Anyone with a projector, screen, and movie can put on a backyard movie night. It’s not rocket science.
But there’s a difference between putting on a good show, and putting on a movie night that totally sucks… and I’ve seen plenty of events that do suck. Big time.
So, as a slight departure from my typically positive blog posts about ideas on how you can put on a successful backyard movie night, I thought I would take a change of tact, and instead give you a list of all the reasons why the nights you put on are terrible, or simply suck… with real-life examples direct from the trenches.
All of the reasons your backyard movie nights could fail, are failing, or simply won’t be successful are listed below – each being taken from a real-life experience I’ve seen.
1. You Didn’t Test Your Equipment Out Beforehand
I have seen some truly epic fails at outdoor movie nights, with the majority of them come down to one core element; and that’s not checking the equipment or being familiar with how it all works beforehand.
Obvious to some, missed by so many.
Even the most experienced backyard movie organizers will get this wrong from time to time.
The most important rule of outdoor movies is:
Check, check, and check your equipment every time and well before your guests arrive
The type of things that can go hideously wrong include (and these are things I admit I have done too or seen happen):
- Electrical cables not being long enough to reach the projector
- Or even missing adaptor cables all together
- Your media player and projector are not compatible
- Not knowing how the equipment even works
- Losing the remote control for the projector
- Not having enough room for the newly ordered movie screen
Of all the things that can go wrong at your backyard movie night, not checking and fully trying everything out with a test run beforehand is the one core element that could save you a whole lot of pain and embarrassment.
2. You Don’t Have Room for Your Large Inflatable Movie Screen
I wanted to go into a little more detail now on one of the bullet points from the last item, as it is worth a mention all by itself for the pure failure element.
My friend Mike got really excited one summer after he had been to ours for a movie night. A week later he went online, bought all the gear, and then sent out the invites to our group of friends for a return event at his place.
We all get there, the drinks are out, darkness falls, massive fanfare, and into speech from Mike about the movie we’re just about to watch. He then flicks the blower switch on the inflatable movie screen he had just bought.
It starts to inflate, but within seconds everyone can see it’s in far too narrow a space to completely expand. It got jammed between two walls and collapsed on in on itself.
Admittedly, it didn’t ruin the evening. We didn’t watch a movie, but instead, it set the tone for much hilarity.
But please, don’t be Mike.
Measure up any outdoor movie screen you consider buying, whether it’s an inflatable, hanging, or standing model. Otherwise, just like Mike, you might get a nasty surprise once you turn the air blower on and it inflates in your backyard.
I’ve got a product recommendation you might want to check out that comes in two different sizes – go take a look at my review, it’s under $150 and is a great inflatable movie screen.
3. You Didn’t Watch the Weather Forecast
The key to a successful backyard movie night is great company, a good movie, and a beautiful evening where you can relax under the stars.
It’s definitely not one where your movie screen is swaying in the wind, your guests are cold, and the rain is coming down.
Not only is the night going to be a complete failure, but you also run the risk of ruining your electronic equipment, or in worse cases suffering an electric shock.
This is another important rule when planning an outdoor movie night:
Always make sure to check the weather forecast!
4. You Didn’t Have a Contingency Plan
You checked online, you watched the TV weather report, and were all set to have a night to remember… and then the rain starts to fall.
Sometimes you can’t rely on the weather forecast to be accurate no matter how many times you check it in advance of the evening.
Nothing ruins an outdoor movie night quite like an unexpected rain shower or storm. But you can be forgiven for this, after all, it’s not your fault if the weatherman didn’t see this one coming.
But where you can’t be forgiven is for a lack of contingency plan.
A good contingency plan for any outdoor movie night is one that can be put into action within minutes of something unexpected happening. If you’ve invited 15 people over, will you have the room for them to sit and be fed if they need to move indoors?
If you don’t have the room to accommodate all your guests if it starts to rain, then perhaps you should put up a gazebo or marquee just in case of the worst scenario.
5. You Didn’t Get Your Timings Right
Timing is everything when it comes to putting on a successful backyard movie night. In my experience, it’s always best to ask your guests to arrive an hour early so that they can talk with each other, get relaxed, and get into the mood.
But don’t invite them too early as there’s nothing worse than the anticipation of your guests standing around waiting for the movie to start, but you not being able to show it due to it not being dark enough yet.
It is possible to buy outdoor movie screens with a high lumen rating which can let you see the projected image when it’s still not completely dark, but these models do tend to be expensive.
Chances are, your outdoor movie projector won’t be able to show a movie until it’s completely dark. If your guests arrived super early due to your poor time planning, then they could be getting bored well before showtime.
Check online to find out what time darkness will fall, and then you can put your timings together a lot better and ensure that you don’t have any awkward silences – or impatient kids!
Your approach to timings should also take into account food, any intermissions, and also ways in which you can keep kids entertained before the movie starts.
You might be interested in my advice on how to make backyard movie night more fun for kids. I also have some ideas on the best food and snacks that work for outdoor events as they don’t involve timing things so much.
6. You Didn’t Wait Until It Was Pitch Black Outside
Following on from the last point of failure, don’t try to start the movie if it’s still daylight. As I mentioned in the last part, most outdoor movie projectors will struggle to let you see the projected image properly if it’s still light.
