Summer is on its way out, and with it go a lot of our favorite summer activities. The pandemic has left many of those activities closed or limited, and that includes movies. Theaters are largely closed for business, the enclosed spaces, and close seating deemed too dangerous by the authorities. That hasn’t stopped us from wanting to watch movies, though, so we’re all looking for ways to watch new entertainment.
Last time, we talked about a resurgence in one form of movie viewing that was a huge hit decades ago, but which died out almost completely and is only now seeing a resurgence due to social distancing rules: the drive-in movie theater. There are a handful of drive-ins around the DFW area, but they’re all relatively small, with limited space available for viewings. They only have a screen or two, and they might not be showing the movies you want to see.
So what can you do instead? Why not rent the gear and set up a pop-up “theater” of your own? You might not get the full theater experience, but hey, how often do you miss the sticky floors anyways?
If you’re interested in renting the equipment for a temporary theater, you certainly can, but you’ll want to make sure you go about it the right way.
Determine What Gear You’ll Need
The first thing you’ll need to do is determine what scale of movie experience you want to have. If you have a flat, light-colored surface on the side of your house, or a garage door, or a similar surface, all you need is a projector. Of course, that only works for a small group of people; if you want to invite a dozen friends or family members over for movie night, you’ll probably need something more.
You can rent equipment for larger screens. Large projector backgrounds are available, and even larger screens – both LED and projector – can be rented from various companies. The largest screens are larger than what you see in a theater, and can accommodate a huge outdoor event! This photo is from our movie theater rental inventory:
Of course, before you decide on the scale of your event, you should figure out what the current rules are on large gatherings. Last we checked, gatherings of over 10 people require permission from the governor and must maintain social distancing. In case you’re reading this post sometime in the future, this applies as of the 4th of July, so it may have changed in the time since.
For this article, we’re going to cover two options: either you’re opting for a small-scale gathering of under 10 people, or you’re reading this far enough in the future that the pandemic’s threat has passed and large gatherings are allowed again. It’s not like large groups are going to be banned forever, right? Might as well make sure this post is useful to you later as well.
So, to build a rough checklist of what kinds of gear you’ll need for your movie night, here are the categories you’ll want to browse.
- You can rent a large LED screen, a huge TV, or a surface for a projector. Each has a different sort of cost associated with it.
- If you’re renting a non-digital screen, you’ll need a projector that can display your movie on the screen you rent.
- A speaker system is the general go-to for large outdoor movie screenings, but you can also consider setting up a system with synced Bluetooth speakers in several places, so larger groups can hear.
- Movie player. Depending on your equipment, this could be a DVD or Blu-Ray player, or a laptop that connects to the projector or TV and plays the movie that way.
- You’re going to need some kind of seating, but depending on how luxurious you want your experience you be, you might consider end tables or small “tv dinner” style tables so people can eat while they watch. At the very least, some cup holders might be in order.
- Insect control. While you can leave this to your guests, smaller gatherings might consider some citronella candles or other non-intrusive options to control pests in the dusk.
- Is it getting cooler at night? You might consider some kind of heating for your guests. Is it still hot out at night? Some kind of cooling might be in order.
How much you need to rent depends on the size of your gathering, the level of comfort you want to experience, what you already have available to use, and your budget. Some people just want a small screen, a projector, and some blankets on the ground for the picnic-style viewing experience, and that’s fine. Others want to go all-out with a neighborhood outdoor theater experience, and that’s fine too.
Find a Great Company to Rent
Depending on your goals, you may have different needs, and thus different companies you would want to hire. Here are some examples.
Rental Stops is a rental company in the DFW area that provides everything from tents and dinnerware to projectors, screens, and other audiovisual equipment. They would serve as a one-stop-shop for a full party, including chairs, tables, and catering equipment (though not food) if that’s what you want to do.
FunFlicks is a national company with everything from a 16′ backyard screen you can rent for a few hundred dollars up to 52′ jumbo screens suitable for huge gatherings and events. Their screens are large inflatables with projectors. They can also provide popcorn for an event, though that’s about it; furniture and other accouterments are your responsibility.
Ultimate Outdoor Entertainment is a Dallas company with a variety of movie equipment available for gatherings both large and small. They can set up “small” screens for a pool party or huge screens for your own private drive-in. Smaller screens are your typical projector screen, while larger screens are inflatables. They also come with projectors and all the equipment needed to run your movie night, plus popcorn, and their own crew to set everything up.
There are other companies in the area as well, including ours, so feel free to do your own research. Our company offers a handful of backyard movie theater rentals, including movie players, screens, projectors, and more. If you’d like to discuss, feel free to drop us a line to see how we can help.
