DIY Outdoor Movie Screen – 300 Inches of Awesome

I know you might find this hard to imagine…but sometimes, Mr W and I get a little carried away with our ideas. Of course more often than not…when we get carried away, the results are pretty dang cool. This was one of those times.

[Note: This is one of those blog posts I actually stated writing in June…but that sat around in the hopper all summer while I was off doing things I *had* to do. Now that loads are lightening a bit…I can finally share it with you. ]

It all started back in April when Mr W and I were talking about summer plans. A few years back, he’d sewn a few sheets together and invited a few friends to come watch a movie in the backyard. They’d all had a good time and we’d talked about doing it again sometime. With summer heading our way, we decided to throw another outdoor movie night. Of course this time around, there were two of us…so things were bound to be bigger.

Me: How big was the screen the last time?

Mr W: 150″ inches.

Me: How big will the picture go off our projector?

Mr W: 300″ inches.

Me: Oooh…let’s do that.

Mr W: Ok

And so it began. We set up a Facebook group to invite all our friends and family, let the kids invite their classmates and issued an invite to our church. I even took invites with me on my morning walk along our country road and put invites into the mailboxes of our neighbors.  As the RSVPs started coming in, we started making plans on how to get this screen built.

The last time around, he sewed together a few sheets and built a simple wood frame.

Of course this time we were talking about 300″ of movie screen…a.k.a. the world’s biggest backyard sail.

And really…when you hear 300″ you think big…but you don’t realize just HOW big that is.

Take a minute and do the math… 300 / 12 =  27 feet.

Realizing this was no small undertaking, we called in the troops.

[Sidebar: Around these parts, “the troops” are known as Jen’s Mom and Dad. My parents are awesome. If I was going on Survivor, I’d want them on my team. I gained my cooking and event throwing skills from my mom…though I sadly did NOT gain her ability to sew and craft. Thankfully, she’s usually willing to lend a hand with such things. Mr W, as you know…can build almost anything. My dad? Same way. Except dad’s also an engineer with about 30 more years of “building stuff” experience under his belt. Thankfully, they agreed to come help…again with the awesome.]

With about a month to go before the big event, we had two challenges; to build the actual screen and to build something strong enough to HOLD the screen.

Since the screen itself seemed like an easier feat, mom, Mr W and I got to talking. We could have used white sheets, but the problem with sheets was how thin they were. Most sheets don’t really do well in the outdoor movie night department because the light shines THROUGH them. This works well if you want a washed out vintage look for some old movie, but it doesn’t work as well if you’re looking to build a backyard drive-in theater.

The other challenge was cost. While white sheets can be had at a fairly decent price point, anything thicker tends to start getting expensive. That’s when I remembered the “accidental tablecloths.” My first order of tablecloths for our wedding had unfortunately resulted in 14 “to the floor” heavy ivory linen tablecloths. Rather than pay shipping to send them back, I put them in the Craigslist pile and placed a new order for the proper size. While most of them had sold by this point, I still had a few left. As it turns out, four of them equaled just the right amount of material for the screen size we had in mind.

A quite road trip to meet mom for lunch got the tablecloths sent her way. She later recounted the story of how she literally had to spread the tablecloth across her ENTIRE living room while sewing things together. She returned a few weeks later with an absolute monster of a screen. She’d even quadruple layered the edges to give us an incredibly sturdy place to attach the screen to the frame. (This eventually came back to haunt us..but more on that later.)

While mom was working on the screen and I was working on invites, food plans and logistics, Mr W was sketching out various designs for the frame.

He’d decided our best bet was PVC pipe as we could cut and assemble it to whatever size we needed without creating something that weighed so much it couldn’t be moved. We also wanted to be able to disassemble the frame after the movie to store in the rafters of our barn.  Before long, he had the plans made and a huge pile of pipe sitting in the back patio.

The weekend before the event, my parents came down to help us put everything together.  Mr W and my dad got to work with the saw cutting pipe, adding connectors and generally, playing giant Tinker Toy in the backyard. In the mean time, mom and I tried to figure out how to attach the screen to the frame.

Mom had sewn the seam similar to the one on curtains so we could simply thread the PVC pipe through the edges of the screen if we wanted. The problem here was two-fold. First, we’d have to get the screen in place before putting the frame up which led to the very high likelyhood of a really dirty screen. Second, because of the sheer size of the frame, it had to be built grid-style. That means you couldn’t physically thread the pipe through the seams because cross bars kept getting in the way.

The next logical option was to put in grommets and use bungee cords or rope to tie it to the frame. This seemed a bit more feasible, until mom and I tried to hammer in a grommet.

Do you have ANY idea how strong four layers of heavy linen tablecloth is?

We do.

Even Mr W and my dad couldn’t pound a grommet through the screen.

Dad finally had the great idea to cut a small X through the screen where he wanted the grommet to go. This gave him the space to put the grommet in place and actually hammer it in till it sealed.

So we switched teams. Dad headed in to work with mom on the grommets,

while Mr W and I set about lining up PVC pipe and gluing connector points in place.

A few hours later, everything was done and we were ready to set the screen up.

This is when simple physics and wind entered the picture.

A 27′ diagonal screen on a PVC frame is an absolutely amazing sail. I think we could have crossed the Atlantic with it. Unfortunately, even the smallest wind was enough to pull a few grown men over.

So much for our plans to stand it in the yard overlooking the valley.

The next most logical option? Up against the back of the house with plenty of tie-off points.

This turned out to be a far better plan, added to by the fact that guests could stand in our back patio, eating food and STILL see the screen.

So up went the frame, which Mr W tied off to the roof and chimney at multiple points.

The day of the event, several friends came over to help us add the screen to the mix.

A task that proved more challenging than we expected.

You know..that whole wind thing kicking in again…

But once we had it looped around the framing, it held strong and firm.

Mr W set up the projector, a good friend lent us the sound equipment and our church rented out a popcorn maker. We supplied drinks and hot dogs and friends and family brought food and snacks to share.

Despite the cold (temps dropped to the mid 50’s…so much for the warmth of June!) and a brief rain shower that hit, we still had right around 100 guests show up.

Thankfully we have no shortage of yard for people to park in, so we set up signs…

And let them fill in the front yard with rows and rows of cars.

We kept everyone busy with great food, volleyball and plenty of conversation while we waited for the sun to go down.

And wouldn’t you know, by the time we got the movie running (Princess Bride, of course!), everyone had put their cameras away and I didn’t get a single shot of the screen actually doing its job? Pity, because it looked absolutely awesome!

 

 

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