In the summer, families opt for movie nights under the stars

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published June 17, 2015

 Anna Chisholm, of Chester-field Township, gets ready to snuggle up for a movie under the stars in Macomb Township last 

Anna Chisholm, of Chester-field Township, gets ready to snuggle up for a movie under the stars in Macomb Township last summer.

File photo by Donna Agusti


METRO DETROIT — With winters that seem to last most of the year, Michiganders know how to take advantage of the warm weather once it finally rolls around.

Dinner time, exercise routines and daily play all seem to migrate outdoors in the summer months. It should come as no surprise, then, that many families in metro Detroit like to relocate movie night to the open air, too.

More and more cities in the area are inviting residents out for movie nights in parks, parking lots and even right in the streets. Some of the showings are part of bigger community festivals, but the main event typically looks the same: Visitors young and old gather around a huge portable screen with lawn chairs and blankets to enjoy some cinema under the stars.

Outdoor movie nights are so popular in Warren, according to city Parks and Recreation Director Henry Bowman, that the city hosts showings every Wednesday night through the summer beginning in late June.

“We have live music beforehand and an inflatable for kids to bounce on,” said Bowman. “Then the movie starts at dusk, which can be as late as 9:20 p.m. Closer to August, it’s more like 8 p.m. by then.”

Thanks to sponsors, the event is free to the public. Bowman said the events typically draw between 500 and 1,000 spectators to take in a flick on the 20-foot-tall inflatable screen erected in City Square.

“It’s all about building community. We want to be a family community, and we need to do these things where they can enjoy great family entertainment for no cost,” he said.

After taking a few years off from the outdoor movie scene, Clinton Township will bring back two showings this summer on July 15 and Aug. 4.

Frank Pizzo, director of Clinton Township Parks and Recreation, said the township stopped showing movies a few years ago because some of the younger audience members couldn’t hold out until dusk, when the films started.

“It had to be dark, and in the summer that could be as late as 10 p.m. Parents were carrying their sleeping kids away,” said Pizzo with a laugh.

But township officials have a new plan now. They’ve partnered with a group that will provide a 10-foot-tall LCD television that can be seen even with some daylight left in the sky.

“They’ll take place as part of our summer concert series, which will include moonwalks and face painting. Then, my vision is to have an area marked with flags where people can throw down sleeping bags and watch the show,” said Pizzo. “And we’ll be able to start them around 8:20 p.m. so the kids can enjoy them, because the movies are always geared towards the kids.”

This year, the movies that will be shown at the Civic Center gazebo are “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “Big Hero 6.”

But if you want to host a private screening of your own, there are options for setting up your own picture show right in the backyard. Grab a projector and throw up a white sheet, and you’ve got your own movie theater — with better prices on snacks.

If makeshift screens aren’t your forte, you can also call in a pro to hook you up. Douglas Allen, owner of Allen Entertainment, has been in the backyard movie business for five years. Each year, he said, he gets more calls as the outdoor movie trend gains momentum.

“We provide a digital projector, sound system with amplifier and speakers, a Blu-ray player which can play Blu-ray or DVDs, and a giant screen attached to an aluminum frame. It’s about 15 feet wide and 9 feet tall,” said Allen. “We show up in the evening and recommend people start the show about a half an hour after sunset.”

The showings have become increasingly popular choices for those who want to try something a little bit different for their child’s summer birthday party, Scout gathering or family reunion. Even adults can get in on the action with a few beers and a movie geared toward the older set.

“People usually find me online or through the recommendation of a friend. They call me and say, ‘Hey, I want to do that,’” he said.

Outdoor showings through Allen Entertainment can run up to $600 an event. But if you think about it, the owner said, there’s a good chance you’ll find a cost savings compared to your neighborhood picture house.

“With the price of theaters these days, where movies are around $8-$10 a person, it can add up. Add in the cost of popcorn and drinks, and that’s another $10,” he said. “If you put 10 families together, that’s the price of an outdoor movie.”

In the end, though, no one’s looking to take their silver screen entertainment outdoors as a way to cut costs. It’s always about the experience and making fun summertime memories, Allen said.

“It’s the whole throwback to when you could go to a drive-in,” he explained. “Why not do it outside if you can?”

Farmington, St. Clair Shores and Rochester are just a few other cities that will host public outdoor movie nights this summer. To find out if something is happening in your area, visit your community’s municipal website or contact your parks and recreation department.