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.''
Grillo decided to pursue foreign sales first and worry about a legitimate domestic release much later, betting on the rise of Heigl's and Sizemore's Hollywood profiles (Grey's Anatomy soon grew into one of TV's highest-rated shows, and Sizemore landed a VH1 reality show). Regent Entertainment started hawking the foreign DVD rights, eventually selling the film in 23 countries, including Bulgaria, Indonesia, and Portugal. By the end of 2006, it had generated around $368,000. ''It was completely out of my mind,'' says Penney. ''Every month or so I'd run into Leo and we'd say, 'Yeah, yeah, we gotta make sure we get a good situation with the domestic deal,' but it was way off my radar.''
Penney and Grillo both moved on to other projects, including one of the animal movies Grillo was so keen to produce: a Penney-directed family film called Magic, about a talking dog (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) who turns out to be an angel. Moore, the makeup artist, worked on Magic too. When Grillo heard that she and her friend had paid admission to the Dallas screening, he insisted on refunding their money. Zyzzyx, it turns out, actually made $20.