Now showing: The making of a movie theater sign

With Hollywood abuzz about the Oscars next week, I thought this would be the perfect time to show off the Now Showing sign I made (with a little help from my husband).

home theater

The sign was actually a gift for our cinephile son who was moving into his first apartment and wanted to decorate it in a movie theater theme. He had looked into buying a sign online first, but the prices were too high for his college-student budget.

Then I looked into buying one for him, but the prices were too high for my newspaper-designer budget. (One website said, “List Price: $1,658. Our Price: $1,499 & Free Shipping!” Apparently, this was a good deal?)

I studied the pictures we found online. They didn’t look all that complicated: just wide frames with lights around the perimeters. “How hard could it be to make one?” I thought. (Turns out, it was pretty hard.)

The project started off easily enough. I found a 24″ x 36″ wooden frame in a thrift store for $3. I bought it, hoping that that was the default size for movie posters. It was. So far, so good.

Then I found round patio lights at Target that were the style I needed. I was on a roll.

From here, things got a lot more complicated.

As my thrift store frame was only 2″ wide around the edges, it wasn’t beefy enough to hold a row of lights. No problem, I thought. I will just glue the thrift store frame onto a piece of plywood a few inches wider and taller than the frame and drill holes for the lights into the plywood, like so:

I found a scrap piece of 1/2-inch plywood in my husband’s workshop that looked like it would work.

At this point, my husband, who, I would like to point out, is much more supportive of my hair-brained schemes than he really should be, wandered in. He looked over my Β thrift store frame, my lights, my plywood and my plan.

He liked the frame and the lights. The heavy plywood and the half-baked plan, not so much.

He suggested a few alterations and drew up a new plan that called for a frame of 1×4’s attached to a thin, lightweight backer board, then a frame of 1×3’s sitting on top of that, creating a ledge that the thrift store frame could rest on. He called it a sandwich. Here is a cutaway profile view of the new plan:

now showing sign

With his plan, the frame would be lighter weight, the light sockets would be supported and stand up straight, and the unused portion of the light string would be contained inside the enclosed back instead of just left to dangle. (In other words, his plan would actually work.)

Within an hour, we were in the husband’s F150, en route to the local lumber yard to buy supplies. (See I told you: way too supportive. He enables this kind of behavior.)

Once we got home, we ran some of the 1×4’s we’d bought through the table saw to rip them down to 3 inches in width. Then I cut those down to length with a miter saw. (My first time using a miter saw; it was very exciting.) Those pieces became the frame (pictured below) around the thrift store frame.

home theater
Then I cut the 1×4’s down to length, creating the second, wider frame that would sit underneath the narrower one.

home theater
Next it was time to make the holes for the lights. I had to do math (I hate doing math) to figure out the spacing of the lights. I marked where the holes would go in pencil on the 1×3’s and then tacked the frame together, so I could drill all the way through the 1×3’s and partway through the 1×4’s underneath.

home theater

When I was done drilling all the holes, I took the two layers apart again, so I could rout out channels on the bottom 1×4’s to run the excess cord through. (Also my first time using a router; also very exciting.)

home theater
Isn’t that ingenius? (I take no credit for it; the channels were all the husband’s idea.)

home theater
To get around the corner, I just made sure the channels lined up from one piece to the next.

home theater
I needed 34 lights for the project. Target only had strings of 25 lights. So I bought two strings and left all of the unused sockets hang in the middle of the sandwich.

home theater
When all the lights were in place, I tacked the two layers of wood together again and then attached them permanently with finish nails.

Then I flipped the sandwich over and attached the backing.

home theater
After the backing was secured, I flipped the sandwich back over again and did a ton of sanding. (My miter cuts were not exactly precision accurate, as you can see below.) I stuffed tinfoil into the light sockets to keep the sawdust out.

home theater
All that was left to do after that was to paint all the wood gold and then attach the thrift store frame onto the top of the sandwich. The frame is attached with screws, so the poster can be swapped out easily if our son ever gets sick of Star Wars (not likely).

home theater
I was very nervous about the lights actually working after everything was done, but, happily, they all lit up.

home theater
The tail of the green cord hanging down on the left really bothers me. The next time I’m at my son’s apartment, I am either going to paint the cord white or his wall green, so it’s not so noticeable.

now showing sign

I probably saved $1,399 by DIY’ing the sign vs. buying the On-Sale-With-Free-Shipping! version. But I now understand why the price was so high. This was not a simple project.

6 Replies to “Now showing: The making of a movie theater sign”

  1. I just read your whole blog and I can't believe you're new at this. You're funny and talented and it's really well done. Welcome to Bogland…. you're going to be a hit πŸ™‚

  2. Oh, wow! What a fantastic project and thank you for the comprehensive tutorial. πŸ™‚ The end result is amazing…a lot of work, but amazing. Yay! For husbands who are supportive of projects, offer support, and have awesome ideas! Great job, you two! πŸ˜€

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