When I read all the press about Randy Moore’s Escape from Tomorrow after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, I remember thinking how amazing it sounded and I was disappointed that I’d never get a chance to see it. Surely, a horror film shot  surreptitiously with no permits or permission at Disney World and Disneyland would never see the light of day — the Disney lawers would pounce on the filmmaker before he even left Park City. And yet, the provocative film is currently enjoying a theatrical release this month, opening in additional cities each weekend. Whether the Walt Disney Company decided to refrain from comment (or legal action) because they didn’t want to give the film any additional publicity or whether they have a sense of humor about their company’s image and thought it was fair game for parody, we will probably never know. But the fact that Moore’s film exists at all is something of a miracle.

When the film opens, a middle-aged man (Roy Abramsohn), on the last day of a family vacation at a Disney theme park, finds out that he has lost his job back home. Keeping the news from his wife (Elena Schuber) and their two children, he packs up the family and embarks on a full day of park-hopping amidst enchanted castles and fairytale princesses. But soon the manufactured mirth of the fantasy world around him begins to haunt his subconscious. An idyllic family vacation  unravels into a surrealist and darkly comic nightmare with paranoid visions, bizarre encounters with creepy park guests, and an obsessive pursuit of a pair of young, sexy French teenagers. Beautifully shot in black and white, the chilling Escape from Tomorrow dissects the mythology of artificial perfection while shining a light on our culture’s obsession with mass corporate-sponsored entertainment. I sat down with writer/director Randy Moore and stars Roy Abramsohn and Elena Schuber to discuss this fascinating and crazy-ass film.

escape-posterDanny Miller: Thank you, Randy, for putting my particular childhood nightmares of the Disney Empire on the screen!

Randy Moore: You’re welcome!

My first visits to the Magic Kingdom as a kid were  intricately linked to my parents’ divorce so I always felt conflicted when I heard the parks beings referred to as the “Happiest Place on Earth!” I suppose I should get over it at this point and take my four-year-old son there!

Roy Abramsohn: Oh God, wait until he’s older! I went there when my kid was four and it was a miserable experience from beginning to end!

Maybe you’re right. The idea for this film is so insane, I’m just in awe that you were able to pull it off.

Randy: The funny thing is that I’m not really a fan of so-called “guerilla filmmaking.”We did it that way out of necessity — it was really the only way we could shoot this particular film. It wasn’t entirely shot in the parks, though — some of the film was shot in a regular soundstage setting using green screens.

Elena Schuber: I remember showing up for my first wardrobe fitting at the studio. I saw the normal-looking call sheets and felt so relieved. “Oh, this is good — they have production offices! This isn’t just some crazy people trying to make a film!”

When you you were shooting in the parks, weren’t you and the other actors worried that you might be thrown out by security?

You know, it wasn’t really our job to worry about permits or anything like that. Shooting there was a great exercise in being as natural as possible and acting as much as we could like a real frickin’ family! Our job was just to play it as real as possible.


I think your cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham did a fantastic job — the film is beautifully shot — but from the outside were you just trying to look like a typical family at Disney World shooting home movies?

Randy: Yeah, absolutely. To be honest, we would have looked out of place there if we didn’t have a camera! But that’s why we couldn’t walk around with scripts in our hands — we had everything on our iPhones. We usually had about eight to ten people in our group but the truth is that there are lots of groups of adults who go to Disneyland — some of them even wear identical clothes!

Elena: We should have done that!

Randy: It’s funny — when I was writing the script I’d always go to the park with one of my kids because I thought it would be too weird walking around there by myself. But then I started noticing LOTS of grown men walking around with no kids. I was like, “Hmm, that’s interesting…”

I have to admit that the one time I went to Disneyland with just friends and no kids, we had a blast! Who needs to shlep kids there?

I know! Kids ruin everything! (Laughs.)

How did you come up with this crazy idea in the first place?

It started off as a kind of experimental film, I really had no idea if it could be done. At first I was just going to shoot it myself with friends. Then, as I worked more and more on it, I thought I might as well get some good actors on board. That’s when everything changed. Once you bring on professional actors, you need a casting director, you need an assistant director to do scheduling, you need someone to deal with transportation, the list goes on and on!

So would you have long meetings in the morning with the actors to plan everything for the day since you couldn’t really act like a normal director inside the park?

Yeah. First we scouted extensively and had everything mapped out with a shot list on our phones so we knew every close-up and medium shot that we needed. We had a detailed schedule that even accounted for the position of the sun but that often meant that we had to run from one side of the park to the other and back again all the time. Those poor kids — it got to the point where we sometimes used wheelchairs for them just because they couldn’t walk that much! Especially in Orlando — that park is so big, it’s like a whole world!

Elena: We’d rehearse all our lines in Randy’s room every morning and then just go to the park and do it. Randy would come over to us and whisper, “Okay, that was good, now do it again this way.” He’d try to give us subtle directions that no one would notice.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were real families there repeating “scenes” over again for their video cameras to get them right!

