Three years ago, friends Kim and Steve Goad invited my husband and me to their Westminster home for dinner and a movie— with a twist.  Billed as the “Driveway Drive-in,” they fed us and a handful of other couples a delicious buffet before we gathered in lawn chairs in front of the Goads’ large, white garage door to watch “Caddyshack.” While we recited Bill Murray’s lines aloud, beer cooled nearby in a wheelbarrow filled with ice and the winner of the evening’s Caddyshack trivia quiz passed around his prize of Baby Ruth candy bars. 

The next morning my husband paced our yard, surveying our garage-less, Rodgers Forge home and muttering, “We can do that.”  And for the past three summers, we have. Once a month from May through September, we invite neighbors and friends to bring their lawn chairs and sit in our front yard to watch movies projected onto a 20-foot-wide, white screen.  People walking dogs wander by and stop for a little while, and this season, the cicadas dropped in as well. We select the movies and dates by the end of April and distribute them to neighbors but don’t bother with reminders throughout the summer.  (If a large screen suspended between our house and our understanding next-door neighbor’s house isn’t reminder enough that it’s Movie Night, I don’t know what is.) 

With apologies to the Goads, we’ve adapted our version of their party to fit the scooter-and-sidewalk-chalk set. The first two seasons, we screened a double feature with a G-rated movie first, then a PG-rated one (by that time, the little ones were slumbering in sleeping bags in our playroom). Good in theory, poor in practice. Though the families who stayed for the second feature all enjoyed “Young Frankenstein,” “Some Like It Hot” and “Grease”— the sound of 30 adults and kids singing along with John Travolta under the stars was memorable indeed— we’ve settled on one family movie per month. Two movies was just too much. Besides, it became harder and harder to find films that were a little edgier than G-rated fare but still family-friendly. (One option is to rent PG-13 or R rated movies that have been edited for content. Try http://www.clean-edited-movies.com for more information.)

Set-up for our movie nights is low-key:  we provide ice, soda, popcorn, chips, movie candy, de rigueur juice boxes and bug spray.  Guests B.Y.O.B. and C. (Bring Your Own Beer and Chair). Sometimes we offer snacks themed to that evening’s screening— popsicles for “Ice Age” or green cupcakes with a marshmallow eyeball for “Monsters, Inc.”  We pop enough popcorn for the 40 or 50 people who usually attend and serve it in concession style boxes (try http://www.popcornsupply.com).  We project the movie with a Power Point projector on a tripod (check out the Audio-Visual Equipment Rental section of the phone book) hooked up to our DVD player. The low-tech but effective sound system consists of stereo speakers wedged in the living room windows. 

That first summer, we fashioned a screen from a king-sized bedsheet with rope duct-taped to the corners of the sheet. Last year, we upgraded, but not by much, to a white cloth “screen” a friend sewed to my husband’s specifications.  It’s held in place with grommets and rope to eyebolts screwed into the brick facades of our end-of-group townhouse and our neighbor’s home. If this all sounds like too much work, contact Fun Flicks, a Baldwin, Md., company that will bring the equipment, screen and popcorn to you for $229 (http://www.fun-flicks.com or 410-817-6534).

My husband’s favorite part of movie night is the chance to indulge his inner geek by playing with the electronics equipment. And mine? Sitting with my neighbors and friends under the wide branches of our sycamore tree, the lawn a mish-mash of chairs, sandals and children. Or it might be the easy cleanup. You gotta love a party where the birds take care of the mess.

Tips for Your Screening

They’ll laugh!  They’ll cry!  They’ll sit still for two hours! Some tried-and-true tips for selecting family flicks to show the crowd.

>> You can’t go wrong with anything animated, especially Disney and Pixar films.  Don’t worry if your preschooler has watched “Finding Nemo” twice a day for the past month. He’ll be mesmerized when it’s shown outside.

>> Think classics, instant or otherwise. “Shrek” and “The Princess Bride” were huge hits on our lawn, but the movies you loved as a kid— “Willy Wonka,” the original “Parent Trap” or “Herbie the Love Bug”— would be good, too. 

>> Go Hollywood and test-screen beforehand if you have doubts. We took “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” out of last summer’s lineup when a few parents voiced concerns that it was too scary. We should have pre-screened “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” The movie’s villain frightened more than a few of the kids— and Jessica Rabbit startled a few big kids, too. 

>> Make sure the movie has a broad appeal. For my son’s movie birthday party last August, we showed “Return of the Jedi.” All but one of the female party guests ended up in the playroom, bored with the movie, while all the boys and dads sat riveted on the lawn.

>> With many cartoon collections now available on DVD (“Looney Tunes,” “SpongeBob Square Pants”), you could also screen a favorite short before the feature. —SA

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