Day 615: Shooting Behind The Mouse’s Back

originally published September 6, 2013

I really don’t normally do this.

Regular readers of this site (as well as those who regularly have it read to them – it’s perfect for putting the little ones to sleep!) know that I love to talk movies. Whether it’s awful movies, classic films, cinematic history, or even an awkward examination of a porn phenomenon, the topic of film is without question my favorite to tackle. But what I don’t do is discuss upcoming releases. Well, there was that one time I speculated on the upcoming Hungry Hungry Hippos movie, but that was more a reaction to the brain-nausea I felt at the movie’s very existence.

But I came across a film that has yet to drop into local theatres, and I feel compelled to pen a kilograph in its honor, mostly because I strongly doubt it will ever make its way here. I live in a town where a new Woody Allen picture plays on one lonely screen, and the finest art-house fare might be lucky enough to squeeze a two or three-night run at one of our two adventurous theaters.

To be honest, I’m amazed that Escape From Tomorrow will see the light of any day, given that it was shot almost entirely on Disney park property, without Disney’s permission.

On the surface this is simply a film about a man who discovers he’s been laid off, then wants to have one last day of fun on his family vacation. Of course things get weird and twisted, and a tripped-out horror unfolds. But the story here isn’t the film’s plot or the caliber of the acting talent – there are no ‘names’ in this picture, and some of the reviews I’ve read have been less than kind to the movie itself. But they all agree on one point: people should see this movie if they can because they aren’t likely to see anything like it again.

Disney is more protective over their trademark and image than a late-night stoner protecting his last Reese peanut butter cup. Staging a production like this – and the film purportedly looks like a real studio-funded project, not like a stitched-together home movie high school homework assignment – under the scrutiny of Disney park security is nothing short of a magnificent coup of intensive planning and deft execution.

Randy Moore of Lake Bluff, Illinois, grew up with a personal attachment to Walt Disney World in Orlando. After his parents split up, this was the place where he’d connected with his father, who had moved to the area. Randy grew up and shuffled off to Hollywood, writing this film as his directorial feature debut. It was a risky endeavor, but a real artist never listens to that voice in his head that tells him he’s crazy. No, a real artist plops that crazy front and center into their work.

Two guys named Josh and Jeremiah Daws had already shot a magnificent 11-minute short film called Missing In The Mansion, which takes place in Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. That film, which I highly recommend you check out, picked up some slick online viral traction, but it still wasn’t a feature-length exercise in guerilla filmmaking. Disney has allowed Missing In The Mansion to reside online without any legal action, but will they actually ignore the commercial release of a film in which a devious mind-control syndicate is run from underneath the Spaceship Earth globe at EPCOT, and its princesses are revealed to be high-priced hookers?

The cast and crew all bought season passes to both Disneyland and Disney World. The film takes place in Orlando, however shooting was split between both parks in order to stay under security’s radar. The cinematographer and location manager would scout out each location with painstaking precision, mentally lining up each shot before a single frame was captured. Rehearsals took place in hotel rooms; they couldn’t afford to risk running through more than a couple takes inside the park, lest the roving Disney eye figure out they weren’t just there to document their vacations in a home movie.

Everyone had to dress like they were tourists, then slip into the park in small groups to avoid suspicion. Fortunately, no one at the gate ever asked why the actors kept showing up with the same clothes every day. I suppose when you’re used to tourists in ugly/comfy clothes, you might develop a type of ‘fannypack-blindness’ that would block out such an anomaly.

With no access to lighting control, Randy Moore and his team had to plot out sun positions months in advance. They were shooting in black and white, which is a format heavily dependent on lighting continuity and shadow control. They made use of the video capture capabilities of the Canon EOS 5D, which looked to any onlooker like a typical family digital camera.

Sound was recorded via covert digital recorders taped to the actors’ bodies. Everyone had the script on their iPhones for reference, giving the impression they were simply checking messages. Much less suspicious than a group of tourists thumbing through identical binders in the middle of Tomorrowland. These poor people had to ride It’s A Small World twelve times in order to get one scene just right. Park staff must have assumed they were undergoing some martial arts test of internal fortitude or something.

The one hiccup that almost tripped up the production occurred toward the end of principle photography, when security believed the crew to be paparazzi harassing a famous family in the park. The officers weren’t convinced, even when the family (part of the film’s cast) insisted they weren’t at all famous. The young girl’s need to use the bathroom and a passing parade provided the distractions they needed to escape.

That’s Randy Moore, the brains behind Escape From Tomorrow. As much as Kevin Smith opened up the wide window of independent film with Clerks at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, I believe Randy will be remembered for his film’s debut at this year’s festival. In a world where privacy is itself becoming an antiquated notion, where everyone has a high-def camera tucked in their pockets, guerilla filmmaking could become the next big thing.

Sundance kept a lid on the plot details before the first screening, not wanting Disney to leap in and shut it down. But apart from acknowledging that they are aware of the movie’s existence, Disney has yet to take any legal action to quell the film’s release. That’s not to say they won’t, of course.

Presently, Escape From Tomorrow is looking at an October 11 theatrical and on-demand release, though I would still be surprised if it makes its way to this northern city. If you see it playing near you, I’d encourage you to marvel at the democratization of technology and the ballsiness of its creators.

It’s a gutsy new world out there, aspiring filmmakers.

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