Jason Chaffee on the possibilities of Echo Cinema and Arcade

The quest to bring a retro arcade and cinema to KC.



Partners Jason Chaffee and Eric Graves have a grand plan to bring a revival theater and retro arcade to Kansas City. It's a plan not without its ups and downs, nor is it a small financial commitment. In an effort to gauge interest in the project — which they call Echo Cinema and Arcade — the pair have launched a crowd-sourced fund-raising effort, in which they hope to raise $150,000 by the end of the year. It's a substantial amount of money they're looking at, and for a rather ambitious project. Curious about what leads an online marketer and chemical engineer to such lofty goals, we spoke with Chaffee via e-mail about the particulars of Echo Cinema and Arcade.

The Pitch: In terms of "retro gaming," how far back are you going? One man's childhood is another's teenage years — in other words, are we talking a Galaga/Pac-Man kind of cutoff or is Street Fighter 2 going to find its way in?

Jason Chaffee: We are going to feature titles from the late '70s up to the early '90s. So the answer is yes, and yes! We will feature several of the "Golden Era" titles of the early '80s and the '90s fighting and sports titles like NFL Blitz, NBA Jam, etc. Of course, there will be the classic "four players" like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, etc. Street Fighter 2 is a must-have for us! All games will be set to free play, so the customer would pay a flat rate for unlimited play.

I understand you probably don't want to divulge where it is exactly, but do you have a location in mind?

You are correct. At this point we have three areas in mind but do not have anything set in stone. One in particular used to be a theater. All within the city limits and currently available for lease.

If so, is it an actual existent theater, or will there be conversion and build-out required?

Each of these locations would require a build-out. Our goal of $150,000 is to (A) determine if there is even a strong enough interest in the concept and (B) use these funds to secure financing for the construction costs. We are not asking or expecting Kansas City residents to foot the entire bill. The plan is to have one large theater (250-300 capacity) with the arcade and concession/bar that is accessible from both the lobby and arcade. Through research, we have found that the costs required to convert our ideal locations to the Echo Cinema and Arcade would not be excessive.

You mentioned a few of the special programing ideas you had, but what's going to be the meat-and-potatoes of Echo?

There are several ideas for special programming. We want to feature interactive events like Grease (musical) sing-alongs, live comedy events with ICWXP and others, themed movie marathons, double features, children's movies with interactive activities, etc. The midnight movies will feature cheesy action flicks, slashers, odd-ball comedies, zombie films, etc.

Since we will have digital projection equipment with one theater to manage, we can remain very flexible with our programming to cater to the audience's interests. We are going to be Kansas City's only "dedicated" revival movie theater that features only older films. Aside from the weekend events, we will run classic and independent movies for a one- to two-week run. Echo Cinema and Arcade will have a wide variety of movies and should appeal to many different tastes. So the meat and potatoes of Echo Cinema will be the movies that we show based on the votes that we get. Letting the audience decide the movies shown will keep the house packed from Monday to Sunday. We do expect the weekend special events to have a larger audience, but our weekday audience will also be strong due to the voting and pre-ticket sales. We also plan to have a bar and a small lounge area for people to sit and drink and talk with our knowledgeable staff about movies, games, pop culture, or anything they want, a true escape from modern-day stress.

On the arcade side, we will host several events such as fighting game tournaments. We will also have a large scoreboard for displaying our customers' scores where the customer can win prizes for achievements, such as T-shirts, free passes, discounts to the neighboring businesses, etc. The meat and potatoes here will be the classic gamer playing the games he or she loves, as long as he or she wants, for a low flat rate. No hassles. No tokens. We expect to have strong, regular customers in the arcade, all trying to get the highest score or receive the next achievement. We plan to offer membership deals to the more dedicated customers, creating loyalty and repeat visits.

Another major aspect of Echo Cinema and Arcade that we haven't discussed is our dedication to local charity and local artists. We hope to have numerous charity events throughout the year, all while offering a venue for local filmmakers, and other artists, to exhibit their work. We want to become a place for which Kansas City is known, breaking new talent from the area and giving back to the community any way that we can. This is especially important since we are asking the community to help with the foundation of the company.

So, Echo Cinema will have many different "faces." Though we cannot be everything to everybody, we hope to provide a fun place that will be just as interesting and exciting on a weekday as on a Saturday when we are having some special event.

In conjunction with that, is there a specific audience or demographic to whom you plan on focusing, or are you looking for a broad spectrum of folks walking through the doors?

While we will likely have a strong core audience with a taste for bizarre genre films and fun midnight movies, we will also accommodate the older crowd that would love to see their favorites on the big screen again. Think Casablanca, Citizen Kane, classic westerns and comedies, etc. We also hope to maintain a more "mainstream" crowd, and having people vote on movies will encourage this audience to not only see the movies that they vote on, but also perhaps stretch themselves a bit and become more comfortable with edgier films also featured at Echo. Everything from highbrow to lowbrow to no-brow! We do not want to give the perception of an "elitist" venue; everyone's opinion will be valued, even though Eric and I may personally disagree. If the community wants to see Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! or Crocodile Dundee 11 days in a row, and there is a paying audience that wants that movie, we'll show it.

We believe that you do not have to be a "film buff" to love movies. Everyone has one or several movies that are their personal favorites. Our primary goal is to provide a venue that would allow residents to revisit the sweet spot of their youth. And, by showing mostly older movies, it allows us to have much lower ticket and concession prices!

So ideally, there would be no specific demographic at Echo. Everyone would be welcomed, from the 19-year-old wearing an Evil Dead T-shirt, to the older woman hoping to see her favorite film noir from the '40s. We hope to make the kind of place where everyone will feel comfortable. It sounds cliche, but we hope to build a family at Echo Cinema and Arcade, a community of individuals of all ages and types founded on the common love of the movies.

Finally, what experience do you and your partner(s) bring to the table — and, for that matter, who are your partners?

My (Jason) direct experience has been with managing two Kansas City-area movie theaters in the past. One was a discount theater and the other, a first run. I ran everything from projection to concession. I have also managed the arcade at the Ameristar (formerly Station's) casino for several years. Since then, I have been in the business banking world as a commercial loan underwriter and loan originator. I learned firsthand what to do and what not to do in terms of running a business from a financial standpoint. Recently (2011) I began work as a marketing consultant, providing digital marketing solutions (SEO, SEM) for small businesses. I am also an avid movie/pop culture buff and challenge anyone to some trivia!

Eric's experience has been in chemical engineering, designing chemical process for industrial plants all over the world. He is strong with developing financial projections and reviewing processes for efficiency. He would work on the nuts and bolts of the business. He is also a movie buff and an avid gamer. His tastes tend to lean toward the art-house films and more "extreme" foreign horror films, etc. Also, he can beat your Robotron 2084 score!

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