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Throw Your Own Outdoor Movie Night

Throwing a party, any kind of party, can be stressful. Especially in this Pinterest crazed world that we occupy. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest. LOVE it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not intimidating or down right frustrating sometimes. Everything looks so perfect and easy and hard to live up to! So when I had the idea to throw an “Outdoor Movie Night” in our new house, my initial excitement quickly went from a euphoric-like level to pure panic. “There are so many things I have to do and buy in order to throw this party!!”, the devil on my shoulder kept saying. “Decor, accents, food, furniture!” Oh yes, did I mention that I decided to have an outdoor movie without actually having any real outdoor seating? I have a tendency to get in over my head, though that never seems to stop me. But why was I torturing myself?


I had thrown lots or parties and movie nights before and, despite the inevitable hiccups along the way, everything always turned out great! Once I calmed down, and began to see through my Pinterest induced haze, I realized that most everything I needed was already in front of me! I just needed to look at things a little differently and get a little creative. I also realized that all my worries about not having the perfect décor or the perfect food were silly. I’m not the perfect event planner and I’m not the perfect hostess. But I’ve never claimed to be, and that’s ok! The point of throwing a party is to bring friends together and to have a little fun for an evening. So as long as you’ve got that down, then you’re already on your way to having a perfectly fun evening. So by being a little creative, taking advantage of what we already had and getting help from some awesome friends we threw a great July 4th weekend “Outdoor Movie Night”, hiccups and all! Of course tips and suggestions never hurt, so from one perfectly imperfect hostess to another:

Step 1: Decide on a Date

For most people, throwing an outdoor movie party will occur during the summer, but for those in fair weather states you might have a longer time frame with which to work. Also keep in mind that it’s best to start the movie after sunset when it’s dark. But deciding on a date first helps determine a few things, such as your guest list (depending who can or can’t make it) and it also could help determine your movie selection. Seasonally appropriate movies are not a must, but they can help to tie the theme of an event together. For us, we threw our party on July 4th weekend, so it was the perfect time to play a quintessential summer movie.

Step 2: Decide on Your Guest List

Now this doesn’t mean you have to decide exactly who you are inviting, but rather how many people and what the general age range is going to be. This is going to set the tone and possibly the location for your event. So for our movie night, we were debating between several movies, some kid appropriate and some not. That was honestly the deciding factor in our movie selection. Once we determined that it was an adult only party that made the movie selection easy. Knowing that we were going to have a smaller group helped us decide “where” in our backyard we could throw the party. Our deck was ideal for a movie screen, but couldn’t hold too many people. Had the party been bigger we would have moved to a different location in the yard.

Step 3: The All-Important Movie Selection

While steps one and two are important, step three may be the most crucial. Your movie selection sets the tone and theme for your whole event! I highly recommend selecting a classic fun movie with some nostalgic value. It’s always fun for people to watch a movie they probably haven’t seen in years. So what was our movie selection, if you haven’t guessed it already? JAWS of course! Living on a lagoon, it being Independence Day weekend, and the 40th anniversary of JAWS, it was the obvious choice. If you’re planning a summer movie here are some film suggestions: -Back to the Future -Indiana Jones -The Sandlot (This was our other choice had there been kids. Such a fun movie!) -ET -Fast Times at Ridgemont High -Dazed and Confused -Stand By Me -Goonies


Step 4: Getting Equipment

This step always seems to be daunting, but is actually fairly easy. For the most part I’ve always had a friend that I could borrow a projector from, as was the case for this party. But if you don’t have anyone you can borrow from you can always rent from a local Audio Visual company. The one we borrowed was a computer projector, which hooked up to our laptop and plugged into our speaker system for better sound. Make sure the projector is actually compatible with your computer, or other equipment, several days in advance. We ran into this issue and spent the last day scrambling to find an adapter that would make them work together. It also doesn’t hurt to have a back up plan. While we were planning on streaming the movie through Itunes we actually wound up having to use a DVD. Thank goodness we had one! This is one of those inevitable little hiccups I mentioned. It’s always something, so make sure the equipment works and that you have a Plan B!

Step 4.5: The Screen

This step took me a while to figure out, but once we knew how many people were coming it all fell into place. While there are lots of options out there for making or renting a screen, I decided to go the DIY route. Once we decided our group could all fit on our deck I then had the perfect place for the screen. We luckily have a wind blocking structure that created the perfect frame for the screen. I then found an old canvas drop-cloth that we had lying around and measured the frame, and folded the cloth to meet those measurements. Once I had my “screen” in a nice, neat square I simply nailed it to the wood, making sure to pull all the corners taught so that wrinkles didn’t appear everywhere during the movie. While this was the perfect solution for us, I’ve also rented a screen before or simply affixed a white cloth to a wall in a driveway too! As long as it’s white (or close to) and light isn’t showing through the back of it you should be good to go!



