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My Outdoor Movie Setup

(picture of people watching backyard outdoor movie)

I have been putting on 16mm outdoor movies for several years in my own back yard. I set up a large screen and invite neighbors and friends. We usually have a block barbecue in the alley behind our house earlier that evening.

My outdoor screen is made from a painted 10 by 16 foot white plastic tarp attached to a frame made from ¾ inch thinwall metal electrical conduit connected together with fittings made for craft fair booths. These connectors are sturdy and easy to assemble and disassemble. The screen is attached to the frame with small Bungee cords that I got at a boat supply store. The frame is supported by ropes attached to the top of the frame running to nearby fences and garages. 

(outdoor movie starting)

Quite a few years ago I made the mistake of buying what was claimed to be a surplus movie screen from a fellow that advertises in the Big Reel. It turned out to be a silver colored plastic tarp that I could have bought for far less at a local hardware store. The silver color makes the wrinkles extremely obvious, and they are impossible to remove. I painted it with bright white flat house paint using a roller. This has worked really well. I store it by rolling it. After a few cycles of rolling and unrolling, the paint is flaking off a bit around the edges. As this screen was too large for the location, I got a new white tarp that was a little smaller (10 x 16).   Still it was too glossy, so I painted it too with flat white latex paint.

I got my frame connectors from a small company in Seattle called Canopies By Fred. Telephone 206-782-2166 or 800-845-5067 and he will send you a catalog. Now he has a simple catalog on the web at Actually, the owner isn't named Fred anymore. He sells booths for craft fairs. The fittings are available in sizes for ¾ inch and 1 inch conduit. I used the ¾ inch size, and it is stiff enough, but the 1 inch would be sturdier. Part Tent City in Texas sent me a message that he is another supplier of tarps and fittings. They have a web site at Their whole catalog (except for the tarps) is on the home page, so it is slow to load.  Another supplier who contacted me is Dan Grumbling of Creative Shelters in Springfield, Oregon.  His web site is at:   Tarps are available in many sizes.  You might find a local supplier in the Yellow Pages under "Tents".  Note that the cross shaped piece is a "roof peak", where one end comes out at an angle.  With bends in the tubing for the center support, it is held away from the back of the tarp.

(Closeup picture of the screen)

In the past I had been using an ordinary Bell and Howell 1585 with 2" f1.2 lens.  This is an ordinary classroom 16mm projector from the 1970's.  I put the projector in a second story window. I can fill most of the screen with a picture of adequate brightness, once it is dark enough. The older projectors with tubular 1000 W lamps are actually much less bright than the 250W halogens.  A couple of years ago I upgraded to a projector with a xenon arc lamp, which is about 4 times as bright.  It took quite a while to find one cheaply, and then it needed quite a bit of repair.  With the brighter projector,  I can start the show a little earlier.

I used to use two ancient B&H 179 speakers under the screen powered from the amplifier in the projector. These were more than loud enough. All the neighbors nearby are invited, so no one complains about the noise.  Now I use a pair of large stereo speakers driven by a separate amplifier.

(Diagram showing how tubing is connected)

(People arriving for the show)

We usually do the show in late August when it starts getting dark earlier. We try to start around 8:30. Most of the adults set up lawn chairs and the kids like to gather on picnic blankets in the front.  The projector is in the upstairs window.  The speaker cable is dangling down from the porch roof.  Now I run the cable from the projector to a mixer and power amplifier on the porch and then to some speakers near the screen.

It is important to plan your program so that the show doesn't last too long.  A couple of years ago, I showed a long feature, and only 2 people stayed for the last reel.  This year I picked a short feature that was over by 10:00, and everyone stayed till the end.  It's great fun to have outdoor cinema right in your own back yard!

(Picture showing the projector in the upstairs window)

A view of the "Booth"

(picture of inside the "booth")

Inside the "Booth" (Hokushin X-500)  500 Watt Xenon 16mm.  This is a heavy old projector for a portable, and has a separate power supply that is even heavier.  It's something of a power hog, and needs to be on a 30A circuit, or else the breaker will trip!

Last revised Oct 17, 2005.

Copyright 2000-2005 Paul Ivester.  All rights reserved.

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