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  • - In the summer of 2020,

  • I exploited a loophole to get my zero-budget horror film

  • to become the number one movie in the U.S. box office.

  • This is that story.

  • If you're thinking he kind of looks familiar.

  • You're right.

  • My name is Christian Nilsson and I used to work at Buzzfeed.

  • When I left Buzzfeed in 2019,

  • I decided to focus on a feature film I'd written

  • and planned on directing this past September.

  • But then COVID happened.

  • Movie theaters across the country were shuttered,

  • our investors pulled out,

  • and seemingly overnight, a project I'd worked on

  • for about five years just fell apart.

  • I was devastated.

  • Enter this fool.

  • You remember him?

  • Eric Tabach was the creator

  • of some really high brow Buzzfeed content.

  • Like me, Eric left Buzzfeed a few months prior

  • to the pandemic.

  • He wanted to go start in his own YouTube series,

  • but also like me, the investors pulled out

  • as soon as COVID hit.

  • I really felt for him.

  • Here we are following our passions

  • and for reasons completely out of our control,

  • our dream opportunities seem to vanish.

  • On Thursday, May 7th, Eric gave me a call out of the blue.

  • He pointed out movies were only making 10 to $20,000 a day

  • at drive-ins and asked with movie theaters closed

  • and nothing new being released,

  • did I think we could make one of his YouTube videos

  • go to number one in the box office.

  • Suddenly, I had an idea.

  • I told him about four-walling,

  • a distribution method where a filmmaker rents out a theater

  • for a flat fee and then keeps all the ticket sales.

  • I said that if we were able to find a closed theater,

  • rent their space for near nothing,

  • we could literally purchase every ticket ourselves

  • and the money would essentially flow

  • right back into our own pockets.

  • Theoretically, we wouldn't have to spend a dollar.

  • He was in.

  • Now, we could have filmed anything

  • and it could have become the number one movie in America.

  • But I thought why not make it something good?

  • Maybe this could lead to something else in the future.

  • That Saturday, in about 12 hours,

  • I knocked out the script for "Unsubscribe,"

  • a short horror film about five YouTubers

  • who join a Zoom call for their friend's birthday

  • only to learn they're being hunted by an internet troll.

  • Despite writing it in only one sitting,

  • I was told it was pretty scary.

  • The next day, Eric called a group of his friends,

  • including former Buzzfeeders Michelle Khare,

  • Zach Kornfeld from The Try Guys,

  • and somehow Charlie Tahan,

  • who you might recognize from "Ozark" and "I Am Legend."

  • They were all down.

  • And why not?

  • They're all stuck at home bored

  • and why pass up the opportunity

  • to be in the number one movie in America.

  • On Monday May 11th, just a few days after Eric first called,

  • we started shooting.

  • We shot pretty much all of "Unsubscribed" virtually

  • over Zoom in just four days.

  • If you can give me a full-on scream of-

  • - Like full-on scream.

  • - Yeah.

  • - Snake. (screams)

  • - Total budget: $0.

  • I started editing and Eric worked to find us a theater.

  • And that's when we hit our first major problem.

  • Cinemas were closed.

  • Every cinema Eric called went straight to voicemail

  • and the few drive-ins that were open

  • didn't care to screen our short film.

  • So I called the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center,

  • a small venue near my hometown that I used to work at

  • when I was in high school.

  • Despite being closed,

  • they agreed to open their doors for one day only.

  • The rental fee?

  • Literally $1 because they were closed.

  • So on Wednesday, June 10th, in front of a sold out audience

  • consisting solely of Eric and I, we premiered "Unsubscribe."

  • We'd screen the film five times,

  • buying out every seat for each showing,

  • knowing the money would funnel right back to us.

  • We spent $25,488

  • and raked in $25,488,

  • minus tax.

  • I reported the box office numbers that night

  • to Box Office Mojo and The Numbers.

  • And we waited.

  • Eric and I nearly had a panic attack.

  • What if another movie made more than us?

  • What if they didn't accept our submission?

  • What if we just wasted all of our time?

  • The following day, we went online

  • and saw "Unsubscribe" was the number one movie in America.

  • And overnight, our lives didn't change,

  • at least not at first.

  • It wasn't until about a week later when a local news site

  • picked up a Facebook post that I'd written

  • that people started to notice in a big way.

  • We woke up to find out we were trending on Twitter.

  • We were in the Washington Post, New York Magazine,

  • NBC, the BBC, NPR, the Irish Times,

  • Australian Radio, the AV Club.

  • Most people thought the stunt was brilliant,

  • but we did have our critics.

  • There were some people on Film Twitter that said

  • that we ruined the sanctity of the box office,

  • as if that's really a thing.

  • But you know what?

  • It worked.

  • Not only did Eric and I etch our names

  • in the annals of box office history,

  • but we also got the film industry's attention.

  • A group of producers watched our film on Vimeo on Demand

  • and approached us to make a feature film.

  • And we did.

  • Eric and I just wrapped production

  • on a psychological thriller called "Dash Cam,"

  • which is gonna be released next year.

  • And perhaps even crazier,

  • the other month Eric and I screened "Unsubscribe"

  • for seven consecutive days in Chicago's Music Box Theater,

  • qualifying us for the Oscars.

  • I mean hey, if barely any short films screen in the U.S.

  • in 2020, our chances of getting an Oscar nomination

  • only increase, right?

  • So maybe what started as two guys

  • losing their dream opportunities

  • might just turn into an Oscar.

  • Now, that'd be a story.

  • (dramatic instrumental music)

- In the summer of 2020,

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We Conned Our Way To #1 Movie At The U.S. Box Office

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/11/29
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