Step 5: Using What You Have

This step was key to making the event special and frankly where I had my “I have to buy all new lounge furniture!!” freak out moment. But once I calmed down and thought a little outside the box I realized I had most everything I already needed! When planning a party, the best thing to do before going out and buying a bunch of random stuff is to take inventory of what you already own, and think of different ways to make it work. So my biggest conundrum was where to seat people? I had a great deck but no real chairs. I did however have a dining set with benches and lots and lots of pillows and textiles in my house. I realized it would be a lot more fun, and stylish, to bring my indoors outside! It would make for a much more personalized event space and since it was only one night and wasn’t going to be left outside, it didn’t need to actually be weather resistant. I brought out a red console table that normally resides in my kitchen to use as the concession stand, side tables to create the video and projector station and took the two benches from the dining table and placed them against the deck railing creating the perfect bench seating. I then took pretty much every pillow and textile in my house and combined them to create a cool back drop. Throwing in a zebra rug, Moroccan blankets, mixed with a flag throw and red, white and blue accents gave it the perfect eclectic 4th of July spirit. For the rest of the seating we brought out some beach chairs and more pillows (my sofa cushions to be exact) once the movie was ready to roll. I also had a couple of baskets with blankets for friends if it got too cold. Two things to keep in mind; 1.) You want people to be comfortable, and 2.) You want them to be able to see. We were able to create stadium seating with the bench seating at normal seat height and then each chair in front of that being lower than the previous ones all the way down to the floor cushions. It worked perfectly! As for the table settings, I just used trays and platters I had in my kitchen, and anything that didn’t have the right color scheme I simply covered with a festive red white and blue napkin. Done.

Step 6: Filling in the Rest

While I had a lot of the key pieces already lying around my house, I didn’t have everything. I wanted to have a bit of holiday festivity with the color scheme being red white and blue. After taking stock of what I had, I needed a few finishing touches. I found some great red white and blue banners, from Cost Plus World Market, for the dock railing that were inexpensive and festive. I also purchased outdoor lights since I seemed to have lost mine at some point. Outdoor lighting is a must as it creates such a beautiful ambience. It’s something small that makes a big difference. I also wanted to pay tribute to the movie, not just the holiday. But rather than buying a bunch of shark goodies that would likely go to waste and I wouldn’t use again, I thought it would be fun to maximize the lagoon and build our own shark fin! So I bought a silver foam board, and cut out the fin shape, stuck it on a long pole with an empty water bottle to help it float (my husband’s idea) and stuck it into the muddy bottom. The final touch was borrowing the rowboat from a neighbor. Voila, our very own Jaws!

Step 7: The “Concession Stand”

It’s best not to start your movie until after sunset when it’s dark enough. And where we live, that’s pretty late. We started our party about an hour before sunset so that we had time to hang out before the movie. I wanted to provide some food but also wanted to make things simple, so pizza it was! You can provide real food or just snacks such as the popcorn and candy can suffice. However, the food star of the night should be the concession stand. This is another must for an outdoor movie night. You want to recreate the fun of going to the movies, and half the fun is all the goodies you get to eat! For ours I bought the classic standbys, such as Milk Duds, Junior Mints, Red Vines etc…. And we made a batch of popcorn (I actually burned two batches before getting my final batch right. Hiccup.) Another friend brought a Sriracha flavored popcorn which was great and added to the fun selection of foods. Everyone filled up their paper popcorn buckets and made their own special combo for the evening. Finally, it was time to roll film…… And that’s it! Our event was super fun and a great way to bring friends together. We used what we had, borrowed where we could, filled in the rest and embraced the hiccups along the way. And now that I’ve got my screen all set up, we might just have to throw a few more outdoor movie nights before summer’s end. Come join us! I promise I won’t burn the popcorn.


Bonus Tips: 

1. When guests ask what can they bring to the party, suggest their favorite bag of flavored popcorn! Then set them all up in buckets so everyone can sample. It’s a great way to get more variety, and less work for you!

2. If you have a large group, a great game to play before the movie starts is “Guess the Movie Character” (I don’t know if that’s really the name). Basically everyone gets a movie character name stuck on their back, and then they have to guess who it is by asking fellow party goers 20 questions….”Have I won an Academy Award”, “Am I a TV or Movie star” etc…. It’s a fun ice breaker.

3. Music! If you can, match your music to your movie theme or era. For example, for Jaws, since it took place in the 70’s, we played a classic rock soundtrack.

4. Do everything you can in advance. I set up the screen and outdoor area a couple days in advance just to make sure things fit and were working properly.

shark in water jaws

Author Description

Kim Berry

A California girl through and through, born in LA and residing in San Francisco, Kim works in and is passionate about home decor. An avid flea market shopper, she lives and breathes design, architecture and vintage furniture. In her spare time, she loves painting, writing, traveling and having adventures.

  • kathy cullum
    This is a great idea! Such a fun way to entertain without breaking the bank. Very creative!

Move LifeStyle is an e-zine for the modern working woman created by Autumn Reeser, Jenn Wong and Ashley Fauset.

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