Like many, I never thought I'd have a chance to see Escape from Tomorrow, but I held out the faint hope that it would make some sort of other festival appearance after premiering to much controversy at Sundance for being the film that would never see the light of day because it was shot incognito at Disney World.
When I found out it was playing Fantastic Fest 2013 and that director Randall Moore would be there I was overjoyed. It's basic plot follows the story of a middle aged man getting fired the morning of his family's last vacation day at Disneyland. What follows is a nightmare of hallucinatory cine-madness that is part horror, part science fiction, part comedy, and at times, very disturbing. If you've ever wondered what Gilliam on a budget would do to the house of mouse look no further. Director / writer Randall Moore and cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham sat down for a chat at the fest.
ScreenAnarchy: So you're opening up against MACHETE KILLS and ROMEO AND JULIET.
Randall Moore: Yeah, but those are wide release so we're not really competing with them. Besides our composer also did the music for Romeo and Juliet so we want to see that succeed anyway.
But the buzz you're getting is amazing. Did you expect that?
RM: No. People might think that was the intent of shooting the way we did but it wasn't at all. We were just excited we got into Sundance. Then when we got in I was convinced we wouldn't make it to the first screening. Then I was sure something would happen that would keep us from the second screening. Then we got through those and they added a second P&I screening.
What was riding that out like?
RM: At first it was really difficult. For obvious reasons I'd been super reserved about it. I barely talked about it at all, even with my closest friends. Having it take on a life of it's own, out in public, going on the record about what we had done... I had to compartmentalize it. My real goal wasn't to get into Sundance or get distribution, it was just to shoot it. I didn't want to think about anything else.
Why make a movie if you aren't sure anyone else will ever get to see it.
RM: Someone asked me, "What were you thinking?!" and I had come to the conclusion it was my Field Of Dreams moment. I had to do it. It didn't even start off as a big project. It was just me and a few friends. It just slowly snowballed. By then I was obsessed and it was too late to stop. I guess I just thought that, If I make it, no matter what happens, at least it can't be unmade.
Lucas Lee Graham: I'd got to know Randy and read the script and got involved. It became a sort of therapy to make the film. All of us on the crew had this "Don't talk about Fight Club" mentality and that only got worse after we got into Sundance. We had screened it at the Arclight for friends and family at that point and someone tweeted that they'd seen this crazy Disney guerrilla film and we actually made them pull that tweet down.
RM: I think there were two or three years where every single email I wrote ended with, "Please don't tell anyone about this."
LLG: You have to remember that when we went to Sundance we weren't at all sure people were going to like the movie. What if everyone hates the movie now that we've come to this big platform. We're showing something that was just this little cathartic project.
RM: It's still a very polarizing film. There are plenty of people who don't like it.
As much as I'd like to talk about the origin and Disney's reaction, we only have a few minutes and I'm fascinated by the personal nature of the project.
RM: I had all this stuff sort of festering in my mind that led me to the project. Pop culture as religion, commodifying happiness, the failure of the American dream and I had spent so much time in Disney as a kid. For instance I was older, I had gone back to Disneyland for the first time since I had kids. It was a whole different experience for me. I don't think you can talk about you can talk about American culture without talking about Disney. This movie is just as much about America as it's about Disney. If America has a heart and soul it's probably closer to Orlando than it is to Washington.
LLG: Thank you. It's great to get to the point where we can talk about the movie instead of being so focused on how it was made or the legality of it. It's the film's greatest asset in the short term but it's also the Achilles heel.
Well that goes back to the thematic core. It's about how you can sell the film as opposed to what the film has to say.
RM: This was never about a gotcha prank leveled at Disney. But it is about this idea of millions of dollars every year being paid out to some ultimate form of escapism. If you were from a foreign country and wanted to get an idea of what America is like you could do worse than head to Orlando. It's all there warts and all.
LLG: Disney is like a Thomas Kinkade painting brought to life, it's nostalgia for a past that never really existed.
I took my family to Disneyland California a couple years ago and it was amazing. We had the time of our lives. In fact we did all the theme parks. But in that two years there has been this growing sense of discomfort with say, Sea World because of the way orcas are procured and trained and maintained. I kept being drawn back in my notes to the phrase, "The happiest place on Earth, but you're not allowed to have any problems there."
RM: It has to do with the idea that happiness should be problem free. It's okay to have dreams but we are supposed to believe we are the best country in the world and that anything less than that is un-American. It almost borders on neurosis. I'm a little OCD and I'm always telling my kids not to touch things [laughs]. So if you look at Cat flu in the film it's not just a jab at our obsession with things like Avian flu but what we're afraid it will take away from us- which is something we don't really have anyway.
There's something great there about the cat judging the culture of the mouse and that connects back to the dad's fascination with the two teenage girls.
RM: It's weird. In Orlando there's this huge contingent of Brazilian people that go there on vacation. They all wear these orange shirts and seem super happy. You see them clapping and cheering in sync. Then if you watch the crowd there are always these American kids and parents who look absolutely miserable. It's as if the American's can't even enjoy this paradise they've made and the outsiders are able to almost completely.
Almost as if the American's know they're stuck.
RM: The foreigners in the film have a sense of freedom that the American's don't.
Talk about the dark sexual undertone of the dad's quest.
RM: It is really dark. When I was writing I realized that must happen a lot more than anybody wants anyone to think about. Again, it's the constant intrusion of reality on fantasy. For the character that dark fantasy is just what he retreats to when he doesn't want to face his problems. It's blasphemous.
It's blasphemous on a couple of levels. One he's not being a good worker bee, he's stealing honey. Two he's running away from his humanity, using his fantasy to disconnect from his life and possible solutions.
RM: I purposefully didn't put in what his job is. Losing his job, was about losing himself. Without a clear identity it's way easier for him to indulge in all this dark stuff. I think that happens to more people than we care to admit in our society. It also has to do with this idea of personal happiness being the ultimate thing. When we create places for the purpose of having somewhere we can forget about reality, we're still subject to reality. If we refuse to be subject to reality then we may find our fantasies are actually really dark.
Baudrillard said that, "Disneyland is a place where illusion becomes reality."
So if what's good for Disney is to create an illusion to live in then why can't we?
So what's next? Another black and white deeply personal film you might not legally be able to release?
RM: [Laughs] I'm definitely thinking more straight ahead narrative.
What about a reality TV show where you go to different places and shoot guerrilla style?
RM: [Laughs] No, no, no. You know, the truth is this was never about guerrilla filmmaking. I knew we needed to shoot there so we did, but it was about the story we wanted to tell. You won't see us running around doing that again anytime soon. I do think the next thing I do will probably be weird and dark. I do continue to feel compelled to explore American myths and folklore. I'm looking at a period piece set in the 1800s. We joked about making it in 3D. But I doubt it will even be in black and white.