Also, just as a footnote here, these links aren’t endorsements. We haven’t personally worked with any of these companies and can’t vouch for their quality, service, or products. You’ll want to do your own research into reading reviews before you book.
Pick a Film
What’s a movie night without the movie? You need to pick something to show to your gathering, and that something needs to be appropriate.
If your gathering is going to have young children or minors in attendance, you should make sure to show something family-friendly, rated R at the most. We know it’s fun to watch a late-night grindhouse feature, but if children can see, you’ll want to steer clear. Make doubly certain that any neighbors or people nearby who could see your screens and/or hear your audio despite not being invited aren’t going to object to the content you display.
You’ll also want to decide between retro movies, recent releases, or new flicks. In part, the method of the display will vary. A small backyard gathering of friends and family means a Netflix streaming show works just fine. A larger event, though, means you run into one large issue: licensing.
Theaters don’t just exist to give you access to a large screen and seating, after all. Part of their whole deal is that they have a license to screen movies. Have you seen those big FBI warnings at the start of movies? Those are listing the penalties for, among other things, unlicensed screening of films.
Whether or not you need a license to screen a movie depends on the context of the event. Generally, you’re fine to screen one if your gathering is small, private, in your own home or back yard, and free. If you’re charging admission, if you’re open to the public, if your gathering is large, or you’re in a public place, you’ll generally need a license. The law is tricky and complex, though you can find overviews like this one around to help demystify it.
Some equipment rental companies recommend Swank as a good company to use to license movies for a single event showing. Their business is more tailored to businesses, facilities, and events that want to license films for display, though, so they don’t work as much for individuals looking to rent a film. You can always contact them directly and ask, of course.
Another option is to talk directly with the Motion Picture Licensing Company, or MPLC, and buy an umbrella license. Again, they’re focused largely on organizations like schools and libraries, not individuals, but you can talk to them to see what they offer for your gathering.
You can also just go for a movie that is either public domain or that has a public viewing license, which allows it to be viewed at events so long as the audience doesn’t pay to attend. This limits your film selection significantly, but it can be an option.
Now is the FBI going to come knocking on your door if you screen a movie to a slightly too-large gathering? Probably not. On the other hand, you could get a cease and desist, a legal threat, a lawsuit, or a fine for doing so, and all it takes is one disgruntled neighbor tired of the noise to submit a complaint that puts you on the radar. The MPAA doesn’t play around, either, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
You can always play your own rental at your house as well, or if you own a copy of it, even better!
Set Up Seating and Ambiance
How comfy do you want your movie night? Assuming you’re hosting a back-yard showing for friends and family, you can go the whole nine yards. Some comfy chairs, with extras for anyone who doesn’t RSVP to your party. Some footstools to increase the comfort level. Cupholders are nice for drinks, both alcoholic and non. We mentioned citronella up above, but it’s not the only option; a bunch of different anti-insect options is available to you. Heaters or blankets, or cooling fans, something to keep your audience comfy is in order as well.
Keep in mind that, even if it’s a small gathering of friends and family, you should still adhere to social distancing guidelines. The dangerous part of the pandemic is that you can be exposed and infected, and be contagious to others, without showing signs or even knowing it yourself. It’s better to keep your friends and family safe, so make sure you have enough space to spread out chairs for individuals or for family groups.
Don’t Forget the Snacks!
One of the best parts of renting a system for a backyard movie screening is the snacks. They’re way cheaper to buy from a grocery store than they are from a theater, that’s for sure.
If you want popcorn, we recommend one of two options. Either rent a popcorn machine (and a person trained to use it, those things can leave serious burns) or hire a popcorn company like Nikki’s Popcorn, Uptown Popcorn, or The Popcorn Shack to cater for you. Fresh, hot popcorn is the best, but catered bags are the next best thing.
Candy can be bought easily at whatever grocery store you want. Set up a concessions stand near the entrance to your back yard and let people take what they want.
Beverages, of course, can be provided the same way. Make sure that, if you’re serving alcohol, you don’t break any laws and don’t let people drive once they’ve had a drink. Talk about a bad ending to your movie night!
Some people opt to make their movie experience dinner and a movie experience, and to that end, you can rent tableware to serve food, and either cook yourself or cater to your event. There are innumerable catering companies or restaurants that would love the catering business during the pandemic, so you have a ton of options.
Once the stage is set, the projector is humming, and the movie is ready to go, you’re all set for a great movie gathering. And who knows; maybe it’ll become a regular thing!