Escape from Tomorrow, the infamous debut film from writer-director Randy Moore, revolves around Jim (Roy Abramsohn, Area 51, Weeds) and his wife Emily (Elena Schuber, American Horror Story, Killer Kids) along with their daughter Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez, The Cure, Conception) and their insanely creepy son Elliot (Jack Dalton, Tiny Warriors) over their last couple days at Disneyworld. Unfortunately for this family, their final time in the happiest place on Earth is tainted by the effects of a failing marriage, their dysfunctional family dynamic, and a father who is having difficulty being one.
However, the story behind Escape from Tomorrow is intensely fascinating in its own right. Released in 2013, the movie was mired in controversy thanks to the so-called “guerrilla filmmaking tactics” used to make it. These techniques involve how Moore decided to film inside both Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, without the either park’s permission.
While Disney has historically turned the other cheek to videos from their parks ending up on YouTube, they have a well-known reputation of assertively protecting their intellectual property. But, Moore assumed that due to the fantastical, horror-lite nature of Escape from Tomorrow, even if they asked permission it would not be granted.
While filming, the crew would enter the parks in small groups to avoid attention and at the behest of Moore, the camera crew would even change their outfits and physical appearance to blend in with tourists. Actors would keep their scripts on their smartphones to blend in, with the movie shot primarily in video mode on two Canon cameras that are more commonly used for photography.
Thanks to the camera choice, they had to show the movie in monochrome mode since the equipment was unable to compensate for the lighting. Nevertheless, Moore was happy with the resulting effect and as a viewer, it had a surprisingly sinister effect. When the actors are on kiddie rides, meant more for smaller children, adorable and familiar characters become sinister under the black and white gaze of the camera, especially with a movie like Snow White, which already has dark intonations. The witch that poisons Snow White looks unreasonably sinister in black and white and is an image that will probably haunt my nightmares.
The sound design is also surprisingly well done, especially considering the combination of editing, using audio from the camera, and the fact that digital recorders were attached to each actor’s body which ran the entire day. This method ensured all the audio of the actors speaking was captured, but it also captures the natural noises from the park. (However, when the film was edited they had cut the music from the rides to minimize copyright infringement.)
Their best efforts to hide the project paid off, but I am not sure if this was due to the sheer amount of people that visit Disneyland and Disneyworld or the apathy of Walt Disney employees or both. Moore recounts how they rode several of the most popular rides repeatedly to get the shots they wanted. The famous It’s A Small World ride was boarded by the actors at least a dozen times to get the footage Moore wanted. However, the actors were never stopped by staff to question them about taking the ride so many times.
The main family in the film also wore the same clothes every time they visited the park since Escape from Tomorrow takes place over one full day, but again they were never stopped or questioned. Apparently, because of the camera crew following the family in the park they were stopped one time because staff thought the camera crew were paparazzi harassing a famous family, which is pretty funny considering what was actually going on.
When it came time to put the movie together and subsequently release it, Moore was so paranoid about Disney discovering what he had done that he sent Escape from Tomorrow to South Korea to be edited. He didn’t even tell most of friends what he was working on. Moore finally submitted the film to Sundance in 2013, but still had information suppressed about it. Attendees were given a vague plot synopsis, told that it took place in a theme park, so its premiere didn’t have red carpet attendance. However, after word got out about Escape from Tomorrow the other shows were immediately filled.
The aftermath of the film brought much adoration, with many describing it as a film that should not have been made or even the ultimate guerilla film. And, as a viewer, despite the sometimes strange plot points of Escape from Tomorrow, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a film overall. I was constantly thinking about the amount of gall that it took for Moore to not only film it this way, but make his first movie this way.