One of the most surprising films to be released in 2013 was not a massive blockbuster. Instead, it was Escape from Tomorrow, an independent film effort, much of which was shot in the Walt Disney parks without permission from the company. Even though it was meant as a parody of the “Happiest Place on Earth,” lots of people thought that Escape from Tomorrow would never get released.
However, after being championed by clearance counsel Michael Donaldson, the film was released. Ignored by the Disney company so as to not give additional attention to the movie with the Streisand Effect, Escape from Tomorrow was eventually released to a certain degree of success in theaters and video on demand.
Writer/director Randy Moore sat down with his cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham in January of 2014 to record the commentary of the film they had shot in the fall of 2010 (with pick-ups in the spring of 2011), which is included on the DVD release of the film.
Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
Commentators: Randy Moore (writer/director), Lucas Lee Graham (cinematographer)
1. The opening train sequence, which includes the decapitation, was not initially intended for the beginning of the film, but it was included because it fit so nicely with the music.
2. When the family gets on the elevator in the beginning, they are on the second floor, but the opening shots of Jim (Roy Abramsohn) on the balcony is on a much higher floor.
3. When Randy Moore was a child, he always wanted to stay in a hotel for his visits to Disney, but he never was able to because his father lived in Orlando.
4. The man taking a picture of the family as they enter the park is an actual Disney photographer.
5. The crew spent many days shooting on the rides in the park, including more than a dozen rides on the It’s a Small World Ride with a 45-minute wait each time. The Buzz Lightyear ride did, indeed, shut down during one of their waits in line, which they ended up using in the film. A lot of the other ride sequences – including footage on Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and the Jungle Cruise – were cut because it was repetitive.
6. The entire production schedule was delayed a day because the B-camera operator missed his flight, and he had much of the camera equipment with him.
7. In order to get the light to match throughout the day, the crew used sun charts to track the location of the sun for the shoot.
8. Moore says he read somewhere on the internet that there is a hidden Mickey in the sparkle of the rich woman’s necklace when she meets Jim. That’s not true.
9. Moore was partially inspired for the story in this film because he once heard that Disney park are the second most popular place for people to commit suicide while on vacation. (The most popular place is Las Vegas, according to Moore.)
10. The girl that was originally cast as the daughter was pulled from the film before production because her parents objected to the fact that Jim would leave her in the other room while committing adultery.
11. Many viewers have said when Jim fixates on the younger of the two French girls that this is the creepiest part of the movie. Even the actor playing Jim took some issue with it.
12. One of the first shots inside the Disney parks was at Epcot because it was the most daring, being so out in the open and with a lot of security present. When the camera operators were constantly changing lenses, an actual Disney photographer came over to help them out and offer advice, thinking they were just photography nerds. This spooked the crew, so they went to using zoom lenses for most of the rest of the film.
13. Moore’s father believes the movie is about him, and he sent an email to the film’s producer after the second day of the Cannes Film Festival about this. Moore insists on several occasions it is not about his father and they haven’t directly spoken to each other in about twenty years.
14. The French girls Jim follows around the park were originally scripted as Brazilian girls because it is not uncommon to see sets of Brazilian girls touring the park together in matching T-shirts. Even though Moore thought the French girl fantasy was a bit cliche, he went with them because he couldn’t find Portuguese-speaking teenage girls who fit the roles.
15. The massive explosion seen in the distance at Epcot is a real FX explosion that takes place at the end of the fireworks show.
16. The shot of the Walt Disney statue, which pans up to the word “Jesus” in the sky is an actual shot. There is a man who is known for skywriting messages about Jesus over the Disney parks.
17. The black bar over the tube in Jim’s hand in the Siemens dome obscures the Neosporin product name.
18. Moore added a shot of the Siemens’ robot scientist’s head coming off after the Sundance screening to nail down the fact that this was a parody and not meant to be taken seriously.
19. Post-production was done in Korea for about a month, partly to keep the Disney-themed production a secret with the language barrier. However, money was not included in the budget for heat at the location where they screened footage for color correction, resulting in them having to wear coats during these days. Graham also got bed bugs while he was staying in Korea.
20. The final scenes of Jim getting very sick and saying good-bye to his children included intense eye lights to show the energy leaking from his body.
21. Jim’s ass is pixelated while he’s on the toilet was not done for prudish reasons. Instead, it was done because the actor would not take off his second pair of underwear and go completely bottomless in the scene.
22. The shots of the empty park at the end of the film were not taken with special permission or using any special effects. The crew simply got up very early and took the footage while no one else was there.
23. When Jim’s dead body is found by the toilet, it’s clear he has a massive erection. This results from a deleted element of the film in which the pills in his vitamin C bottle were replaced with Viagra.
Best in Commentary
- Graham: “This is one of those scenes where you kind of get into the moment and then you look around and realize how freaking weird what you’re doing is. Like who’s this guy sticking a camera right in this girls’ ass in the monorail.”
- Graham: “When he pulls the ‘GeoSporin’ out of his pocket, I said he sprays it on his wrists which gives him the grease to slip out of the cuffs…. And then Randy turned it into a semen-inspired sponge-fest.”
- Moore: “This is when you called me Michael Bay in a negative way.”
Like many groundbreaking and daring films, the story behind how Escape from Tomorrow was made is sometimes more interesting than the film itself. With my own background in independent film, I can see where this was one hell of a challenge for the production. I can also see where it’s a triumph that it was completed in the first place.
While much of the commentary includes good-natured ribbing between Moore and Graham, there are some cool insights into the film, some of which I hadn’t heard before. Considering how infamous this movie is for its guerilla filmmaking techniques, it’s hard to approach any behind-the-scenes content without having plenty of existing knowledge. So in this sense, the discussion is still pretty entertaining.
There is also an additional commentary featuring actors Roy Abramsohn and Elena Schuber in character, which is more interesting from an entertainment level but not exactly full of real-life content and information.
Escape from Tomorrow was 2013’s film to see for the greater discussion. It may not be the best plot you’ll find out there, but the film itself – and the commentary that is included – is worth checking out for the story behind the story.