Following the film’s premiere at Sundance, most in Park City thought it didn’t have a chance to be released.
“The immediate assumption across the board was, ‘See this film at Sundance because it will not see the light of day,’” said John Sloss, whose company Cinetic Media repped the film at the fest and will release it this Friday through its distribution arm, Producer’s Distribution Agency (PDA).
Seeing the film before the festival, Sloss thought it was at least a “close call” to fall under fair use, but he decided the best game plan would be to show the film to the press before the buyers—that way, if it was pulled from the festival, people would still write about it. But he wasn’t expecting the reaction it received.
“It’s almost like people were doing Disney’s work for them,” he said. “It was very odd and it made me wonder how much consideration people give to things like the First Amendment.”
Luckily, Sloss had invited Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu to the screening to get his take (Wu actually sat two seats away from Disney’s head of production at the screening); the professor later decided to write an article on The New Yorker’s website explaining why the film didn’t violate any copyright laws.
“Under copyright law, commentary and parody are well-established fair-use categories, and this is where the film likely falls,” Wu wrote. “It would be one thing if Moore merely used Disney World to embellish his film—to serve as a pleasing backdrop for some light romantic comedy. But his use of Disney World is not as simple window dressing; he transforms it into something gruesome and disturbing.”
Wu’s notion was confirmed by entertainment lawyer Michael C. Donaldson, who specializes in fair use—copyrighted material filmmakers can use for free if they add context.
“There’s nothing wrong with making a movie at Disney Land,” Donaldson explained. “Every copyright system in the world accommodates for using somebody else’s work to create something new, and ‘Escape From Tomorrow’ shows the Disney properties in a way they were never intended for.”
This insight lead to confidence by distributors in Park City to start making offers on the film. Though there was immediate interest, Sloss said the offers “were not overwhelming,” and admits that the notion of the film being the latest release for PDA was always in the back of his mind. Previously PDA had released only four titles: “Brooklyn Castle,” ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “Senna” and “The Way.”
“With all five [PDA] films, we saw something in them that we felt the marketplace didn’t fully value,” Sloss said.
His pitch to Moore following the festival was to do a grassroots campaign – “good old fashioned marketing” is how he put it -- that would tap into the film’s core audience. Moore, who is a big fan of “Exit Through The Gift Shop,” quickly accepted Sloss’ offer.
But there was one final piece of the puzzle that had yet to be resolved: E&O insurance. Without it, the movie’s distribution prospects were non-existent.