Outdoor theater on the cheap
May 25, 2008 5:51 PM   Subscribe

How can I do a stroll in theater outside in my yard on the cheap this summer? I want to have a movie for friends and neighbors in my yard this year. I can't afford a projector. Can I rent??

Any creative way I can show a movie or two one weekend this summer? If I can get my hands on a projector will a king sized sheet do??

posted by beccaj to Technology (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what a "stoll in" theater is, but are there any colleges in your area? If so, I'd bet that there are students there that are projector-rich and cash-poor and would be amenable to working something out.

Heck, if you were in Chicago, you could rent my rig
posted by jtron at 6:35 PM on May 25, 2008

Response by poster: (stoll in... just in my yard so not "drive in"....)
posted by beccaj at 6:40 PM on May 25, 2008

I think its mean to be "stroll in" theater, as opposed to "drive in".

If it's the least bit windy, a king-size sheet will flap about like nobody's business, making it very hard to watch the projected movie. You could cut holes in the sheet, but I suspect that you don't want to do that. Project on a wall (painted white)? Find something like shadecloth or hessian+whitewash?

You can usually rent projectors; check office supply stores for something you can plug into a laptop. Most have a "video in" too.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 6:45 PM on May 25, 2008

stroll in?

you can rent projectors.. if the college student thing doesn't work out, check in your phone book under audio/visual or business supplies. this is from a quick google search. if it's going to be just a one-time thing you could also eBay a projector pretty cheaply - a lot of the time, people will sell a perfectly good projector because the bulb is close to life. (of course, you need to be a bit careful.. projectors are hot. after some time, they fry the LCDs inside them.) if it lasts twice, you're good and you can decide then whether or not to buy the replacement bulb (they tend to be very expensive).

a king-sized sheet properly anchored would be fine. make sure it's really white. alternatively you should also be able to rent a screen.
posted by mrg at 6:51 PM on May 25, 2008

Response by poster: arghhh. yeah, STROLL in ..sorry....

And I have seen rentals but for businesses and the rental is like 250 bucks a day.

I was hoping for something way cheaper.
posted by beccaj at 7:02 PM on May 25, 2008

250 a day seems high. Is some of that a damage deposit?

It's a good idea to ebay a used projector, but do some searching before you bid to see what the replacement bulb costs are first. It'd suck if it goes pop halfway through the first movie and a new bulb is $250. Different models have quite different bulb costs. If you do go this route and have to replace a bulb, make sure you follow the handling instructions closely. Quartz halogen bulbs mustn't be touched with bare hands, because it shortens the bulb life.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 7:20 PM on May 25, 2008

Best answer: The people at the Backyard Theater Forum can answer all your questions about screens and such. A quick search didn't turn up much about renting, but take a closer look...

Last year, I just used a 4X8 sheet of white-laminated particleboard, hung in front of the shed on my parents' back porch. If you want to go that way, just go to your local home supply/hardware store and look for something flat and white and light enough to hang or prop up somewhere. At the end of last summer I built an insane contraption out of PVC and blackout cloth, and had a 9'X16' screen for The Empire Strikes Back and Young Frankenstein, but it was rickety and dangerous, so this year we sprung for an inflatable. Unfortunately, Raiders of the Lost Ark got rained out last weekend.

It's totally worth the effort, by the way. Good luck.
posted by jessenoonan at 8:29 PM on May 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh my gosh! I JUST got back from a my first experience in a back yard theater. My friend with the theater had his first screening tonight. He said he learned everything on the Backyard Theater Forum, and that he got his projector for $200 from eBay. I didn't ask him what the screen was made of, but it looked like a white version of the green tarps sold at Home Depot and the like. It was stretched over a homemade PVC frame. He also had surround sound, which you don't need, but which was FABULOUS.

We watched the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka. My friend also showed a couple of Warner Brothers cartoons, and some old-timey "Let's go out to the lobby!" type intermission messages.

I had so much fun that I asked my friend to adopt me.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:38 PM on May 25, 2008

250 a day seems high. Is some of that a damage deposit?

$250 per day for a projector rental is actually pretty standard (renting from a hotel will more often than not be far more than that, actually), although that's generally business-to-business during the week. You may be able to get a deal renting on the weekend when the units would otherwise be sitting idle and also if you let them know this is for personal use, not professional. Also, any place who rents projectors probably rents screens too, and they don't cost too much to rent and will look a zillion times better than trying to project onto a sheet..
posted by The Gooch at 8:51 PM on May 25, 2008

You could also try building a projector. If you shop around for the parts, its very possible to build a fairly nice projector for only a little more than what it would cost to rent one for a day. A quick google search can bring up a ton of info, but some of the more useful sites are here and here.
posted by pwicks at 11:32 PM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

My housemate made a terrific (indoor) screen out of the blackout material sold at fabric stores for use in window shades. It was about $15/yard. She punched holes in the top edge, added grommets for strength, and put up a row of cup hooks near the ceiling molding. It works much better than the sheet she used to use -- too much light spilled through the sheet and the picture was harder to see.
posted by shiny blue object at 8:19 AM on May 26, 2008

Where are you? Can you get assistance/advice from your friendly neighborhood micro cinema?

Pawn shops have some amazing things, although I doubt they'd have a blow-up screen.

Depending on what you are showing, and the overall mood, a few wrinkles in the screen might not be the end of the world. However, if at all possible you want a screen with some reflective qualities.

Don't forget the bug spray!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:06 AM on May 26, 2008

More cost data points: I got my projector off eBay for $300 and my screen off Woot for $20 or so. Both are awesome, if not the latest and greatest technological hotness. Something to think about if you think you'll want to do this more than once.
posted by jtron at 6:08 PM on May 26, 2008

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