The light dims, we settle in our seats, nibbling fresh popcorn and sipping prosecco as the credits begin to roll. They’re not easy to read at first, it’s true – but by the time Liza Minelli makes her appearance as Sally Bowles in our classic movie choice, Cabaret, night has fallen properly.
We are one of many families calling ‘action!’ on our own outdoor home cinemas - a response to latest Government guidelines, which suggest that the real things may not open until mid-July. Many of the year’s biggest blockbusters have already resorted to postponement or opening online. What better option does a devoted cinephile have?
Even pop-up cinema initiatives like @TheDriveIn, which will operate in 11 cities over 12 weeks (from £35 per car) don’t start until next month, and many of us live too far away to use them.
But a cinema in the garden? That’s surely possible for many of us, with even the smallest outdoor space. And, you can screen (almost) anything you like – as long as it can be found online. From the catalogue of Amazon Prime, Netflix and Mubi Go to streaming live events by the likes of the National Theatre At Home on YouTube, all you need is a cable and a smartphone.
Creating our home cinema – dubbed Nick’s Flicks, as it was a birthday present for my husband – has been a surprising doddle.
Research shows that you can buy a reasonable projector which will hook up to a phone for under £200. So we chose a QKK Projector 4500 Lumen Video Projector (£89.99) which came with a rectangular white fabric projector screen one metre high. The screen can be folded up when not in use and has reinforced holes at each corner, making it as easy to hang from a tree as to affix to a brick wall, as we have done.
The QKK comes with a power cable and a remote control, but after reading the online reviews – overwhelmingly positive – I learnt I needed an additional 2m HDMI cable which links your phone to the projector (£22.59). The connection is so simple that once attached, just click on to the streaming app and away you go.
We also splashed out on a popcorn popper (£15.89, plus an extra £5.69 for a kilo of kernels) and a £6 five-way headphone splitter, so no one in the vicinity need be disturbed.
You can spend on more expensive projectors which offer better quality, brighter pictures – and they can all be used indoors if you have the space – but for garden showings, what you need most is natural darkness.
The first rule of outdoor home cinema club is that all screenings are late-night showings at this time of year. The sun doesn’t go down properly until at least 9.30-10pm, depending on where you live. So don’t get comfy at 8pm as your wait will far exceed even the longest trailers.
The next rule is comfort. No longer do you need to envy those who paid a couple of quid extra for the deluxe seats in the cinema – all the seats can be posh in your personal picture house.
We used garden furniture including a lounger, made more snuggly with mismatched throws, blankets, cushions and a duvet. Temperature is everything – this is the UK – so we dug out the fire pit and my husband produced his sleeping bag.
I plugged in my prized fake fur heated blanket from Lakeland and we had hats on, just in case. We all feel the cold as a family, but not on this occasion.
Depending on how remote you are – or how well you get on with your neighbours, rule three means investing in a headphone splitter so you can all listen independently. More expensive projectors may offer Bluetooth options so that you could listen without wires, but not my bargain buy.
If you are isolated enough, bring out speakers and hook them into the projector for as much surround sound as you can stand.
Distance from the screen is important – it works on a range of 3m-10m. We were at the lower end (about three metres away) so the picture only just fitted on to our screen. Ideally, we would have been sitting in our neighbours’ garden for the perfect view. Unfortunately, there’s a fence in the way or we’d suggest they join in, too.
Is the viewing experience as good as the Everyman Winchester where we saw Parasite, our last film pre-lockdown? Honestly, no.
But there’s a joyous conviviality about watching a favourite movie in your own mini cinema that has its own pleasing quality. And yes, you can pause and nip to the loo/refresh your glass/ask a question about the plot without upsetting anyone.
Best of all the fairy lights that guide you to the exit (and into your own home) are a cheerful reminder that there’s no return journey required afterwards.
Safe, snuggly, suitably socially distanced. The only absent elements from Nick’s Flicks are our friends and family - as are films about pandemics, which remain strictly off-limits. Home cinemas should be about lifting spirits, after all.
Now make your outdoor cinema cosy
by Jessica Doyle
The key to styling your alfresco cinema is to recreate the feel of an indoor room outside – somewhere you’ll feel comfortable lounging for the full two to three hours. Take inspiration from the interiors blogger and stylist Lisa Dawson, who has set up an enviable courtyard cinema at her Yorkshire home.
The main elements of a sitting room – sofa, coffee table, soft lighting – will upgrade an unloved area of your garden into a space you’ll want to spend more time in. If the budget won’t stretch to new furniture, go for an inexpensive outdoor rug (try benuta.co.uk or limelace.co.uk), which instantly brightens up a garden and makes a deck or paving a more appealing area for lounging on – just add beanbags or cushions (brought out from indoors if need be), or drape existing outdoor chairs with sheepskins or throws.
Create an ambience by stringing up festoon lights (try Lights4fun.co.uk for battery-powered ones if you don’t have an outside power source), and dotting tea-light holders around for a warm glow. Don’t forget refreshments – turn a garden table into a bar with a tablecloth, drinks tray and ice bucket. And warm things up with a fire pit for marshmallow-toasting (Dawson suggests using smokeless fire logs to avoid a bonfire smell).
Elevating your outside space is an investment that will make it a relaxing retreat that can be used all day long, a break-out space to take the pressure off an overused interior – and who doesn’t need that right now?
Poppy picnic rug with cushion, £125, French Connection Home
Balad wireless lamp, £75, Fermob
Festoon lights, £70, Garden Trading
Cashmere cinema blanket, £190, Soho Home
Reusable popcorn holder, 50p, Rex London
Bali rattan bar trolley, £245, Oliver Bonas
Mighty B outdoor beanbag, £139, Extreme Lounging
Pink geometric outdoor rug, from £69, Limelace
Tiger Lily handmade enamel tumbler, £25, Bell Hutley
Mersin fire pit, £119.99, Limelace
Cordon garden modular set, £1,099, Made.com