In this monthly column we spotlight new Blu-ray/DVD releases by interviewing directors about the scenes that stood out most for them while making their movies. This month, we talk to Randy Moore about his black-and-white guerilla-made thriller set in Walt Disney parks, Escape from Tomorrow (out now on DVD/Blu-ray).
Struggling to get his scripts noticed in Hollywood, Randy Moore came up with a radical idea while vacationing with his family at Disney World: making a movie in the Disney parks. Moore’s love-hate relationship with the parks fueled him to write and direct Escape from Tomorrow, about a father (Roy Abramsohn) with loose morals who goes on a strange, fever dream-like adventure through Disney World. Filmed on location at Disney World and Disneyland, Moore’s darkly funny look at a midlife crisis at the happiest place on Earth brought the film huge attention at 2013’s Sundance Film Festival for its guerilla filmmaking at a sight you never thought possible. After doing the impossible—getting a theatrical release without being sued by Disney—the film now is available on Blu-ray/DVD (and Netflix disc).
Here Moore tells us the scene that was most challenging to shoot at Disney.
“There Was Never a Line”
“When I started writing the movie I was thinking about the iconic rides and as a kid the PeopleMover was one of my favorite rides to go on because there was never a line. I’d go there with my dad and we’d be waiting in line all day long it seemed on other rides, but that was the one that never had a line and it took you around the park—it brought you into Tomorrowland, it goes inside Space Mountain—so I thought that would be a great place to have an exchange between the father and his son. So from the beginnings of writing the script I wanted to do it. It’s the scene where the son starts to question why the hell his father is following the French girls.
“We also shot on a ton of other rides, but what we learned when we did a few test screenings was these rides that seem so magical don’t translate that well into watching them on the screen, especially in black and white. So we got a lot of notes saying ‘less rides.’ We shot in the Haunted Mansion, and we actually built part of the parlor room on the ride in a soundstage. We shot on the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise, but because of pacing those scenes had to go. However, I always knew I wanted to do the PeopleMover ride and because it’s not a popular ride I knew we’d be able to have a lot of time on it to develop the scene as opposed to, say, It’s a Small World where we were waiting back in line 45 minutes every time we got off it. And the PeopleMover scene gets the biggest laugh in the movie, where the son asks the dad if mom is pretty and the dad goes, ‘Yeah, yeah, in a sort of Emily Dickinson kind of way.’”
“Three-and-a-Half Hours Later We Got Off the Ride”
“That scene, though, there’s one shot that took forever to get and still it’s kind of out of focus. We ended up riding it for three hours trying to try to get the tram that the father and son are on to cross the tram that the two French girls are on but we just couldn’t figure out how to do it.
“In one tram we had myself and two cameramen sitting across from the father and son. So three cameras on them and we were trying to get it done without brining too much attention to us. And that was a full scene of dialogue. So we would ride that around and around and around, but it was nice because there weren’t other people on the tram with us so I could actually direct that scene right there instead of having to walk away and walk back.
“We shot that scene in one day with the cast. There may be a few cutaway shots from what we shot when we scouted or when we came back to the park for pickups without the actors. I think we had lunch before the ride at the Space Café or someplace and we got on the ride in sequence. But we had this one important shot of the French girls where the father is acting like he doesn’t know what the son’s talking about, ‘What girls? I don’t know what you’re taking about.’ And the son points and says, ‘Those girls,’ and we have the camera on the girls in their tram across from them. So for that crossing shot we waited until we got all the coverage for the dialogue and let father and son get off the ride and we were like, ‘We’ll be done in 15 minutes.’ Three-and-a-half hours later we got off the ride.
“It was a hot and humid Florida day and everyone was just miserable. But we needed that shot. And we shot it one time and it’s in very soft focus but we had been riding it for so long. We had to space out the boarding times, so me and the camera guys would get on our tram and then we’d have the French girls wait 15 minutes and then get on, it didn’t work so then we’d get off and we’d have them board five minutes after us, then we’d have them come on 20 minutes after us, we just never found them. So finally after hours and hours of riding it we finally got it, and the camera guys weren’t expecting it but they managed to pull off the shot. I think they were ready to give up. We were getting behind schedule for the day, but in terms of difficulty that one shot took longer to get than anything else in the movie and was the most stressful.”
“We Still Haven’t Heard Anything from Disney”
“Just leading up to our premiere at Sundance we were terrified that somehow it would be pulled before that first screening. We just wanted to get it over with. And that screening was my favorite because no one had any expectations. Our log line was ambiguous; I wish people could go into the film with that now. But when the PeopleMover scene comes up and it got a laugh from the Emily Dickinson line that’s when I knew we had them. That scene gives everyone permission to have fun because up to that point you really don’t know how you should feel, especially about this father who is chasing around these two girls. After that scene we knew it was working.
“We still haven’t heard anything from Disney. There were a lot of people who wanted us to bait Disney and provoke them, get a response from them, but our thinking was we had spent three years making the movie the last thing we wanted to do was be in some lawsuit with Disney. I always hoped that the film would get into some genre fests; I had never imagined we’d get into Sundance so it’s all been good and I’m pleased we still haven’t heard anything from Disney. And I’m ready to do something more conventional, I don’t even know if I’d have the energy to try this again.”
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