With the advent of HDTV and the ever changing, constant updating of the methods of broadcasting and producing television, Movies, DVD's and other media these days, there is some good news with the "planned obsolescence" of technology. Technology, i.e. tv's dvd players and most important to this article PROJECTORS are becoming easily affordable to the average consumer. The other good thing is, the new technology is coming so fast that the "old technology" is not old at all. In fact it's pretty awesome.

I picked up a brand new Vivitek 2600 lumen output projector at amazon for about $350 bucks. Just a few years ago a projector like this would have cost $1000 or more. Why so cheap? Because it is not HDTV compatible. Will it play a normal DVD and look completely awesome for an outdoor movie on a 10 foot wide screen? Heck yeah! Don't get me wrong, if you want to spend $1000 or more for a projector you can. Just get the HDTV version which will look better than mine, but in the next 6 months it will be old school and discounted making way for the higher resolution HDTV projector with an even higher refresh rate which will have an even better picture.

In my opinion, my projector looks 90% as good as the newest one out there and I don't miss that 10% at all as long as I can feel the extra money in my pocket and enjoy the piece of mind that the projector I own can fall on the ground and I won't have a heart attack over it!

So I believe that before long there will be a lot of people watching movies in their backyards, while camping, at pool party's (dive-in movie), rooftops..just about anywhere you can think of. And I gotta tell ya, it's one of the coolest things you can do on a Friday night! What an event!

The reason I am writing this article is you must have a screen to do this drive in movie thing and they can be quite expensive. There are blow up projector screens that go up like a jump castle and then there are Movie screens that have frames that collapse up and down like a portable canopy. Prices range from $600 on up with these "ready to go" screens. I encourage anyone who can just write the check to go this route. For the penny conscious do it yourself-er like me, the following instructions show how I built a homemade outdoor movie projection screen for about $200 using readily available components from your local hardware store. So if your interested, let's get started building YOUR homemade outdoor movie projection screen.


4 - 1” Galvanized conduit 10 feet long 5.27 ea. total $21.08
1 - ½” Galvanized conduit 10 feet long 1.47 ea. total $1.47
2 - 1 ¼” PVC Tee’s 1.23 ea. total $2.46
2 - 1 ¼” PVC Elbows 1.09 ea. total $2.18
8 - 1 ¼”Slip X 1”Thread PVC Bushing 1.07 ea. total $8.56
2 - packs 10-24x3 Steel Flathead screws/nuts 1.18 ea. total $2.36
2 - PFJ Base Molding 2 ¼ x 8ft 5.76 ea. total $11.52
Spray Glue rubber cement $10.00
4 - ¼” x 48ft nylon cord 3.77 ea. total $15.08
1 - Drill Bit for #10 screws
2yrds 60”wide Outdoor Fabric (Walmart) total $3.97


Lay out the 4 one inch by 10 ft conduit pieces in a square on the floor. Lay the two 1 1/4 pvc tee's at what will be the top of the frame and the two elbows at what will be the bottom. The tee's on top work as an elbow but also give you a "stem" sticking up to tie ropes onto so you can stand up your homemade outdoor movie projection screen and secure it with ropes that will loop over the top of these tees. Also lay two bushings at each corner.

Next step is to use a rubber mallet or similar device and pound the bushings onto the ends of the conduit. I used a torch to heat up the conduit a little which melted the bushing a tad and helped get a snug fit. You don't have to use heat, you just want a good snug fit between the pipe and the bushing. Look into the inside of the bushing and make sure your pipe has almost seated through all the threads. When you drill your holes you will want plenty of pipe into the bushing. A good practice is to hammer the bushing on and off multiple times letting the pipe cut out the threads sufficiently so you get a good seat.


Next Step GLUE IT UP
Glue all bushings into the tees and elbows making a square frame...two tees on the top, two elbows on the bottom.

Drill a hole COMPLETELY through the fittings on each side of each corner. 8 holes total. Better have a sharp bit and go slow so you don't break your bit. The hole should be about in the middle of the bushing...both ways...(up and down and left and right). If you seated your pipe in the bushing properly, you should get plenty of "bite" on the pipe. It is very important to keep your holes lined up so the best practice is to put a bolt through each hole as you drill them.


Since these holes will likely be all different it is VERY important to mark the pipes and the fittings with a short line and a letter or number so when you assemble this thing everything will line up...


Next Step GLUING UP THE SCREEN (I will discuss screen materials below)
You are building a 10 foot wide homemade outdoor movie projection screen so you will need screen material at least 12-13 feet wide using the method here. Your screen will wrap around the two upright poles and tie across the back like a corset.  The top and bottom of the screen will have sleeves glued onto them that the top pole and the bottom pole (1/2" x 10 foot conduit) will go through.

