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Backyard Theater - Outdoor Movies

Backyard Theater - Outdoor Movies  




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Author Topic: Building and maintaining a plywood / wood movie screen  (Read 498 times)
SR
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« on: February 08, 2017, 05:36:15 pm »

This write up is about the building and maintaining of a wood outdoor movie screen.  Warning itís long. 

There are many, many variables on the building of a screen, from the size to the terrain of the yard and the weather it will be exposed to, so Iím not going to give specific measurements on anything, instead Iím going with the general concept.  Depending on the size of the screen you are looking to build you will most likely be using 2X4s or 4X4s or a combination of the two for your frame.  Please remember that once your screen is finished it is going to catch the wind in a storm.  It is possible for a screen to break loose and become a flying hazard damaging your property, hurting someone or possibly even leaving your property and doing damage at the neighbors.  Obviously that is extreme but no one wants to be in the position, so please remember to sink your supports several feet into the ground.  I would highly recommend (depending on the height of your screen) that you run supports from top back angling down to the ground, these supports should also be sunk into the ground.  If your building a large screen it may even be necessary to build forward angle supports starting just below the viewing surface of the screen and again sunk several feet into the ground.  The number of supports you have that run into the ground will be dictated by screen height and width.  Iíd recommend that you take the time to put your frame together with carriage bolts.  Not only are they stronger than nails but if you ever need to replace a support it is usually easier to remove bolts that trying to pry apart nails.  To get some idea how this should go it would be well worth your time to look it wood framed drive in screens.  And remember that safety should be your top priority.

What you are building is essentially a scaled down version of a drive in screen.  If youíre building a smaller wood screen say 8X12 or smaller it maybe easiest to build it flat on the ground and then raise it with the help of some friends.  For larger screens it might be best to build the frame on the ground, raise and secure the frame in position and then sheath the screen with the plywood facing. 

For the surface of the screen I would recommend that you use 5/8Ē outdoor plywood.  You could use 3/4Ē plywood, but there would be no benefit from it and it would add weight that your frame has to support.  Most plywood that is thinner than 5/8Ē is not outdoor rated and isnít recommended because it will quickly fall apart outside.  When picking your plywood out at the store try to pick wood that has one side that is reasonably smooth.  It doesnít have to be perfect, but any large missing knots or deep gouges should be avoided if possible.  I have heard of folks using outdoor rated chip board, but I cannot attest to the quality of the image or the long term durability.  Because of this Iím going to recommend that you stick with 5/8Ē outdoor plywood.  Itís not really necessary use marine grade plywood but it could be an option for ultimate durability. 

Seams: 
So my screen is 8X12 with 3 plywood panels with the length of the plywood running up and down so there are only two vertical seams.  I have experimented with a few different things on these seems, such as wood filler, bondo and a few other things.  None of them really worked.  Some materials cause a phenomenon known as hot spotting.  I discovered though trial and error the best thing for the seams is nothing at all.  Simply butt the pieces of plywood up as close as you possibly can.  After properly priming and painting the screen surface you wonít be able to see the seams at all when the movie is playing, and itís one less thing to have to worry about.   

Painting:
So you have your screen built now you need to paint it.  For the frame and back side of the screen you can paint that with your favorite flavor of outdoor paint.  A sprayer will make this go a little faster and easier.  For the front of the screen where the viewing image will be is a little trickier, we need to be careful to build a proper viewing surface. 

Priming:
The first thing we need to do is lay a proper coating of primer on the plywood surface.  Iím going to recommend that you use a paint roller and an extension pole for this.  Iíve tried spraying my screen surface but I canít ever seem to get thick enough coats, so Iíve had better luck with a roller.  Obviously you need to do the painting when there is a good long stretch of dry warm weather, because it will take you several days to get it done.  You need to pick a primer that will match your top coat.  Iíd recommend that you stick with outdoor latex products.  They are easy to use and clean up with soap and water.  There is really no need to use oil based products anymore.  Iíve had good luck with Kilz primers.  Every time I have painted a fresh screen I have rolled on about three coats of primer letting it dry well between coats.  You need to make sure that the wood sealed both for the longevity of the screen and to ensure that any adhesives used in the making of the plywood and the screws you used to fasten the plywood to the frame donít cause hot spotting.  Bottom line, apply primer until you are sure the surface is well covered.

