquee-light look. Then string them up from the table.

Don’t forget: A little extra preparation will help make everyone comfortable. Bring out the bug spray, have extra sweaters and blankets on-hand in case the temperature drops, and stock up on wet wipes for sticky hands. For help on selecting a child-appropriate move, check out Parents magazine's full list of best flicks for kids

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