After cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham answered a vaguely worded movie job posting, he showed up at a Starbucks to meet filmmaker Randy Moore about the gig. Graham recalls, “Randy’s first question was ‘How do you feel about shooting a movie in Disney World?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, I love Disney World,’ thinking ‘I’m not sure what strings this guy pulled to be able to do this, but it sounds great.'”
Graham soon learned that Moore, in fact, had no strings to pull. Instead, the writer-director intended to make a movie about hallucinating family man “Jim” (Roy Abrahmsohn) who neglects his wife and two kids during their Disney World vacation to get drunk, stalk a pair of French teenagers, and succumb to a brain-washing experiment in secret chambers of the theme park’s iconic Spaceship Earth geosphere.
Given that storyline, Escape From Tomorrow, opening Oct. 11, clearly needed to be filmed without Disney’s stamp of approval (and, given its less-than-authorized approach, it was widely assumed that the Mouse would crack down after the film debuted at Sundance this year. So far, the company has been conspicuously silent). Here, Moore and Graham talk about how they captured the dark side of Disney.
The 11-day Escape From Tomorrow shoot in Orlando proved to be a grueling excursion in guerrilla filmmaking. Moore recalls “After the second day of shooting I walked into Lucas’s hotel room and he was curled up in the fetal position watching Pirates of the Caribbean 2. We were all sort of retreating into these child-like levels of comfort because we knew the next day there’d be another nightmare awaiting us.”
Cast and crew had no problem blending in with tourists when they performed scenes captured by Graham and operator Justin Shell on Canon 5D Mark II Digital SLR cameras.
Moore explains, “We didn’t sneak any cameras into the park. Every morning, security opened our bags and we showed them everything we had. It wasn’t like we had to hide behind a tree with some strange camera that looked like a glove. We were out there with everyone else who had the same kinds of camera. It’s just that we had very talented people behind those cameras.”
To record the actors’ dialogue, Moore wired up cast members with microphones connected to pocket-sized Olympus recorders typically used for business dictation. To indicate “action” at the start of a scene, Moore simply waved his hand and gestured with a “slice across the neck,” Graham says, to signal “cut.”
Eschewing the shaky camera found footage aesthetic, Moore and Graham envisioned Escape From Tomorrow as a black and white picture illuminated entirely by natural sunlight. Graham observes, “There’s a ton of lighting in the movie; it’s just not put up by a gaffer. For every single shot in the movie, we planned for the sun to be in a particular place in the sky at a particular time.”
Cast and crew spent much of their time trudging back and forth across the massive park to position themselves for the sun. Lucas recalls “We were chasing the sun so much that everyone got blisters. The kids literally couldn’t walk far enough so we’d have to put them in wheelchairs and roll them to the other side of the park to catch the sun.”
Escape From Tomorrow, which also incorporate soundstage footage filmed in Los Angeles, draws inspiration from Moore’s visit to Disney World with his two daughters a few years ago. “As a child I saw it as this truly magical place. Going there as an adult you see faults in the veneer of this world where the park exists. I was interested in trying to detail this desire of people to achieve a state of perfect happiness and failing miserably.”
From a child’s perspective, Moore admits that his dark fantasies can’t compete with Buzz Lightyear and his cheerful pals. “My kids keep trying to get me to take them there, and I’m like, ‘Guys, I can never go back there ever again.”