The best backyard movie experiences are when it’s completely dark, as the film will look crisp, sharp, and clear on the screen.
Having said that, if you do need to get started earlier, then you should look to purchase a higher-end movie projector that comes with a higher lumen rating – preferably over 3,000 lumens.
To see my suggested outdoor movie projectors that will work best at earlier times in the evening, please go take a look at my recommended gear section, in particular, the best projectors to suit all budgets.
7. You Chose a Totally Inappropriate Movie
Choice of the movie could make or break how successful your night is. There are some key considerations you should take into account when choosing what movie is going to be played, with the most important aspect relating to who your audience will be.
Let me give you some examples.
The most obvious consideration is whether or not there will be kids in attendance. If there are children coming then perhaps Nightmare on Elm Street might not be the best choice of film.
Another scenario could be the religious persuasions of your guests, or perhaps what they might feel is acceptable content. I know that my very conservative mother-in-law probably wouldn’t be too enamored with me putting Brokeback Mountain on for outdoor movie night.
My view on backyard movie night is that classic movies are the best to play. Ones that your guests are already familiar with tend to work best.
Popular movies that people have probably already seen before won’t require masses of concentration. This means your guests can still talk and socialize without being in fear of missing essential parts of the movie, or having to be deadly quiet.
And yes, Schindler’s List might be a popular movie, but it’s going to put people on a downer. So, when I say popular movies, you might want to consider ones that are more upbeat.
You can read my top 10 suggestions for the best movies to show at your backyard party if you need any ideas.
8. You Pissed Your Neighbors Off
Oh yes, your neighbors.
Love them or hate them, you need to consider how your backyard movie could impact them, or how they might react to you showing a film outdoors.
I think I am a pretty good neighbor on the whole, and I always give them a lot of advance warning if I am going to be throwing an outdoor movie party in my backyard. In fact, I mitigate any potential problems by simply inviting them. It works a treat.
Regardless, here are some things that your neighbors might not be too happy with. See how you can either stop these problems from happening entirely or tell them in advance to make your life easier.
- Loud music playing
- Inappropriate movies with profanity in (definitely don’t play porn!)
- Screaming kids running around or noisy guests
- Bright lights and projections
- Guests taking up space in the road
9. You Invited the Wrong Mix of Guests
A party is only ever as good as the mix of guests, but let’s be honest, some guests will mix like oil and water.
I run backyard movie nights all over the summertime (read some tips for summer movie nights) and will invite guests a lot of time, but in a very strategic manner.
For example, my wife’s parents won’t be invited when I am asking my college friends over. Those college reunion nights tend to get a little rowdy and my wife’s folks aren’t really into downing vodka shots whilst watching Back to the Future.
With that in mind, take special care and attention as to who is on your guest list, and ask yourself whether you really need the stress of worrying whether or not the social mix is going to work out.
10. You Forgot the Food and Drink
Have you ever been to a movie theater and not had a snack or drink?
The food and drink you have at your backyard movie night add a massive element to the evening. Whether you decide to theme the food on offer or get a popcorn machine in, it will add a great level of authenticity and fun to the evening.
Above all, you don’t want hungry or thirsty guests to do you?
You can take a look at my recommended food and snack ideas for an outdoor movie night, which even includes vegan options which are an increasingly popular demand.
11. You Didn’t Have Enough Chairs
There’s a romantic notion that backyard movie nights should all be viewed by lying down on blankets. Whilst I agree that this is a great way to do things, most people actually find that sitting in a chair is far more comfortable.
Place some around the outer edges of the blankets on the floor to give people the option of sitting in chairs if they wish. Depending on the age of your guests, this should save some sore backs in the morning!
12. Your Sound System Sucks
Sound is so important, but so often overlooked.
It doesn’t matter how big your awesome new screen is, or how great your popcorn tastes, if your guests can’t hear the movie or the audio is distorted, then what’s the point?
Most modern outdoor movie projectors will come with built-in speakers, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this will always suffice for your backyard movie night.
Many of the cheaper models will produce terrible sound quality or an unacceptable volume. turning up the volume on them can even make it worst – just because it’s loud, it doesn’t make it good.
Again, this comes back to testing your set-up. Whilst the built-in speakers might be fine if there are just two of you watching the movie, chances are you are going to need something a bit beefier for larger gatherings where background noise will increase.
It could pay to invest in additional speakers or hook up some that you already have. Go take a look at the recommend gear section to see which ones I recommend.
13. You Broke the Law
I am often asked by visitors to the Outdoor Movie Projectors website about the legality of showing movies in backyards.
My stance is always that I am not a lawyer, but in general most of the time you should have nothing to worry about as long as you keep the event peaceful, and it’s just your friends and family attending.
There is an article elsewhere on the website which answers the question of whether it’s illegal to show a movie in your backyard, which I recommend you read if you are unsure about how the law works with copyright issues.
Putting aside copyright law, there could be other things that happen which aren’t legal or result in neighbors calling the police. Think of things such as noise pollution in particular.
Believe me, nothing quite ruins the buzz of a party then blue lights suddenly flashing outside.
So, don’t break the law. Have a great time, and stay safe.