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How to Create Your Own Pop Up Outdoor Cinema Night

Windermere Outdoor Cinema
Written by Kirstie

How to Create Your Own Pop Up Outdoor Cinema Night

Do you like the idea of creating your own outdoor cinema experience? Pop up cinema seems to be a thing at the moment. Organised opportunities around The Lake District this summer range from VR movie footage on headsets in Grizedale Forest to picnic cinema at Appleby. But we thought a DIY film night would make a great family micro-adventure. And so, as the sun went down over Windermere, we plumped pillows and fired up a portable outdoor projector. In this advertising feature for the BenQ GS1 projector, we show you how you can create your own magical outdoor cinema night and tell you a little about ours…

Lake District Outdoor Cinema by Windermere

Watching the Lake District on a screen in the Lake District. Our Outdoor Cinema on the shores of Windermere

Ingredients for a successful outdoor movie night

Any regular cinema goer knows there are several ingredients for a good night out at the movies.

  • Coke and popcorn – in bucket-loads if possible.
  • An atmospheric venue – with comfy seats.
  • A screen – as big as possible.
  • An audience to share it with.
Hanging out the washing on Windermere

No, we’re not hanging out the washing by Windermere, we’re rigging an outdoor cinema

Film show under the stars

But while we’re all familiar with the drive-in movie concept, and increasingly bombarded with adverts for summer pop up cinema experiences, it can be expensive for a family. So is it possible to do it yourself? We decide to give it a go. Consulting a map, we have several ideas for stealth movies in Cumbria before finally settling on hosting our own pop up cinema on the Western Shore of Windermere. We figure if we are going to create a cinema under the stars in the Lakes, we might as well enjoy the lakeside environment.

Setting up the BenQ GS1 Projector for an outdoor movie

Setting up the BenQ GS1 Projector for our pop up cinema evening is straightforward

Planning tips

  • Choose a night when the weather is warm. You’ll get cold quickly sitting around.
  • Choose a quiet location without too many curious passers-by turning up or cars roaring past. Ideally you need some daylight to set it all up, yet darkness to see the film in all its glory.
  • Beg borrow or steal a good projector. We use the BenQ GS1 outdoor projector. Weighing in at just under a kilo, it is compact and durable. With its bright orange waterproof case it is also splash proof should some passing ducks come by or if the heavens open, which wouldn’t be unheard of in the Lake District, even on a clear night. It also has battery power for three hours, just the right length for a movie, and you can buy extra batteries if you want to show a trilogy.

Watch our video about our Lake District Movie Night micro adventure and then follow our instructions below on how to host your own outdoor cinema night.

Here’s how we did it

Setting off

6-7pm: We charge the battery on the BenQ GS1 projector and download a bunch of our favourite family YouTube videos onto a USB stick. We decide to surprise Hannah with a night out and choose some of her favourite YouTube videos of our past adventures. She will be pleased to be the star on her night under the stars.

7-8pm: We pack the car and pop to the supermarket for drinks, popcorn and ice cream.

8pm: It seems late to be going out for the night but we are heading towards the ferry to Low Sawrey which will enable us to hop across to the western shore of Windermere. We pick up fish and chips on the way as popcorn might not be enough to feed a small army of cinema builders. We keep Hannah in the dark and she wonders why we pass the cinemas in Kendal and Bowness.

Crossing Windermere on the ferrry

Chip supper on the Windermere ferry and Hannah is very confused about the location of the cinema

Setting up

8.30pm: We park up and unload the car. One rucksack seems to be entirely filled with popcorn. We may have overdone the snacks.

8.45pm: With curious looks from the guys in the campervan next door we haul the rucksacks and a great big pile of pillows over to the lake. Stuart scouts for a suitable location where we can hang a screen.

8.50pm: We send Hannah off to play hopscotch with nearby cow pats while we float the bottles of coke in the lake as canoeists play in the water.  We find a spot between two trees with the lake behind them and wind a washing line around the trunks, pulling it taught.

9.00pm: We unfold a king sized sheet we have ironed. (The kids were quite surprised to discover we have an iron!) Standing on tiptoe we drape it over the washing line and peg it out with a dozen or so clothes pegs. It’s now looking like Dame Washalot’s garden in the Faraway Tree. We use some bungee cords to tie the ends to rocks so the sheet is taught in all four corners.

Washing line strung up for outdoor cinema

With washing line up, we need to hang a screen to make our pop up outdoor cinema

Settling down

9.15pm: We lay out a ground sheet and pile on pillows. We try to find a flat place to put the projector, but end up balancing it on a rucksack. It’s small and light, so easy to balance. It’s also designed for outdoor use and rugged enough to deal with any little knocks, bumps or even moisture. (Check out this product demo we filmed where a product manager happily dropped it from half a metre and then watered it while it continued to play movies.)

