For Chevy Chase sixth grader William Massey’s birthday, the On the Movies team set up their equipment for a screening of Airplane! Photo by Michael Ventura

Editors' Pick

Best Backyard Business

On the Movies

After he got a projector and a 100-inch screen for his 13th birthday in June, Gus Green started watching movies in his backyard with friends, the kind of thing kids could safely do in a pandemic. He and his neighbor, Leia Levine, heard about a New Jersey teenager who’d started an outdoor movie business and the two decided to see if the same idea would fly in Bethesda. And it did.

The rising eighth graders at Westland Middle School were surprised by the response to their enterprise, “On the Movies.” Kids birthday parties kept them busy over the summer—Trolls World Tour was a hit—and they also set up private screenings of Hamilton and Knives Out for adults, leaving it to guests to safely space their blankets and chairs.

By fall, they’d expanded the traveling backyard business to include livestream sports, like NBA games, and religious services. Gus bought a second screen and a customer donated a third so the teens could accommodate the demand. After Leia stepped away from the business, Gus recruited friends Clara Lieppe, Ethan Howe, Ryan Thorpe, Aron Mallon, Reed Holder, Christian Gaffney and Luke McDermott, all of Bethesda, to help juggle multiple weekend bookings. (This past fall they were booked every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.) These days, they charge $150 per house to set up movies and $200 for livestream events; it’s $3 extra per person for a candy and glow stick package. They donate 5% of their profits to the Innocence Project, dedicated to exonerating wrongly convicted individuals with DNA testing.

“I’m a very social person, and this has been an awesome experience to meet new people,” says Gus, who plans to continue operating year-round as homeowners turn to outdoor heaters and firepits. “It’s also great to have your own money.” Gus got a debit card and is mostly saving, he says, but he does have one purchase in mind: “I’m thinking of a cool present to buy my mom for being such a trooper with the driving.”

On the Movies, 202-253-2071, onthemovies.squarespace.com