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Everything You Need for an Epic Outdoor Movie Night

Following this advice, even the mosquitos will tune into the show

Finally, a three-day weekend, which in quarantine means, uh, yet another day of watching your way through every single movie in existence, ugh. But rather than further deepening the ass impression in your living room sofa, might I suggest changing things up this weekend by taking your viewing session outside, either to your backyard, your balcony or some other safe and secure outdoor spot. Even better, get extra fancy and call it an outdoor movie night.

It can be super simple: Set out a few lawn chairs, pop some popcorn, situate your laptop on some kind of stool and keep plenty of bug spray handy. If you have a projector and some speakers, damn, you just leveled up, bro. But if you want to throw a proper, truly impressive outdoor movie night — one actually worth leaving the couch for — you may need some pointers. 

For that, I asked Gabriel Rhoads of BBQ Films, “an event production company that creates immersive cinematic experiences in extraordinary locations,” for his outdoor movie night ideas. Here’s what he recommends…

Theme Your Food and Drank

The simplest way to enhance any at-home cinematic experience, Rhoads says, is by recreating at least some of the food and drink in the movie itself. He asks, “Do you want to do Big Night and create a timpano? Do you want to do The Last Starfighter and make that crazy, weird worm dish that he has to eat? Do you want to throw up a bunch of Harry Potter movies and try to actually recreate some of the bizarre treats and snacks that run through them? Just take a favorite movie, think about what the food in it is, Google it and often people have already come up with weird recipes. Drinks are the same way: Get a little bit of dry ice from down the street and you can create any sort of weird Fifth Element beverage.”

Seriously, though, if you can whip up some creative food and drink, your outdoor movie-watching experience will be especially enjoyable. “Not to get super philosophical on you,” Rhoads says, “but as humans, we’ve been sharing food and stories around a fire for a very long time, so the ability to share that kind of resonance is really important.” You have plenty of time to cook in quarantine, after all. 

Build Some Basic Props

Making props may sound above your paygrade, but Rhoads says you can usually recreate at least some simple theatrical element from a movie fairly easily. “Zombie movies are obviously great for this,” he says. “Is there some sort of theme? Can you go down to your Halloween closet and pull out different scary things that are resonant to what a house would look like during The Walking Dead or something like the suburban setting from Warm Bodies?”

“If you want to make a project out of it and have a great time — particularly, a great time with kids, but I happen to know that adults like to do this, too — go on Amazon and buy a simple box of 10 or 20 huge, poster-sized sheets of foam core,” Rhoads continues. “You can cut them down and build almost anything: I’m actually standing right next to the Gup-B, which is one of the submarines from The Octonauts that I built with my daughter the other day. That was just a razor, a bunch of markers, some foam core and some clear tape. It will last for weeks. It will probably last longer than you want it to, but you can build these things and have these as elements. You can actually build them around chairs if you want people to sit in them. It’s silly. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. Kids in particular get super into it, and it elevates their experience like nothing else.”

These props can be used for more than just decoration, too. As Rhoads explains, “You want to show Mean Girls, right? Create the set piece from the winter talent show. It’s just black curtains and a single sparkly banner that says ‘Winter Talent Show.’ Next, invite people to bring their own skills or talents, and you have this fun, silly little thing you can do in advance, then show the movie afterwards. Or if you want to get really sophisticated about it, show the movie, pause the movie at that scene, then invite people to make jokers of themselves. Have a couple beers, and I’m sure all the dads and moms will get up and do something silly that the kids will find hilarious.”

Change Your Location

Depending on your outdoor situation, Rhoads suggests being creative about where exactly you show your film, especially if you plan on inviting friends, but want to maintain social distancing. “If you have a driveway, or even if you have a street that you can close off, have people bring their cars and show it on a screen at the end of the street,” he recommends. “If you have a couple big speakers, you can actually broadcast it if people roll down their windows. Or you can buy a legal FM transmitter,” which would allow viewers to tune in directly from the radios in their cars. Rhoads adds, “There’s an opportunity to make a mini drive-in.”

If you just have your family and/or quarantine buddies there, Rhoads suggests going the other way, creating a more intimate atmosphere in your backyard (or wherever you can). “Pull out a big tent from your basement, adjust the projector so it shows on the outside of the tent, bring the speaker inside your tent and you have an extremely intimate outdoor experience,” he says. “You could show any outdoor, woodsy movie: Cabin in the Woods, Evil Dead, After Dark, etc.”

Fun! Now pass me a slice of that timpano, will you?