Q&A: Randy Moore on “ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW”
One of the most controversial films to debut out of 2013’s Sundance Film Festival, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW has captured the attention of cinephiles around the world as the first genre film to shoot without permission in Disneyland. While many expected Disney to come after the surreal, creepy dark comedy with guns a-blazin’, specialty distributor PDA picked up ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW for the world to see and without as much as a cease-and-desist. As the film hits DVD and Blu-ray, director Randy Moore spoke to FANGORIA about what inspired this nightmarish film and why it could only take place on such iconic grounds…
FANGORIA: Of course, the technical aspects of ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW were ambitious, but paid off in spades. What inspired you to tackle this particular story in the first place?
RANDY MOORE: Well, every summer when I was a kid, I’d go visit my father who lived in Orlando. So we’d spend a lot of time at the amusement parks growing up. It got the point where I associated Disneyworld with my father and vice versa, as the two concepts were inseparable. But as I got older, my father and I had a falling out so I stopped going to see him, and it wasn’t until I returned to the parks many years later with my own family that I started to see the cracks in the veneer. It actually felt haunting, as if my father’s ghost was following me around the whole time.
Also, my wife is not from the U.S., so she didn’t have any of the nostalgia associated with those characters or the parks. She’d never been there before and when we went, she had an absolutely miserable time, which at first upset me because I wanted to give my family the magical experience that I had as a child. But without that indoctrination, the parks were a different place entirely. So I tried to see the park through her eyes, which was seeing chaos, madness and commercialization.
I didn’t think about it again for a little while, but as the months progressed, I started reflecting on the trip a little more and started thinking about my father again. I actually started writing this as an experiment just to get these feelings off of my chest. I never really planned to make the movie or thought it would be possible. So I wrote the first draft, shelved it and started working on some other scripts.
Eventually, I was introduced to the Canon 5D camera and I went to the Disney park up here in Anaheim. I filmed my daughter on the “It’s a Small World” ride and got a feel for what I could achieve with no external lighting. So I thought it would be possible to film under these conditions with these cameras. So at first, it was, “I have this script here so let’s test out this camera, bring some friends into the park and shoot this script.”
It was supposed to be small, as in I was going to shoot it myself and use friends as actors, but after I started putting some time and energy into it, I started thinking, “This is L.A. and my friends aren’t the best actors in the world. Why don’t I get a professional casting agent and hire some professional actors?” After that started happening, I had to start figuring out scheduling so I had to hire an assistant director. So as the production started growing and growing and growing, I realized during one of the numerous scouting trips that we had to plan every shot before we went in with the actors.
The production was becoming too chaotic and hectic to shoot myself ,as well as direct, so I put an ad into Mandy.com and found Lucas Lee Graham. Graham had shot his AFI thesis in black and white, which I really liked, and by that point I had already known I was going to shoot in black and white. So he brought on his assistant cameraman and the project had snowballed into a giant undertaking. I don’t know if I would have walked into ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW had I known how big the production was going to become.
FANG: At the actual amusement parks, there’s so much going on behind the scenes there that it’s easy to see what inspired some of the more paranoid moments in the film. Had you found this impossible to do at Disneyland, would you have tried to shoot this script anywhere else?
MOORE: For me, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW wouldn’t have worked at Six Flags. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend the time making the film at some generic park that I didn’t have an emotional relationship with. I even think the relationship that I have with Disney is one that a lot of other people have as well. For some people, the relationship they have with those parks has grown into a kind of corporate religion.
I’ve seen the mania and the fervor of other people in the park , who lose their mind over the “magic” of the spectacle. It’s that reaction that separates [Disney] from other theme parks. I remember at one of their shows, Mickey Mouse appears at the top of a mountain to battle the other Disney villains and it’s played like this momentous appearance with fireworks going off as the music swells. But what I noticed was that all the adults gasped; full grown adults gasped when they saw Mickey. That’s when I said, “Whoa, this place has transcended from being just an amusement park.”