My screen material started out about 12 feet wide and 8 feet high. The top and bottom sleeves where made from the two yards by 60 inch outdoor material I bought from Walmart. I cut the material into four pieces 60 inches by 18 inches and folded them over to make four 9 inch by 60 inch sleeves. I then glued about 4 inches (from the cut end, horizontally) of the sleeve onto the back of the screen with contact cement. Glue one side to the screen, then fold and glue the other side of the sleeve. Overlap the sleeves in the middle so they stop short of the full width of the frame by about 4 inches on each side. Do this on both the top and bottom sleeves. Cut a notch in the bottom sleeve as shown.

I glued the base board pieces on the outside edges of my screen having the screen wrap around the base board on both sides, gluing both sides so the base board was wrapped and glued on both sides. If I had it to do over, I would get stiffer hardwood baseboards. That of course would mean more money but would help slightly with tightening the screen..

Drill 4 holes in the wrapped baseboard for the corset strings. I actually have changed to using bungee cords on the top and bottom and cinch cords in the middle holes to make it quicker to set up.

That's about it, now for the setup...
Cut about 4 inches off the 1/2" conduit.  It will be inserted into the bottom sleeve and needs to fit inside the width of the frame. Disassemble the frame by removing the bolts that connect the upper and lower frame pipes. Leave the bolts in the side pipes now and forever, no need to ever remove them. When you store the frame the fittings will stay on the side pipes.

Here is a trick I learned that will help straighten the screen....take the two side pipes and bend them slightly so they bow outward, so the frame looks like a bowlegged cowboy! Don't go to far...I'm only talkin like a 6 inch bow...if you go too far you could kink the pipe. This will really make a difference when you are trying to get the screen flat. The picture up top of the homemade outdoor movie projection screen is before I thought of this trick...notice the wrinkles?

Ok, now take your top pipe and slide it through the top sleeve. Reassemble the rest of the frame and stand it up about half way. Bungee and cinch rope the screen around the side pipes using the holes in the baseboards. Just get things snug for now...you will tweek it up to finish. Now, take four of the 1/4" nylon ropes and cut them 25 feet long. Tie a loop at the end of each one and place the loop over the top of the screen over the PVC tee that is sticking straight up. Now stand up the screen and tie it up as plum as you can using stakes and cinch knots in the ropes. If you don't know how to do a cinch knot, you need to learn. It is the best knot ever invented and you use nine of them in this setup. Now slide the 1/2" pipe through the bottom sleeve and tie cinch ropes on each end and in the notch in the middle.

Adjust the squareness of the frame and the tightness of the cinch ropes to get the screen flat. Slight wrinkles will not be noticeable. In fact the wrinkles in the screen at the top of this page were not an issue at all..although now I am much better at getting the wrinkles out..   

Above is a cinch rope going from the bottom pipe up to the 1/2" conduit in the bottom sleeve.

Below is a picture of how I used to do the cinch ropes across the back..like a corset. I now use a bungee on the top and bottom and one or two cinch ropes in the middle. As you tighten the cinch ropes, the bow in the side pipes straightens out and keeps the screen taught. This system really works very well.

The picture below is the first time we tried this out. We did the "drive-in movie" on a camping trip and it was the coolest thing ever! You gotta give me a break on the wrinkles in the homemade outdoor movie projection screen...like I said earlier, they didn't effect the movie when it got dark but it's not a problem at all now that I am bowing the side pipes out. You can see how they are bowing in below because they started out straight and then I applied pressure and they bowed in creating most of the problem...


ONE MORE GREAT TIP...I bought 4 big hitch pins at Lowes to use in place of the bolts at the four corners of the homemade outdoor movie projection screen. I had to bend the hitch pins open quite a bit to get around the pipe but they work great and are much faster than using the bolts and nuts..


I must confess, when I said I built the homemade outdoor movie projection screen for about $200 bucks I actually told a little white lie...The screen material I bought came from ebay and set me back like 250 bucks...I found through later research there are many other cheaper options for screen material such as:

Basic white tarps, tyvek, used billboard tarps, spandex, BOC (black out cloth) and dazian trapeze fabric.

I'll let you do your own research on which is best for you...let me know if you have any other suggestions.

Now get some BIG speakers some popcorn and have some fun! 

If you build one, send a photo and I'll post it on the People and Their Screens page!


  1. Thanks for your comment on Material Concepts' Tyvek Innovative Uses blog on our post about using Tyvek as a projector screen: http://tyvek-blog.materialconcepts.com/2009/02/tyvek-projector-screen-tyvek-projection.html

    Let us know if it works out for you!

  2. Re - Building a Movie Screen
    Thanks for sharing all your fabulous technique and tricks for short cuts
    in building a screen - it is very helpful and appreciate all the trouble you went to in showing us step by step

  3. Awesome! I'm going to try it. Thanks.
    Do you have any recommendations for affordable movie projectors please?
    Thank you!


  4. Can we not use a high thread count sheet if we plan to take it down?

  5. Thanks for the question. I have a friend who uses a sheet for his projector and it works great! The key with any screen or screen material is total darkness..the darker it is, the better the image, period.


Please reply with any comments or suggestions. Send a picture of the screen you built and I will post it on the People and their Screens page!