Top coating the screen:
In the old days there use to be paint that designed for drive in movie screen but no paint company still produces it.  These days most drive ins like to use Sherman Williams A100 flat.  This is a flat white exterior acrylic latex paint.  You donít want anything on your screen that is at all glossy because it can produce a phenomenon known as hot spotting, which pretty much destroys the image during brighter scenes and if bad enough itís unpleasant to look at.  Personally Iím always looking to save a buck so most of the time I paint my screen with whatever flat white outdoor latex paint I can find on craigslist for free.   You will probably want to apply two coats of your final flat white paint.  Allow the paint to dry and your screen is done!

Maintenance: 
One of the joys of owning a wood screen is that you only have to put it up one time and it is there to use whenever you like.  I generally find that I need to do maintenance on my screen once a year, which is nice because once itís done itís good to go, but the one day a year maintenance can be a bit of a pain.   The first thing I do is check over all the supports and braces, tighten up any loose carriage bolts and replace any wood that needs it.  After that nearly every spring I pressure wash the viewing surface of the plywood, and every other year I repaint the viewing surface.  I donít bother with the primer I just make sure itís clean and top coat with the flat white.  Iíve never had to scrape the screen, the pressure washing usually takes care of any paint that is loose.  If you donít have access to a pressure washer I imagine that a long handled scrub brush would do. 

Last thing: 
Old age.  As your screen gets older issues will crop up.  Wood likes to rot, especially if you live somewhere that is wet.  The first thing that usually starts to go is the plywood.  If you used good quality outdoor plywood and paint usually the spots that start to go first are around the edges and at the seams.  Just remove any loose bits, pressure wash and paint.  Youíd be surprised how much a good coat of paint will hide.  If itís to the point where paint wonít hide it or there is hole clear though the surface which could be from wood deterioration or flying debris in a storm youíre going to have some work to do.  You can either replace a panel or cut a section out and put a new section in.  Just remember if you opt to cut and paste a new section in that you will be adding a seam to your screen, which if done correctly shouldnít show but still it creates another potential issue in the long run.  Thatís not to say that I havenít done it for one reason or another.  I donít recommend trying to fill in any imperfections or damage with any kind of filler, as I mentioned earlier my experience hasnít been good with using them on the screen. 

You may eventually find that your supports start to deteriorate where they go into the ground.  Itís pain but if your careful itís likely you can replace a support or two without taking the screen down.  One option is adding a support right next to the one that is being replaced and then cutting the only one out after the new one is in place.  Thatís my favorite way of dealing with that problem.   

Honestly after all these years I still have mixed emotions about wood screens.  When I built my first wood screen I did it because I wasnít aware that other materials are used.  I knew that some drive ins had wood screens so it just made sense to me to go that route.  Durability wise the wood screen is second to none.  I donít know anyone that has an inflatable or fabric screen that has been around for 10 or more years and outside the entire time.  My wood screen is currently 12 years old.  I have moved it once, replaced the plywood face once, and various boards as needed.  And of course painted it many times.   

In the end I still have mix feelings about a wood screen.  The big plus is also itís biggest down fall.  Once you have built it itís always there ready to use.  One less thing that needs to be put up and taken down, but itís not an easy thing to more or resize either.  If you think youíre going to use it for years to come and in the same location and your handy with tools and wood, Iíd suggest that you at least consider building yourself a screen.  As an added bonus it will give your yard a bit of a drive in feel to it. 

