An Outdoor Movie Party: The Party Plan

Gatherings From The Kitchn

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In my city, summer is synonymous with public outdoor movie nights, big open-air parties full of blankets, snuggling under the stars and movies that are always a little more special when watched outside. For this month's Gatherings from The Kitchn, I hoped to harness the magic of an outdoor movie screening, but make it even better, with homemade movie snacks, a round of root beer and stout beer floats, and no crowds to deal with — just a backyard full of friends watching a great summer movie under the stars.

If you've been dreaming about throwing this kind of party for your friends, stay tuned this week as I share how my friend Beth and I turned her small city yard into a private outdoor screening room, complete with snacks and drinks to please the movie-loving kid in all of us.

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The Party Idea: An Outdoor Movie With a Side of Nostalgia

I grew up watching movies at the drive-in. My parents would dress my sister and me in our pajamas, pack lots of blankets and pillows, and we would all snuggle up in our little Toyota Tercel, watching the Muppets or Luke Skywalker race across the screen. It was maybe the perfect way to watch a movie: the coziness of being in your own private space combined with the fun of seeing a movie with a crowd.

Public outdoor movie screenings capture a little of that drive-in magic, but they also come with the hassles of a big public event: parking, battling crowds, jockeying for a good spot, and paying admission fees.

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Beth and Tony's yard before the party

For about a year, my friends Beth and Tony have been talking about hosting an outdoor movie party in their small but charming backyard, and this summer Beth and I finally decided to make it happen. We wanted to set up a party with a flexible seating arrangement, so there was plenty of space for people to move around during the pre-movie socializing, but with the bones of the movie-watching layout in place, so it wouldn't take much time or effort to set up the rest of the seats after the sun set.

This being Los Angeles and the majority of our friends being either currently or formerly involved in the entertainment industry, we had plenty of interested guests. The final tally ended up a little bigger than we expected — 26 people — but with this type of party, we figured the more the merrier.

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The Party Look: A Cozy Movie-Watching Oasis

You may remember Beth as the styling genius behind the book club brunch I hosted back in April. This time the party was happening at her place, but we divided the party prep along the same lines: I took care of all the food and I let her work her styling magic.

We both agreed that there should be plenty of rugs and blankets on the grass for lounging, along with a handful of lawn chairs for those who wanted a little more back support. We also added a couple indoor chairs, which made the yard even cozier and more like the comfortable and inviting outdoor living room we were hoping to create. And Beth had the smart idea to scatter small wooden crates and tables around the yard to give people a place to put their drinks no matter where they sat.

For an extra-fun touch, we asked the talented designers at A Pair of Pears to make us movie-themed printable paper goods that we used to personalize the party. (They will be available as free downloads later this week, so you can use them for your own movie party!)

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The Party Menu: Homemade Movie Snacks & Floats

No movie party would be complete without popcorn, but I dressed it up a bit by tossing some of the popcorn with a buttery California olive oil and some sea salt, and turned the rest of the popcorn into homemade Cracker Jack. Keeping with the theme of upscale twists on lowbrow food, I made a dark chocolate and Nutella Puppy Chow that hit all the right notes of sweet, crunchy and a little salty. And because looking at that menu started to make my teeth ache, I added some crudité with a cool yogurt dip, served in individual cups for easy snacking. And there was candy in boxes! Aching teeth be damned, this was a movie party, after all.

There was plenty of cold beer, old-fashioned sodas and wine for people to sip on, and shortly before sunset, we served a round of ice cream floats made with a choice of root beer or stout beer.

Snacks

Drinks
  • Root Beer Floats
  • Stout Floats
  • Beer & Wine

In the coming days, I'll be sharing some practical tips for throwing your own movie party, as well as some money-saving ideas when entertaining a crowd (and what I wish I'd done differently). Don't miss the full party reveal on Wednesday — including the name of the movie that had us all laughing, cheering and even crying. (Hint: it's an oldie-but-goodie and there's a clue in the one of these photos.) This was a fun one!

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Styling: Beth Liebetrau
Photography: Leela Cyd Ross

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An Outdoor Movie Party

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