A Filmmaker Rented Out a Theater, Bought Every Seat, and Turned His Short Into #1 Film in America
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve brought you several stories of strange hiccups that covid-19 caused in the weekend box office report. There was the weekend when the entire box office report came from a single drive-in theater in Florida. There was the time that Woody Allen’s last movie became the #1 film on the planet, despite the fact that it remains totally unreleased in the United States.
This week there’s another bizarre twist, and maybe the strangest one yet. It comes via Patch, who report on the #1 film in the nation last week — a tiny short called “Unsubscribe.” Its creator, Christian Nilsson, had taken note of the other box office shenanigans and sensed an opportunity:
Last month, Nilsson said, he and YouTuber Eric Tabach were chatting about how movie theaters across the country were closed due to the pandemic. ‘We joked any film put in a theater would instantly top the box office. Realizing the unique situation presented a loophole, we hatched a plan,’ he said.
They wrote “Unsubscribe” and shot it over Zoom. Then they rented a local theater and screened the movie, a practice called “four-walling.” When you four-wall a movie, you pay the theater upfront for its space, then get to keep the proceeds from ticket sales. Buying every ticket themselves, they recouped the money they fronted for the scheme. As Nilsson put it, “If we bought every seat, the money would funnel right back into our own pockets.” And when they put their idea into motion it worked; Box Office Mojo listed them as the top film in the United States.
This is like something out of The Producers, the classic Mel Brooks movie where two enterprising swindlers discover they could theoretically make more money with a flop than a hit Broadway show, and then set out to intentionally make the worst musical in history. Surely, Max Bialystock would have appreciated Mr. Nilsson’s hustle. And if you want to watch “Unsubscribe” at home, it is available for rent on Vimeo.
Gallery — What We Miss Most About Going to Movie Theaters: