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A Clever Hack That Sent A 29-Minute Horror Movie To The Top Of The U.S. Box Office

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For the last few months, if you've wanted to see a movie, your options have been more or less limited to what you can watch at home.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Movie theaters across the country have mostly been closed, and limited screenings have led to some quirks in the box office numbers, like only needing to gross a small amount of money to rocket up the charts.

CHRISTIAN NILSSON: The plan was really born out of the end goal of having the No. 1 movie in America.

KELLY: By day, Christian Nilsson is a video producer for The Atlantic. He's won an Emmy award. If somebody is going to make a movie fast, it's going to be someone like him.

CHANG: His friend, actor Eric Tabach, wanted to know if they could somehow still land a movie on the charts.

KELLY: Short answer - yes.

NILSSON: I explained to him that there is a rarely used distribution method called four-walling.

KELLY: That is when a movie distributor rents a theater for a flat fee, buys all the tickets and gets to keep the revenue; in other words, a straightforward way for an independent, low-budget film in times like these to make it onto the box office charts.

CHANG: So they made a movie. And while Christian said basically anything on film could qualify...

NILSSON: Wouldn't it be more interesting if we were to make a film that kind of speaks to this environment that we're all in?

KELLY: So Christian wrote the script for the thriller "Unsubscribe" in one sitting, lined up a cast the next day and had everything filmed over Zoom four days later.

NILSSON: It's about a group of YouTubers who think they are joining a online video call for a friend's birthday but quickly realize that they have fallen into a trap of a Internet troll.

CHANG: So movie done. Then the real obstacle - finding a theater.

NILSSON: Because most theaters were closed, all the calls were going straight to voicemail. You really couldn't even get a hold of anybody.

KELLY: Well, luckily, Christian had worked at a theater in West Hampton Beach, N.Y., back in high school and asked if they might be willing to screen "Unsubscribe." They said, why not?

CHANG: Three sold-out screenings later with only Christian and Eric in attendance, "Unsubscribe" was officially the No. 1 movie at U.S. box offices on June 10.

NILSSON: This is not a stunt or a move you could make in any other environment. The pandemic really had caused this almost a perfect storm of situations where we could become the No. 1 box office in America very easily.

KELLY: Meanwhile, you can rent "Unsubscribe" online and watch it yourself. Nilsson also has a feature length film in preproduction and says he does not plan to shoot that one over Zoom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.