Randy Moore shot a rogue film in Disneyland and lived to tell the tale
by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Escape from Tomorrow
Nov. 15-18, RPL Film Theatre
The Walt Disney Company is known for being extremely protective of their property and it’s not afraid of getting litigious. Each year, the House of Mouse initiates around 800 lawsuits, a quarter of which are copyright related. They may not win, but at least will keep those indicted in court for years.
Enter plucky Randy Moore. The novice filmmaker estimated that parody constitutes fair use and shot an entire movie in Disney parks in Orlando and Anaheim. The result? Escape from Tomorrow, a nightmarish comedy about a family man going through a mental breakdown, exacerbated by the “happiest place on Earth”.
Initially, the plan was to go to Disneyworld for a few weekends with a group of friends. But Moore grew ambitious and hired professional actors, a cinematographer and a small crew of up to 15 people. He and his team entered Epcot and Magic Kingdom numerous times, armed with pro-sumer cameras and weeks of pre-production preparation. There wasn’t a margin for error.
The filmmaker recalls his days in Disneyworld as stress-laden, but the outcome sent him to Sundance and opens all kinds of doors for him.
“I thought Disney would never let it see the light of day. I imagined myself showing it underground with a jar asking for tips,” says Moore.
I recently had a chance to speak with the director about Escape From Tomorrow.
One of the first lessons of film school is to get permits for everything you shoot.
Yes, and I remember thinking “am I going to law school or to film school?” I don’t want to invade people’s privacy and I don’t believe we are doing that in Escape from Tomorrow. At the same time, we live in a world where branding is so ubiquitous, not being able to critique or parody it seems unacceptable.
I felt I had the moral right to say my piece about this place that’s a rite of passage for so many people, especially Americans. They go as children, they get married there, take their kids and grandkids… It’s a corporate religion for many. They worship the characters.
When did you realize it could be done?
I wrote the script of Escape from Tomorrow on the fly, positive no one would ever make it. Years later, I took my kids to Disneyworld. I was shooting them on a ride and I realized that despite the low light, I was getting incredible images. Just then I realized it was feasible and the movie didn’t have to look like a home video or found footage. I was pursuing certain cinematic quality, which is why we also shot it in black and white.
How did you prepare?
Before we went to the park with actors, we had every shot planned. We scheduled down to the minute because our only source of light was the sun, and we would block every scene depending on where it was positioned. Our preparation was so meticulous, we didn’t have to compromise. The one thing that worried us was the weather in Florida, but we were lucky and never rained. Of course in Anaheim it rained every day.
Escape from Tomorrow chronicles 24 hours in the life of Jim, henpecked husband and father of two. Jim has just lost his job and finds no comfort in his family. The vaguely threatening environment, impossibly long lines and ongoing anguish help his alienation to reach fever pitch. Before you feel too much sympathy for Jim, know he is not beyond getting drunk while in charge of the children, or lustily ogling teenage girls.
Disney hasn’t commented on Escape from Tomorrow, presumably to minimize the movie’s notoriety. However, the film has transcended the festival circuit and it’s slowly unfolding in art houses around North America.
Randy Moore prefers to keep his guard up in case Disney changes its mind.
Do you still expect to hear from Disney?
I feel the moment I say no, I will. We always felt this film is parody that falls under the fair use doctrine, but they could tie us up in litigation for years and years if they wanted to. I don’t know what their bar for notoriety is, but obviously we would get more if they saw fit to sue us.
Your film seems to pinpoint middle-aged men as the kind of people who don’t enjoy Disneyworld.
Preparing for the film, I would take one or both of my daughters to the park because I thought it would be too creepy to go by myself. But by being there as an observer and not as a tourist, you realize there are a lot of older men, all alone.
How did your personal experience with the park shape Escape from Tomorrow?
To go to Disneyworld was like a religious experience for me. It was the only place I saw my father as a child. I used to spend summers with him and we would go almost directly from the airport to the park. When I became a teenager, our relationship changed and I stop going and seeing him. By the time I returned with my own kids, all this feelings I had towards the place and my dad hit me like a truck. It was very surreal: I was in between these two worlds. I realized that’s also the reason why so many people keep going back.
It’s impressive that you got your first film done after having kids.
Having kids motivated me. Up to that point I had scripts that were optioned and worked as story editor. I can honestly say, if the kids weren’t in the picture, I would have never made this movie.