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How the Director of ‘Escape From Tomorrow’ Made a Crazy Guerrilla Movie In Disney World – And Got Away With It 

By Jason Guerrasio | Indiewire October 9, 2013 at 10:48AM

If you heard about “Escape From Tomorrow” after the dark comedy/horror became one of the most talked about films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, then you also probably know a few key facts: that it was shot in a guerilla-style manner at Walt Disney World and Disneyland without the permission of the parks, it was edited in South Korea so as to stay off the radar of the Disney corporation and that if you weren’t at Sundance you missed your chance to see the film because Disney’s lawyers would never allow it to be shown to the public.
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"Escape From Tomorrow."
"Escape From Tomorrow."

THE CLOSER

Sloss brought on Donaldson to handle the insurance. For decades he’s been at the forefront of providing a better definition to filmmakers of what falls under fair use, having insured films like “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” and “Room 237.” To Donaldson, “Escape From Tomorrow” was a cut-and-dry case of fair use. He’d just have to do a bit more explaining to the insurer than he usually does.

“The thing that was fun and challenging was this film had all the copyright issues in it instead of just one,” he said. Donaldson had to present the case for fair use, trademark, public domain, and access issues in his opinion letter to the insurance company. It would even cover a case in which an employee or patron who felt their personal rights were violated issued a lawsuit. “It was like a law school exam,” he said.

Donaldson and his office combed through all the music that wasn’t from the original score to make sure it was under public domain, even taking one section to a musicologist to be analyzed. Most surprisingly, it wasn’t the Disney footage that concerned Donaldson but one of Moore’s characters.

In one scene, Jim is taken below Epcot’s Spaceship Earth to Base 21 and meets a scientist from Siemens (the company has been a sponsor of Space Earth since 2005 and Base 21 is their VIP lounge). In the Sundance cut, Jim escapes after the scientist leaves the room; Donaldson suggested to Moore that he should make the sequence into more of a parody. Moore mentioned that they had shot a different version in which the scientist is decapitated, revealing that he was in fact a robot, but scrapped it when he didn’t like how the visual effects turned out. Donaldson suggested that version be put back in. “Now, no judge is going to miss the commentary on Siemens,” said Donaldson. (Siemens declined to comment on the film.)

While Donaldson usually can put together an opinion letter in 10 days, with “Escape From Tomorrow” it took his office four months. He adds that the opinion letter for this film is the longest his office has ever written. However, the insurance policy was issued to the film in standard time -- one week.

With E&O insurance in place, PDA began its marketing push: a trippy trailer; an eye-catching poster of a blood-soaked Mickey Mouse hand. The film played at one of the biggest genre festivals in the country, Fantastic Fest, to drum up support from key critics, and most recently Moore did a Reddit AMA. What you haven’t seen are the use of traditional marketing like TV spots.

“Anyone can buy awareness and market a movie,” said Sloss. “We’re maximizing our core constituency and really marketing to them.”

Moore still can’t believe the film hasn’t been locked away in some Disney vault (in fact, Moore, Chung, Sloss and Donaldson said they’ve never been contacted by the corporation). Looking back, he now realizes his instincts to just make the movie were correct. “I morally thought that we should be able to make this film,” he said.

“[Disney is] a place that invites you to come in with your cameras, so to say it’s off limits for examination seemed ridiculous to me.”

When asked if he’d ever attempt another amusement park-based project he gave the typical never-say-never reply. But after gathering his thoughts—perhaps thinking back on the four years of sleepless nights, anxiety and weight loss—firmly replied, “I won’t do it again.”


This article is related to: Escape from Tomorrow, Escape from Tomorrow, Sundance Film Festival, FilmBuff , VOD, Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, The Walt Disney Company, Interviews







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