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


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.


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.

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