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Coming soon to a backyard near you

Alfresco film, anyone? The novelty of an outdoor screening party can be almost as entertaining as the featured attraction.

September 28, 2006|Jake Klein | Special to The Times

AS daylight turns to darkness, the tinkling of glasses and a faint girlish giggle float in the air outside a Spanish-style apartment complex in West Hollywood. The building would be easy to miss if not for an effervescent young woman dressed in a pink chiffon skirt and matching silk bustier, a tray of drinks balanced precariously against her frame.

"I'm Lindsay Gareth!" she exclaims, attempting to thrust a hand from beneath the bamboo tray. Framing her blond curls is a screen glowing blue, set back against a carriage house at the end of a driveway.

Welcome to Lindsay Gareth's backyard movie theater.

The actress and part-time children's dance teacher is celebrating her first feature film, "Bottom's Up," which has been released straight to DVD. There will be no red-carpet premiere, but like any resourceful hostess, Gareth has taken matters into her own hands and is screening the movie herself, in classic Southern California style: outdoors.

The drive-in may be near extinction and traditional movie theaters aren't exactly thriving either, but the novelty of outdoor entertainment systems is catching on.

The introduction of smaller, higher-quality and more affordable LCD projectors coupled with surround-sound systems that emulate the theatrical experience has spurred the phenomenon. In some cases, these screening parties are inspired by "dive-in" movies offered poolside at some resorts or outdoor film presentations offered by West Hollywood and other cities.

Blame long lines, annoying crowds or $4 popcorn, but an L.A. Times Poll published in August revealed that, if given the choice, many young moviegoers would rather watch at home than in theaters.

When 21- to 24-year-olds were asked where they would prefer to see a new release, fewer than 1 in 10 said a traditional theater. About a third of the respondents said it depended on the movie. More than half said they would prefer to see new releases at home.

Rather than gather friends around a big-screen TV in her living room, Gareth has commandeered the driveway of her complex and furnished it with folding metal chairs, bamboo floor pillows from IKEA and fluffy white Flokati rugs. The place looks like a hip outdoor slumber party, art-directed just so.

T-shirts and halter tops are de rigueur, and with good reason. Early fall is a fine time for an alfresco screening in Southern California: Evenings are still warm enough, but skies turn dark earlier, so the main attraction need not turn into the late-late show.

"In this kind of space, you have to entertain outside," says Gareth, whose 15 guests fit more comfortably outside than in her apartment. The casual nature of an outdoor gathering makes her job as hostess easier too. She quietly admits that she started prepping for the party only a few hours before friends began showing up.

Her setup is easy. The projector, which Gareth rented for $200 a day from Samy's Camera in Venice, is hooked up to a PC tower with DVD playback capability. The screen is a simple white roll-up number -- the kind you saw in high school health class -- rented from Samy's for $15.

Alex Mattern, an Orange County tech professional, tweaks the color balance on the projector as Lindsay's boyfriend, Ben Mack, adjusts the focus.

"The key," Mattern says, "is to test sound and video before your guests arrive."

Later, a guest whispers that Mack is an Emmy-nominated producer of the fashion reality show "Project Runway," which explains the arrival of Andre Gonzalo, one of the show's contestants from last season.

"This is beautiful!" Gonzalo says upon seeing Gareth's makeshift theater. Turns out Gonzalo designed the dress that Gareth recently wore to the Emmys.

Gareth does double duty as bartender and hostess, running back and forth between her kitchenette and her guests outside. (Her costar in "Bottom's Up," Paris Hilton, probably won't be showing up.)

"I always invent a drink for a party I throw," Gareth says. She hands a friend a martini glass brimming with a concoction the color of a bruised rose -- sake, club soda and "a splash of vodka." Judging from the drink's popularity, it's more than a splash. It's dubbed the Bottom's Up.

Scores of dainty tea lights gently illuminate the scene. The young crowd devours plates of pot stickers, tempura and egg rolls over the pleasant hum of conversation. Snippets:

"You know Christina's got a production deal, right?"

"I just got a MySpace message asking if I were dead. Does that make any sense?"

"I started on the show! Did you see it? It's supposed to be on Channel 13."

"He's so famous now, none of us had heard from him until he got fired. So lame."

Soon it's show time. "Bottom's Up," the tale of a Midwestern bartender who gets caught up in the madness of Hollywood, begins to play. "Hotel Rwanda" it is not, but that's the point. Frivolity proves more important than film, and the evening unfolds as a novel way to gather with friends under an L.A. sky. One guest says quietly to another, "We could do this." And they probably will.

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