9.30pm: Using the remote control that comes with it, we turn on the projector which whizzes into life with a single touch. We have downloaded a series of our YouTube videos onto a USB stick which we plug into the projector. We move the projector to get optimum focus, about a metre from the sheet. Even at this short distance the projector throws an impressive 5 foot wide sharp, bright image.

9.45pm: With the lake as a backdrop we film me welcoming Hannah to our movie theatre on the Go-Pro.

10.00pm: As the sky begins to turn pink we bring Hannah over, nip over to the lake to get the cokes and crack open the popcorn. Using the SD card from the Go Pro, we play my introduction through the projector and then get the movies rolling.

Watching a home movie at the outdoor cinema

The kids settle down with popcorn and coke to watch themselves Bouncing Below in Wales

Finishing off

10.30pm: We lie back, munch popcorn, swig coke and laugh together at some of the crazy things we’ve done together as a family. The main feature is a mini documentary on our visit to Taiji. Hannah enjoys the videos of her canyon swinging, bouncing below and cycling on a zipwire. There are some mutterings of discontent in the interval when we realise Dad accidentally left the ice creams at home in the freezer. But it’s soon forgotten as the next playlist loads.

11.30pm: It is dark, and we use the BenQGS1 light to help us see while we pack everything up. By midnight, the kit is back in the boot and we are on our way home, planning a drive in movie night – next time with ice creams.

Watching a home movie at the outdoor pop up cinema

Hannah recalls her experience scooting in the Scottish Highlands at our outdoor pop up cinema

What you need to create your own pop up cinema

  • A suitable location, away from other people, at dusk.
  • An outdoor projector. We used the BenQGS1.
  • A Bluetooth speaker (if you don’t want to just use the projector’s internal speaker)
  • Cables to connect your phone, iPad or laptop, if needed.
  • A large screen or a well ironed sheet.
  • Insect repellent if in Scotland or an area of mass midge action.
  • Sun cream if the sun is still strong into the evening
  • Your phone if you want to record yourselves on location and play it back.
  • A selection of films or YouTube videos downloaded onto a SD card or USB stick beforehand, although if you have a 3G signal and some data (and a big data allowance!) you can watch iPlayer or similar live.
  • Popcorn and drinks.
  • A groundsheet in case the ground is damp.
  • Pillows or camping chairs.
  • Ice creams and a cool box.
  • A washing line, pegs, bungee cords and ropes.
Lake District Outdoor Cinema by Windermere

As darkness descends we continue to enjoy views of the Lakes, watching Ullwaster while sat next to Windermere

More on the BenQ GS1 projector

The BenQGS1 projector is a small and versatile portable outdoor projector. We used it in several different ways during the evening:

  • To play pre-recorded movies and media off a USB stick that we pre-loaded with content, connected via the projector’s USB port.
  • To play movies off a Go Pro micro SD card we recorded onto during the evening, via the projector’s SD card port.
  • To connect to the internet to watch streaming content and media, by using a mobile hotspot on one of our phones, connecting via the projector’s inbuilt wi-fi.
  • To screenshare an iPad and phone screen connecting using a Lightning to HDMI cable to the projector’s HDMI port.
  • We listened to sound initially via the projector’s internal speaker, and later via a Bluetooth speaker connected via the projector’s Bluetooth capability.

If you were in a wi-fi zone, at home or in range of a wifi hotspot you could also connect via that to watch content. With the right cables you could also connect up a laptop or portable DVD player. And while this is designed as a portable projector, you can of course use it at indoors and at home, plugging it into the mains. Check the full spec on the BenQ GS1 product pages.

Having tried it out, we’d definitely recommend it. You can buy the BenQ GS1 via Amazon.

BenQ GS1 Portable Outdoor Projector

Click to view the BenQ GS1 Portable Outdoor Projector on Amazon

Read more ideas on uses for an outdoor projector

If you like the look of the BenQ GS1 outdoor projector and want to see more of it in action then check out these posts from other members of our Family Travel Collective who have tried it out in different settings for a variety of different uses.

What lies behind the open air cinema screen? A beautiful Windermere sunset. Nice view for the interval!

What lies behind the open air cinema screen? A beautiful Windermere sunset. Nice view for the interval!

Disclosure Note: This is paid content, part of a collaboration with BenQ Europe to introduce their outdoor projector to the family market. All the ideas, opinion, photography, videography and copy are, as ever, entirely our own. Along with the memories, a few midge bites and quite a bit of leftover popcorn. Some links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. This does not affect the price you pay on Amazon.

About the author

Kirstie

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...

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