How an Indie Film was Secretly Made Inside Disney’s Theme Parks

After Randy Moore premiered his film “Escape from Tomorrow” at the Sundance film festival he was out of breath and paranoid—afraid of what might happen next. Moore spent three years in fear that his project might be come public knowledge. He told his actors not to tell anyone they worked on the project. He didn’t tell his friends what he was doing. He even took the footage to South Korea to edit it. If word of the film got out, Disney would want to destroy it.

Moore was a struggling screenwriter when he came up with a novel idea. He had spent many of his childhood vacations venturing to Disney’s theme park in Orlando, Fla. and, now as a father, would take his own children to the Disney park in Anaheim, Cal. He thought that the permanent and powerful American iconography of Disney’s characters would make the perfect backdrop to juxtapose with a dark and twisted story. In 2010 Moore decided to gather his actors and began to shoot a film inside of Disney’s theme parks without anybody noticing.

An LA Times critic who saw the film at Sundance describes it:

the film is about a down-on-his luck fortysomething father (Roy Abramsohn) on the last day of a Disney World vacation with his henpecking wife and their two angelic children. As he takes his children to various attractions, the father is haunted by disturbing imagery; he is also, in the meantime (and with his children in tow), tailing two young flirtatious French girls around the park. Airy musical compositions you might find in classic Hollywood films play over many of these scenes, giving a light shading to the darker moments…. “Escape” is also, ultimately, a character study about a man who seems to have lost any sense of optimism in a place that’s overrun with it.

But the surface of the story doesn’t describe it in full. The film takes cues from cult classics like Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” and Shane Carruth’s “Primer.” These indie hits leave more questions standing then they care to answer forcing the audience to speculate and concoct their own theories.

Beyond the script, it’s amazing how the film came together at all. Because Moore didn’t want his actors carrying scripts during the 25 days they shot the film, he put all the lines and other information on iPhones so it would just look like the actors were normal people staring at their normal phones. The actors would enter the park, day after day, in the same clothing but nobody from Disney ever raised any questions. After all, pulling out a camera in a Disney park is about as routine as it gets. All of the extras were real people in the park. The actors would have to run and bump them around, while they had no idea they were being filmed.

Even so, Moore would sometimes have to stand across the park and direct scenes by phone so it wouldn’t look like a crowd was gathering. And incredibly, the film doesn’t look like a “Blair Witch” guerrilla film. The cinematography manages to look like it was shot by a full crew when, in fact, it was the result of some people with small handheld cameras.

Unfortunately, this Sundance showing might be “Escape”s first and last. Disney wouldn’t want the film to reach public reach first for rampant trademark infringement and second for using their trademarks with relatively dark material. If a distributor wanted to take “Escape” to the public it would require a feat of legal masterpiece and for indie films, the legal budgets just aren’t that high.


LA Times

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