To what extent did you envision this as an act of provocation?
"Escape From Tomorrow."
I didn't set out to make an overtly political movie, but everything is political in some way. I knew shooting there would…upset people, obviously. But I couldn't think about it too much. Every time I started to think about, "Well, what's going to come of this?" I'd get so nervous and freak out. I really had to suppress that in order to make the movie. Now I'm feeling some of the repercussions of what we did. But I really couldn't think about it while we were making it or I would have had a nervous breakdown on the third day.
How much did the production cost?
About $650,000. I put about half of it in myself and then close family and friends helped. But it was three times more than we planned on paying. I think it cost way too much and I'm embarrassed it cost that much. A lot of it was just naivete. A lot of it was improvised. We didn't know what we were going to be able to shoot in the park.
Were there any close calls?
There was a close call toward the end of our Anaheim schedule when security pulled the family aside. They all amazingly stayed in character, including the kids. Security asked them why they had walked in and out two or three times within a short duration. Luckily, this was one of the last things we were planning on shooting. If this had happened at the beginning, we would've been way too freaked out to finish. [Security asked], "Are you famous? Because people are taking your picture." They said, "No," and the little girl said she had to go the bathroom. So they took her to the bathroom. She went into the bathroom and they took off their mics. Then when they came out there was a parade, as there often is in Disney World, that came between them and the security person. So they made their way out with the parade and got out. At that point, when security walked over for the first time, I was on the edge and went to the camera and told him to get out of there. That was the last day we shot.
You don't seem too eager to take a grand stand against the institution of Disney World.
I don't want to…make a spectacle of myself. I don't want to be like a personality like someone who's out there trying to make a spectacle of trying to bring down corporations. To me, this is the story and I have a lot of ambivalence towards Disney. I wasn't trying to…I just wanted to tell a story.
"Constantly in the back of my head there are legal things, like, 'What could happen if I say this or that?'"
It sounds like you're choosing your words pretty carefully.
I am. For the last three years, I haven't been able to talk about it all, so right now talking about it is the weirdest thing ever. Constantly in the back of my head there are legal things, like, "What could happen if I say this or that?"
Did you consult anyone while you were making the movie?
No, and I didn't want to because I thought any lawyer would say, "Obviously, you shouldn't do that." It wasn't until we got into Sundance that we started talking about legal stuff. Also, I didn't want to change it. I knew once we got into the legalities of it, I would start making decisions based on that instead of what was best for the movie or the story.
Not everybody loves the movie.
I imaged that would happen. I know it's a polarizing movie. I expected some good reviews and really, really bad reviews. I prepare myself every day for getting slammed. I think there are some people who can't see past the fact that we shot it the way we did.
Has anyone from Disney seen the movie?
I think so. That's what people say.
How much are you willing to fight to get the movie out there?
It depends on how good a case lawyers can make for it. If they say I have a chance, I'll definitely fight for it. I worked on it really hard for three years and it took a lot out of me. Just to let it disappear would be a waste of time.
Can you still go back to Disney World and enjoy it?
If they let me in (laughs). I could still go back. I'll still look at it with a little bit of cynicism, if not contempt. It's a strange place.
Do you want to make more movies that are this out there?
I mean, I like films that are provocative and make you think. I don't want to be the gimmick filmmaker. I was talking to my DP and we decided we would never do this again. It's so hard and takes such an emotional toll. There were things we shot that were totally legit. Those were the best moments. It was so nice to spend time on a scene and work with the actors and not worry about interference.
Did you ever wish you could have just made the whole thing in a studio?
Absolutely. I would've loved to do that. If there was a Disney park in China and they let us do it legitimately and it looked the same…the iconography is important. You get a feeling when you see It's a Small World or any of the characters from the toy chest. If you replaced them with generic characters it wouldn't be the same. Those characters are so ubiquitous now in our culture. I don't consider myself a rebel, but I have kids, and you cannot keep Disney from invading their minds.