Few movies generated more chatter at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival than Randy Moore’s “Escape From Tomorrow,” a movie shot on location in Disney World without permission. The filmmaker’s scrappy black-and-white feature follows a family around on their last of vacation while strange events transpire around them. Before the festival, few people were anticipating “Escape From Tomorrow,” which premiered in Sundance’s NEXT section, but it has since become a national news story as many wonder if Disney will attempt to prevent it from finding distribution. Whatever happens, “Escape From Tomorrow” shows the results of a highly unique and daring production process along with one of the more original indictments of corporate entertainment to come along in years. Still getting a handle on all the attention, Moore sat down with Indiewire during the festival to talk about the project and his future expectations for it.
A lot of the attention that has been paid to “Escape from Tomorrow” involves the guerilla production tactics you used. How did you conceive of making the movie without purely resorting to the gimmick behind it?
That was the main thing. Obviously, that’ll be the first thing people will say. For it to mean something, it’ll have to be more than that. That was our goal besides telling the story and getting the feelings across we wanted to convey — to actually make it special. Because there are YouTube videos of people running around trying to do stuff. I haven’t seen any of them until just now that this movie is getting attention. People are linking to it and saying, “Hey, we did the same thing.” I just found out about this Haunted Mansion one. Right when we were wrapping production, I heard about the Banksy thing in “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” and I hadn’t seen it yet and heard he had done something there. I was like, “Oh no.” Part of it was that I rushed to do it before someone else did it. I knew it was only a matter of time before someone else came along. The technology was there and available to people to use for relatively cheap.
John Sloss’ Cinetic, which sold the Bansky film at Sundance, is representing yours.
He contacted us right around when we got into the festival and that was amazing. We were hoping we could make a good case for fair use and stuff but I’m not a lawyer. The New Yorker article that came out was a big help. John obviously hoped we could make a case for it but honestly none of us knew. So far we haven’t heard anything.
Were you initially inspired by the concept behind this production or the actual story?
The story came first. I had this feverish month of crazy writing and I wrote three scripts in a month. This was the second script I wrote. I hadn’t directed anything since college and I wanted to direct something I wrote. I thought this would be the easiest one to direct. I was so wrong.
What were the other ones?
One was a horror movie set on a boat and the other was about this actress who gets involved a cult. But then “Martha Marcy May Marlene” came out. But I never expected any of this attention. Once it did get into Sundance, I didn’t expect the national attention.
“Escape From Tomorrow” seemed like the easiest proposition because you could just go to the park and film there…
I could use some of my friends, go to the park, we wouldn’t have to build sets or anything like that. When I wrote it, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just thinking about story. I wrote these scripts so fast that I was just really writing from my gut. I was writing things I knew and felt. The external circumstances arrived later.
Had you recently attended Disney World?
Yeah. Disney World has been on my mind a long time, since I was a kid. I’m a product of Disney World more than anything. I’d gone on the first real Disney World trip with my wife, who’d never been there, and my two kids. She’s a nurse and goes between floors at hospitals. At one point she turned to me at some princess fair or something and said, “This is worse than working the psych world at the hospital.” Which is not the easiest floor to handle. So I started seeing it through her eyes, from a foreigner perspective: She’s from Kurkistan, part of the former Soviet republic. Then I started feeling all these emotions that I hadn’t thought about since I was a kid. We had a great time, it was magical, but then our relationship fell apart. I haven’t seen him in a quite a long time. So when we went back to Disney World, it was like he was there as a ghost. We were going on the same rides I used to go on with him, but now we’re no longer talking anymore. And then after that I was thinking about Disney all the time. I read Neil Gabler’s Walt Disney biography. I just started immersing myself in Disney culture and taking the kids to the park, really looking around and observing. I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do but knew there was something there.
Everyone’s in an alternate reality.
It’s kind of madness. Everyone’s saying, “Celebrate the magic, believe,” that kind of stuff. There was a moment when we were at the phantasmic show in Orlando. It’s at their MGM studio park. At one moment in the middle of the show, there was this hail of pyrotechnics, and all of a sudden, Mickey just appears on the stage at the top of this mountain. There are lasers everywhere. Adults all around me literally gasped as if a god had appeared before them. This was genuine emotion. Somehow they had been brought back to whatever it was they felt when they were kids. At one point when we were shooting one day we were riding to the park and a mother was telling her kids, “Listen, for mommy, Disney World really is magic, so you guys have to behave.” My director of photography and I were listening to this and thinking, “This is the weirdest thing we’ve ever heard.” This woman has been just deeply affected. She believed the magic.
To what extent did you envision this as an act of provocation?
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.
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.