Those are my thoughts and opinions on the subject.  If other folks have different ideas or questions I would encourage you to post them.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2017, 05:37:56 pm by SR » Logged

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genesis76
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« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2017, 07:36:10 pm »

Nice job SR!!!!!! I just use the Gemmy Screen when I started I was told the Gemmy would just blow away all other screens LOL Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked
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SR
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« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2017, 11:21:36 pm »

Nice job SR!!!!!! I just use the Gemmy Screen when I started I was told the Gemmy would just blow away all other screens LOL Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked

Thanks! G!!!!!
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movieman
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« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2017, 09:23:21 am »

My backyard screen was all wood like the first D-I I worked at. However my screen was a billboard material over the painted plywood. It lasted 10 years. If it got dirty I just washed it with soap and water.

rg
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genesis76
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« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2017, 10:34:17 am »

My backyard screen was all wood like the first D-I I worked at. However my screen was a billboard material over the painted plywood. It lasted 10 years. If it got dirty I just washed it with soap and water.

rg

RD since you are in the business of doing movies do you notice that BYT is still growing ,leveled off or is it declining over the last five years???
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Jimchan66
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« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2017, 11:44:48 am »

SR,

Nice write up.  I considered a wood screen when I first started but ended up purchasing a Gemmy Deluxe for portability.  I used the screen at home and during beach and desert camping trips.  The frame lasted about 5 years until of the fans sucked up a stick and killed itself. Angry  After the frame died I recycled the screen, all the clips and even the storage bag.  I now use the screen on the side of my 20 ft box trailer when camping and recently I finally collected all the parts to make a 1 inch EMT frame in my yard.  Now when at home all I have to do is clip the screen to the frame and it is ready to go.  With the screen is removed the frames is not even that noticeable.

As for maintenance, I always fold the screen and place it in a small bag for storage.  The screen has creases but like seams you donít notice them when the show is playing.  To keep it clean I just utilize soap, water and some gentle scrubbing.

The Gemmy screen has served me well for more the 10 years now even though I have made the above modifications along the way.  As for the storage bag I used to store my Jeep cover. Grin
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genesis76
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« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2017, 11:59:03 am »

SR,

Nice write up.  I considered a wood screen when I first started but ended up purchasing a Gemmy Deluxe for portability.  I used the screen at home and during beach and desert camping trips.  The frame lasted about 5 years until of the fans sucked up a stick and killed itself. Angry  After the frame died I recycled the screen, all the clips and even the storage bag.  I now use the screen on the side of my 20 ft box trailer when camping and recently I finally collected all the parts to make a 1 inch EMT frame in my yard.  Now when at home all I have to do is clip the screen to the frame and it is ready to go.  With the screen is removed the frames is not even that noticeable.

As for maintenance, I always fold the screen and place it in a small bag for storage.  The screen has creases but like seams you donít notice them when the show is playing.  To keep it clean I just utilize soap, water and some gentle scrubbing.

The Gemmy screen has served me well for more the 10 years now even though I have made the above modifications along the way.  As for the storage bag I used to store my Jeep cover. Grin


Jim at one time on here when a fan died on a Gemmy you could buy a spare from the company.....plus I guess you know sometimes the plug would pull out so many of us taped them.
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movieman
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« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2017, 12:15:25 pm »

Birthday movies are still around but want the screen package for  nothing.  Parks and Rec are still showing movies with large crowds.  One of my largest crowds in showing a movie in a cemetery.

Go figure

rg
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Jimchan66
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« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2017, 12:47:45 pm »

Rich,

I did not know about purchasing a replacement fan.  I did tie the internal plugs together so they would not come apart though.

Jim
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SR
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« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2017, 09:02:19 pm »

Thank you all for the positive comments.  I know a wood screen isn't for everyone, and heck we have one wood and two BOC screens, so I'm not wood exclusive myself.  Hopefully though if there is anyone out there member or not that is thinking of building a wood screen they will get some good ideas from the write up, and have a better idea what they are getting into. Smiley
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