So Disneyland was the only place that I could do ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, or that I would want to do ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW. There’s no other place on earth that’s like that, especially for Americans because it’s so ingrained in our culture. So to joke about it or critique it, even satirically, almost seems immoral. I came into the film not knowing the legal aspects of it, but the place was so iconic that to pretend that it doesn’t exist, when its presence is everywhere, just felt wrong. I needed to be true towards the feelings I had for that place, and if we can make a good movie to get past the gimmick that people will latch on to, people would seek it out.
FANG: Considering how long Disneyland’s self-championing has been in our culture, were you surprised that no one has ever tried to pull off anything like ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW in the past?
MOORE: I wasn’t surprised. I think people have taken plenty of shots at the concept in a literary fashion, and a lot of people have written about the parks, for good or for bad. Really, it’s the [advances in] technology that allows people like me to go in there and shoot on the park without being on the radar since there’s no sound department or extra lighting.
There were moments where we were shooting and I’d go, “If we don’t do this now, someone will do it very soon.” One thing I didn’t realize when I went into pre-production was that they changed how the park looked. I scouted for the park in the summer but they redecorate the parks for each season, especially for Halloween and Christmas. I wanted there to be the hot, humid, generic Disney park feel so we were losing our window from when the Halloween decorations went up.
So there was a rush to get the film into production, but I made ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW three years ago and the technology has gotten so much better that I could have shot it in 4K now with the same size camera and blown it up to IMAX if I wanted to. I’m not sure many IMAX screens would screen ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, though.
FANG: Were you ever concerned about the film unintentionally diving into parody and if so, do you think that’d provoke more of a response from Disney over an esoteric psychological horror film?
MOORE: When you go into that environment and you look around, the emotions of the patrons are in a heightened state. There are people having the best time of their life and people having the worst time of their life. There’s also an inherent sense of paranoia when you’re shooting in the park, too, because you know there’s security everywhere. I think that’s one reason why Americans flock to Disney parks is because it feels so safe. So instead of going to Paris, these people go to the French Pavilion so they don’t have to worry about pick-pockets.
I wanted to focus on things that you’re not supposed to feel when you’re there, like, “You can have any fantasy you want here but it can’t be sexual.” They pretend there is no sex at Disney even though there is, and you can’t be paranoid there. You can only be happy and feel safe, so that way we played with expectations a little bit. Also, by taking out the color, you’re looking at the park in a different light and making the film looking cinematic at the same time.
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW needed to feel like a real movie, not a found footage or home movie because I’ve seen my own home movies and they’re pretty hard to watch. We tried to set up the shots as best as we could, even though if I had my run of the park, there would be less handheld stuff. But we were working under certain… restrictions [laughs].
I never went into the film thinking I’d be making a horror movie, but moreover a fever dream. It was a descent into the madness that erupts when you’re under the conditions where you’re worrying about how much money you’re spending, but you’re trying to give your family the best day ever. There’s a lot of pressure involved in that and that was my jumping off point. I was never like, “I’m going to make this sci-fi movie,” but it’s hard not to get into sci-fi when you’re inside Epcot.
FANG: Despite their litigious nature, Disney really took the path of least resistance when it came to ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW. Was their reaction surprising to you? Did you expect a backlash when the film was picked up for distribution?
MOORE: To be honest, I don’t think any of us really knew what was going to happen besides all of the speculation. After we got into Sundance, it was dicey because Sundance was a major hurdle. I didn’t think ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW was going to get into a festival of Sundance’s magnitude, because of their corporate sponsors. But they had amazing programmers who were real cinephiles who were brave and stuck with the movie. They were ambiguous enough about the film and until we started screening, they didn’t give anything away. Our goal was to get to that first screening without being shut down.
We ended up getting through all of our screenings and they even added an additional screening. After that, we spent a few months re-editing the film and vetting it with our lawyer. The only things we changed when we brought the lawyer on board was that we added a disclaimer to the beginning saying that Disney had no part in its production and we added the reveal regarding the scientist’s true nature. That scene was added just to hit home that this stuff isn’t really going on, and it’s not a documentary of the Siemen’s Corporation or of Disney. We parody elements of their brand and there’s not really experiments going on underneath the park.