Fairfax theater seeks new seats with ‘Save Our Butts’ campaign on Kickstarter


Mark O’Meara, owner of the University Mall Theatres, and manager Daniel Collings work the ticket booth and the concession stand at the last “dollar movie theater” in the area, just outside Fairfax City. They are seeking to raise $100,000 to replace the seats, and are most of the way there. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)

UPDATE, Aug. 21, 8:30 a.m.: The fundraiser has cleared $100,000. Butts saved. (But they still need help with the floors.)

ORIGINAL POST, Aug. 20: For movie buffs in Northern Virginia, Mark O’Meara has long been a revered figure. He launched the University Mall Theatres in 1991, and has kept it running until it’s now the last “dollar theater” or “second run” movie house in the Washington region. Then in 2000 he opened the Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax City to bring art house films to the suburban masses west of Arlington.

So while University Mall, on Braddock Road just outside Fairfax City, is undergoing a massive renovation, O’Meara thought it would be a good time to spruce up his place by replacing all the seats. At a recent gathering of art house operators, he heard about a little thing called “Kickstarter.” Like most of us of a certain age, he was not too familiar with it. It’s a way to raise money online for creative projects. He was told he might be able to raise the huge sum of $50,000. He came back to Fairfax and brought the idea to his longtime manager, Daniel Collings. And Collings insisted they shoot higher — $100,000, for enough $200 seats to fill all three auditoriums.

So the campaign launched at the beginning of August, and now it has raised more than $82,000. But if they don’t make their target by Aug. 31, they get…zero. Seems harsh, but those are the rules of Kickstarter. The campaign is entitled “Save Our Butts,” which should not be surprising for anyone who has seen O’Meara’s sharp wit and marketing skills over the years.

The Kickstarter page is here. Go to it.


University Mall Theatres manager Daniel Collings, left, and owner Mark O’Meara stand proudly astride one of the new high-backed rocking chairs they are proposing to buy for the entire theater if they can raise $100,000. The photographer, unfortunately, was both dizzy (due to a hand-held-shot movie) and incompetent and did not capture the entire chair. (Or use the focus ring.) (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)

A Washington Post investigation of the current seats in the U-Mall Theatres found they were perfectly fine, although Tuesday’s showing of “Earth to Echo,” shot entirely with hand-held cameras, caused the chief investigator to flee the theater due to extreme queasiness. The current seats are refugees from the late lamented Mount Vernon Cineplex on Route 1, which O’Meara purchased for “a very reasonable price.” Though they’re in decent shape, O’Meara and Collings felt they could use an upgrade.

“I’m all about movie going,” O’Meara said Tuesday. “If it’s about building a better relationship with the customers, I’m in.” If the campaign goes over $100,000, O’Meara said they will improve the floors in the theaters and in the expanding lobby. O’Meara also spent nearly $650,000 recently to upgrade to digital projection and assistive devices for the vision- and hearing-impaired. All this while running a cinema where the highest-priced ticket is $4, all seats are $2 on Tuesdays, and kids, seniors and George Mason University students pay $3.

Collings took over with the Kickstarter project, shot the video below, and got it up and going. A huge banner in the lobby keeps track of how much has been raised on Kickstarter, and Collings’ phone dings every time someone contributes. They are offering incentives for donations, such as free movie passes and free buckets of “The Best Popcorn in the Known Universe.” A Washington Post investigation of this popcorn was cut short due to the buffeting cinematography of “Earth to Echo.” But it will resume soon, possibly in fancy new high-backed seats.

Here’s Collings’ video giving a tour of the place and a much better view of the new seats:

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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