How a filmmaker's zero-budget horror topped the box office in virus-hit America

Eric Tabach and Christian Nillson outside the sold-out showing of their film 'Unsubscribe'. (Credit: Facebook/Christian Nilsson)
Eric Tabach and Christian Nillson outside the sold-out showing of their film 'Unsubscribe'. (Credit: Facebook/Christian Nilsson)

New York filmmaker Christian Nilsson has revealed how he made a zero-budget horror movie the number one film in America during the coronavirus lockdown.

Nilsson wrote on Facebook to explain how he and YouTuber Eric Tabach sent their Zoom-shot short film Unsubscribe to the top of the US box office after they bought out an entire cinema in Westhampton Beach, New York.

“We joked any film put in a theatre would instantly top the box office,” he said. “Realising the unique situation presented a loophole, we hatched a plan.”

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Within 24 hours, Nilsson had written the script for 29-minute short Unsubscribe, in which five YouTubers join a video call and are haunted by a mysterious troll.

With a small cast made up of four YouTube stars and Ozark actor Charlie Tahan, the movie was shot entirely over Zoom a week later.

'Unsubscribe'. (Credit: Facebook/Christian Nilsson)
'Unsubscribe'. (Credit: Facebook/Christian Nilsson)

Nilsson added: “If we rented out a theatre (what the film distribution world calls ‘four-walling’), we could keep every dollar made from ticket sales.

“If we bought every seat, the money would funnel right back into our own pocket.”

Nilsson and Tabach did exactly that, buying out every seat in the cinema, sending the zero-budget movie right to the top of the box office charts with its $25,000 (£20,000) haul.

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The movie managed to secure official recognition from IMDb and therefore is now listed as the top film in the US via Box Office Mojo, ahead of indie horror The Wretched and Kevin James thriller Becky, which have been playing at drive-in cinemas.

Christian Nillson and Eric Tabach. (Credit: Facebook/Christian Nilsson)
Christian Nillson and Eric Tabach. (Credit: Facebook/Christian Nilsson)

Nilsson told Patch: “We saw an absurd loophole in the system that at any other time would be impossible to exploit and thought it would be funny.

“Last year, the number one film at this time was The Secret Life of Pets 2. This year, it was a zero-budget horror film made over Zoom.”

Read more: How will social distancing work when cinemas re-open?

Cinemas all over the world currently remain closed due to coronavirus, though major chain Cineworld/Regal has announced it intends to open doors on 10 July.

Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending sci-fi Tenet — currently slated to arrive on 31 July — is expected to be the first major blockbuster of the summer when multiplexes are able to re-open.

Unsubscribe is available to watch on-demand via Vimeo.