When writer/director Randy Moore took his family to Disney World, his wife (visiting for the first time) described it as “worse than working the psych floor at the hospital” (according to his Wednesday Reddit AMA.) Inspired by the insanity that could cause such a reaction, the first-time feature filmmaker (and former film school student) returned to Disney World numerous times with a tiny crew (himself and a cinematographer) and a handful of actors, following a script originally written on a yellow legal pad of paper that sought to criticize the overwhelming Disney experience with David Lynch-ian freak outs. Shot within the grounds of Disney World with inconspicuous camera usage and a total of days spent waiting in line, Moore’s nightmares of fantasy have since become Escape from Tomorrow. The film was an instant hit at Sundance Film Festival 2013, despite its lingering potential to have its existence immediately erased due to its extreme surplus copyright infringements.
Catching Randy Moore just a couple hours after doing his AMA, I talked to him over the phone about the specifics in making his guerilla project, the constant fear it instilled in him, how he sees the film as an example of freedom of speech, and more.
Since Sundance, the film has received no acknowledgement from Disney, and is now set to be released in limited theaters this week. It will also be available in VOD as it expands this month across the US.
DenofGeek: Did your child actors ever become exhausted with the idea of constantly going to Disney? Did they eventually associate going to the “The Happiest Place in the World” with strenuous work?
Randy Moore: I think the kids liked it, and that they enjoyed going there. It was difficult when we were shooting scenes where we were waiting in line, because we couldn’t go on the actual ride. We just didn’t have the time. And they would have to go back to the end of the line and do it again. In that sense, those types of scenes were hard; being in the park there’s a lot of walking involved, and I think that was tough for the kids. But we eventually got them wheelchairs so they didn’t have to walk so much. They were always game, and they were great.
DoG: How much time total would you say that you spent waiting in line?
Days, if you put it all together. The day we shot the “It’s A Small World” sequence, it was a crowded day. We rode it about twelve times, and I think every time we had to wait for 45 minutes to an hour, so it was like all day long.
DoG: Does this mean that your catering budget for the film was constantly Disney food?
When we were in the park, yeah. We brought water with us, but we always ate the food from the park.
DoG: Being that you’re in public and trying to remain subtle, did you use a different directorial cue other than “Cut”?
I never said “Cut” or “Action” in public. I kind of blocked out what I did, and I asked my DP what I did the other day, and he told me I did like a slit throat thing to say cut, but I am not sure. I was very subtle. I would just sort of talk to the actors before and then basically say “When you guys are ready,” and Lucas was the A cameraman and cinematographer, and he would have to get his focus ready, and then nod to everyone when he was in focus.
DoG: How often would you have trouble getting clear shots of the family on the various rides? Did the placement of other non-characters screw you over?
That was constant – we were constantly dealing with stuff like that. We knew we would be.
DoG: You’ve said in previous interviews that the budget for the film came from family members and friends, among others. How much of your budget went simply into the Disney-related parts of the film?
I don’t have an exact number, but I would probably say 40,000. [That number] also includes the hotels at the park, and food too, and flying to Florida.
DoG: Towards the end of the film, there are some very striking shots of quiet park locations. How the hell did you get these shots?
We did it over the course of five or six days. We just woke up really early, got to the park, and waited at the front of the line. And when they opened we’d run in and we’d have these designated places to go to, and we’d have ten or fifteen seconds to set up and do focus before a huge crowd of people emerged into the shot.
DoG: Did any filming experience influence the script?We pretty much shot the script that I wrote. It wasn’t until editing that we started to realize the rides didn’t work. It didn’t fit in an entertaining way as they do when you are riding them. On the screen, it’s a completely different experience than being on the ride, and it’s actually extremely boring. We had more ride sequences like “Jungle Cruise,'” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Maelstrom” in Epcot’s Norway, that we ended up cutting out. It got to the point where the rides were taking away from the story.
DoG: In terms of setting strenuous conditions for yourself, did you have many other less challenging ideas kicking around for your debut before you chose this project?
I had other scripts that I’ve written and that I had been working on when I started [Escape from Tomorrow]. Pretty conventional scripts as those go. But this was just something that I did because I thought I could get some friends together, and I became interested in the Canon 5D. I thought I could actually use that camera to get a really nice look under natural lighting conditions. And then the game sort of changed when I hired professional actors, so I need a casting agent and an assistant director, and then eventually I realized that I was not going to be able to shoot it myself, and I hired an assistant cinematographer and brought on his assistant cameraman, and it just kind of grew. Since I hadn’t directed anything since film school, I was just going with some friends of mine and shoot it over a couple weekends, just to feel comfortable behind the camera again.
DoG: Were you essentially living in constant fear until Disney decided to not legally act upon the film? Was Sundance the most nerve-wracking moment, as your guerilla film was now going public?
To answer your question, yes [laughs]. Constant fear. I lost a lot of weight, and even at Sundance, that was scary. I can just imagine that getting your film into Sundance is probably pretty scary, especially for a first-time filmmaker. But then on top of that, we had this mouse looming over us, we didn’t know if were going to get a second screening in, or let alone a third, and we ended getting all of our screenings in, and they even added an additional press and industry screening. It was like, I really wanted to celebrate that we were at Sundance, but I was so worried about our screenings and that they would be shut down. I probably could have had a better time if I wasn’t so worried constantly.
DoG: Do you personally view your film as a commentary on the physical experience of going to theme parks like Disney? Or it is more about omnipotent empires like Disney?
I think it’s about the experience of going to Disney, and how deeply seeded Disney has become in our culture, and how ubiquitous it is. I think it has transcended being a normal theme park, and for many people it has become almost a religious experience, and going there is like going to church for them. I’ve seen people basically worshipping these characters, and grown adults gasping when they see Mickey Mouse walk by. I think there’s a completely ugly connection to this place and these characters. There is nothing even close to it. I don’t want to say anything bad about Bugs Bunny, but I don’t think he has anything in terms of Mickey Mouse and his influence on our culture.
DoG: In an imaginary world, if the worry of copyright were not an issue, would you have been interested in making more direct references in your film to Disney characters or franchises?
I shot the film that I wanted to shoot, and went into how enmeshed Disney is, [and also] that you should be able to critique it, parody it, and criticize it. I just thought we should be able to do that. I thought it was an issue of freedom of speech. I didn’t come at it from a legal standpoint. And because of that, I made the movie the way I wanted to shoot it. I wasn’t t thinking of copyright or intellectual property or anything like that, and I would just let the lawyers have at that after it was completed.