It’s one of the boldest moviemaking stunts in recent memory, a thriller shot entirely on location at both Disney World and Disneyland theme parks without the permission of Disney (DIS). But writer-director Randy Moore managed to pull it off, and the resulting film, Escape from Tomorrow—about a family vacation that turns into a nightmare of sexual temptation, ghoulish transformation, and one very nasty super flu—opens this weekend in select theaters.
Bloomberg Businessweek tracked down the film’s intrepid mastermind to learn about how the idea came about, what his shooting schedule was like, and how he and the crew managed to pull off such a project inside the walls of the Magic Kingdom.
What inspired you to make a movie set at Disney World?
I spent an enormous amount of time at these parks as a kid. My father lived in Orlando, and we visited him every summer. I realized recently that when adults go back to these parks, these rides are kind of like time machines to them: They’re riding the rides as adults, but they’re also remembering what it was like as a child. But my wife did not have that experience.
We were at this Princess Fair, and we saw these kids going crazy and their parents trying to cater to them. My wife, who’s a nurse, looked at me and said, “This is worse than working the psych ward at the hospital!”
That got me thinking, and I started writing a script. It wasn’t until I learned about the Canon Mark II Digital SLR camera, which is just a photography camera that has an excellent video feature, that I thought, “Hmm, maybe I could just go in with some friends and make this movie.” Because that’s a camera that a lot of other tourists bring with them to these parks, so it wouldn’t raise any suspicions.
So you made Escape from Tomorrow by sneaking into the park with your crew, not getting any permission from Disney. How exactly did you go about doing that?
Very carefully. I scouted the film so many times. We had the script and shot lists on our phones, with every shot in the film planned out. We bought season passes for the main actors and main crew, because that worked out to be a lot cheaper than buying those “passports” that last four or five days. Those were about $300 to $400 each. We shot with the actors for 45 days. The first 11 days were in Orlando, and then we shot for two weeks in Anaheim. We had to wait for the Halloween and then the Christmas decorations to be removed before we could go back and do pickups and reshoots and stuff like that at the parks. We probably made about 20 trips to Disney World and Disneyland.
Did you ever get busted?
The closest we came was towards the end of shooting in Anaheim. It was a scene where the actors playing the family walk through the turnstiles. We had to shoot it a couple of times to get all the angles. A security guard pulled the actors over and said, “Why did you leave and come back so many times in 10 minutes?” And the actors made some excuse like they’d forgotten their sunscreen or something. Then he asked, “Are you a celebrity? Because you have paparazzi following you.” They’d thought our camera guys were paparazzi!
The security guys realized something was wrong and brought them to the area near the firehouse and told them to wait. When this happened, the kids said they had to go to the bathroom. The guards let them all go to the bathroom. When they came out from the bathroom, a parade was going by. They were cut off from the security guards, and, as my lead actress likes to say, they just “paraded on out of there.” If that had happened at the beginning, we would have been too freaked out to continue.
So what were your negotiations like with Disney before you released the film?
There weren’t any. There was never a meeting. There has been no communication between us and Disney whatsoever.
The word “Disney” is bleeped out at one point.
Yeah, that was just kind of a wink. More a joke on our part.
Did you make any changes to the film on your own based on concerns you might have about these big companies taking offense, like Siemens (SI), which makes a cameo in the film?
We added a disclaimer at the beginning. [Spoiler alert.] Because of a scene in the middle where a scientist’s head is cut off, we had to really emphasize the fact that this is not a documentary about the Siemens Corporation. We also changed the name of Neosporin to “Geosporic,” because it’s used in a, well, somewhat sexually suggestive way. We weren’t parodying Neosporin there, so we couldn’t really claim fair use.
Did you ever consider making the park just a generic one and not worrying about it specifically being Disney World?
I’ll put it this way. I once went to see this show called Fantasmic!, which is a Disney show with different Disney characters and lots of special effects. There’s a point in the show where Mickey Mouse appears on this mountain, to all this music, and he’s battling a dragon. And the moment he appeared, all of the adults in the audience just gasped. It was almost like they were having a religious experience. They were so excited to see this mouse on top of this mountain. I realized we’d all been indoctrinated at such an early age. Disney is so much a part of the American experience that to not be able to comment on it or parody it just seemed ridiculous. So it felt morally acceptable to do this.