Film and TV

The Road to Nowhere

Katherine Heigl stars in Zyzzyx Road, which drove off into a ditch when it played Highland Park last year.

The latest issue of Entertainment Weekly contains the fascinating tale of a thriller called Zyzzyx Road, which I know you've never heard of -- despite the fact it counts among its stars Katherine Heigl of Grey's Anatomy fame and Tom Sizemore. It cost some $1.2 million to make, but it only pocketed -- get this -- 30 bucks at the box office, a seemingly impossible feat. And that tiny amount of dough-re-mi has made Zyzzyx Road perhaps the most infamous anonymous movie of all time: It's the lowest-grossing picture in the history of the film business.

And where did it play? One theater: the Highland Park Village Theater exactly a year ago this month. Since EW's a subscription-only read online, then, we'll share with you, after the jump, tales from the movie's theatrical run in the Park Cities, where people weren't that excited about seeing a Joe Penny-written-and-directed movie starring Leo Grillo about infidelity, murder, desert burials, missing corpses and a "shocking, tragic twist." --Robert Wilonsky

There was no red carpet at the American premiere of Zyzzyx Road on Feb. 24, 2006, in Dallas. No stretch limos, no paparazzi. The stars didn't even bother to show up. In fact, there wasn't a real premiere at all; the film simply opened. Zyzzyx ran for seven days at Dallas' Highland Park Village Theater, with a single screening each day at noon. When it closed, exactly six people had gone to see it, for a total gross of, yes, $30.

One of those paying customers was Sheila Moore, a Dallas-based makeup artist who had worked on the film. "I thought it was a little odd," she says of the film's debut. "I thought it was a joke at first. Yeah, right, of all places they're gonna premiere this in Dallas, so far from where we filmed it? I figured they'd do it in Los Angeles." Moore and a friend were the only people in the theater. "We got popcorn and a drink from the same lady that took our tickets," she says. "It was kind of surreal. She looked at us like, You want to see what?"

In truth, nobody was supposed to see Zyzzyx Road at all. The Dallas screening was never meant to be a real theatrical run. Instead, it was set up to fulfill a Screen Actors Guild agreement, which permits low-budget films to pay actors a lower rate as long as the film gets a domestic theatrical release. The Dallas "opening" was merely a formality. "I didn't want an audience," says Grillo. "We looked at it and said, What's the cheapest way we can get out of this mess? We rented the theater for $1,000."

At most of the screenings, Grillo's plan worked just fine: Nobody showed up. Even so, the movie had to run. "We paid to show the movie every day," says Grillo. "So legally speaking, we have a screening every single day. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody's there, does it make a sound? In the law of physics, the answer's no, but in the law of SAG, the answer's yes."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky