Monero Means Money, a documentary that is really a repurposed 88-minute-long lecture espousing the virtues of the Monero cryptocurrency, cost nothing to make. And on the weekend of April 10, it was the #2 movie in America, according to box office tracker the-numbers.com.
Now, obviously, theatres are all closed down due to the coronavirus pandemic and movie releases have been put on hold. But that didn't stop Monero Means Money director and producer Justin Ehrenhofer from seeing an opportunity to create a film promoting Monero, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency, and get it to the top of the box office charts.
"I saw the box office results for the weekend of March 20 and was curious to see how there were any reported sales with US theaters closed," he told me over email. "I investigated the top movie for that week and saw that they partnered with theaters for digital showings. I thought that the opportunity to make the #1 box office film in the US would be unique. I originally thought of making a movie by myself, but I knew I wouldn't be able to do it alone, and I wanted the movie to be about my passion Monero. I asked a few trusted faces, received positive feedback on the idea, and went from there."
A workgroup was created and about 15 people, some only going under pseudonymous usernames, helped create the film—including the main cast member, speaker Dr. Daniel Kim, who originally gave the talk in 2019 and also scored the end credits.
Next, they partnered with several theatres to show the film, which would have the additional effect of supporting businesses that must remain closed right now. Laemmle Theatres in Los Angeles and Tampa Theatre in Tampa screened the film virtually over the internet, and Parkway Theatre in Pennsylvania screened the film to an empty audience. Tickets for the virtual screenings could be purchased through credit card or cryptocurrency (including Monero). The theatres are all receiving compensation, ranging from 100 percent of ticket sales, to a flat fee, to $200 simply for showing it to an empty room.
"While we floated the idea of making our own 'virtual theater,' we felt it was necessary to support independent theaters during the COVID-19 crisis," Ehrenhofer wrote.
Next, Ehrenhofer sent the box office totals to websites that list box office performance based on data from distributors: the-numbers.com and Boxofficemojo. The former has listed the film's performance but Boxofficemojo has not. Ehrenhofer said that he was in touch with Boxofficemojo and sent it the information, but hasn't heard back. IMDb, which owns Boxofficemojo, did not respond to a request for comment.
In total, the film grossed $3,430 on its opening weekend, according to the-numbers.com. This actually made it the number one movie in America briefly, cryptocurrency news site Decrypt noticed, until the list was updated to include Phoenix, Oregon, an indie film that was also screening virtually and which grossed $11,849. Monero Means Money now sits at number two for that weekend. "We strongly believe the film achieved its intended goal of raising awareness for Monero, privacy rights, and struggling theaters," Ehrenhofer wrote.
All told, it has cost Ehrenhofer's single-entity company rCryptocurrency LLC (he's the only member, and its only business is the film) $1,000 so far, he said, although Tampa Theatre still needs to be paid out. The film's creators aren't making any profits, and overall the theatres are getting the majority of the funds except for a small cut for marketing.
"This was more of a logistics challenge than anything else," Ehrenhofer wrote. "Someone would have needed to recognize the opportunity, mobilize volunteers, investigate how the box office reporting process worked, communicate with theaters, and make a movie in 1-3 weeks that people were willing to buy. We juggled many moving parts over an incredibly short window. I had the luck of being in good health with spare time and a stable job, privileges that many people don't have."