Randy: It’s true! Everyone who has a speaking role in the film was obviously one of our actors. The other day someone came up to me and asked if those two French girls that Roy is obsessed with in the film were real park guests that just happened to wander into the scenes!

How did you deal with the other people who were just visiting the parks on those days and didn’t know they were part of a film?

We used a pretty shallow focus and didn’t linger on anyone. Believe me, the film was vetted very carefully by a team of lawyers!

And yet I’m still amazed that you aren’t being inundated with letters from the Walt Disney Company. I’ve always heard they were very protective of their image and would even go after small-time piñata makers or children’s theater companies depicting unauthorized versions of their characters. Is there part of you that’s a little disappointed that you’re not being sued by them. 

No! Trust me, I’m not at all disappointed that I’m not being sued! You know, I’ve maintained from the very beginning that it’s such a rite of passage going to those parks, it’s such a universal experience that so many people share. If there’s a heart and soul of America, I think for a lot of people it’s Orlando or Anaheim more than our nation’s capital! And to not be able to critique that or parody it or comment on it seems unconscionable to me — I almost felt obligated to say something about this place that had such an effect on me and you and so many other people growing up!

It’s true, and it’s such a mixed bag for many people. 

I just felt that I needed to say something about it. And to be honest, I didn’t crack open any law books beforehand because I knew if I started doing that, I would have  started second-guessing myself and making different creative decisions.

It’s still remarkable to me that this film was able to get out there. Were you prepared for the possibility that it would never see the light of day?

Yes, I was. I think we’re all very surprised and happy about what has happened!

Roy: Including the fact that it’s in black and white. When Randy first told me that, I was like, “What? Now we’ll really never be seen!”

Elena: Of course, the truth is that the film is really about this marriage, about this family. Disneyland is just a backdrop.

Roy: Some guy at a film festival came up to me and said, “Well, the whole film is obviously about the dissolution of the American family!”

I think we all bring our own stuff to a film like this! Like I said, for me it evokes all the pain of my own family’s break-up.

Randy: That’s exactly what it’s about for me, too. I went to Disneyland the first time with my divorced father. I was so happy to be there with him but also extremely sad because I knew it would be ending soon and I wouldn’t be with him anymore. I was happy to be there and at the same time desperately sad inside.

And have any of us ever been there without seeing families so desperately trying to have a good time. “Have fun, God damn it!”

You see that all the time!

I have to say that I’ve had nightmares since I’ve seen the film about the “cat flu” and the other horror aspects of the film including the creepy people at the park and all the blood and vomit (spoiler alert!), but one of the most powerful statements the film makes, in my opinion, is when you, Elena, slap your little girl out of sheer frustration. I thought that scene said so much about our obsessive consumer culture and what it can lead to at such places.

Randy: We shot that scene using a green screen because we didn’t want Elena slapping that little girl in the actual park, but you do see that kind of thing there!

Or else the parents just give up and give in to whatever their kids want.

Right! “I’ll get you that stupid $50 toy just so you’ll shut up already!”

Jack Dalton

Those kids were great, by the way. I loved the girl and that little boy — wow, he scared the bejeesus out of me in some of those scenes!

(Laughs.) Oh, he was amazing. He came from our New York casting search.

Roy: I remember saying to Randy, “Why the hell do you have to cast in New York? Then you have to fly the kid and his mother out and put them up for six weeks. Aren’t there any child actors in L.A.? I thought we had nothing but kid actors?” He said there was just something special about this kid. And he was right!

Yeah. Ironically, I often hear from directors that child actors in L.A. are too “Disney-fied” for them to use so they often cast elsewhere. Too many of them have that artificial Disney Channel sitcom quality.

Randy: Too Disney-ish for our movie set in the world of Disney!

Did you ever have run-ins with security at the theme parks?

Roy: We did, but only on our last weekend of shooting at Disneyland. We were doing a shot (that didn’t end up in the film) where we’re entering the park. The A.D. asked us to do it again so we went out and came back in. A security guard came up to me at that point and said, “Sir, why did you come into the park twice in seven minutes?” I made up some excuse about leaving sunscreen in the car but he was on to us. Then he asked us if we were celebrities because it looked some paparazzi with cameras were taking pictures of us. Elena and I acted all flattered. “Oh, honey, they think we’re celebrities!” but we were both freaking out! The guard then told us to come with him. We had sound equipment in our pockets so we said the kids had to go to the bathroom and we ran there and frantically undid all of our equipment. I remember shoving the digital recorder into my tube socks! When we came out, our A.D., wearing a Goofy hat, walked by us and whispered, “Get out of the park right now and meet us at the white van in the parking lot!”

Elena: Luckily, at that very moment this huge parade came down Main Street so we got behind that and paraded right out of the park and ran as fast we could to the van! As we sped away I noticed a guy taking down our license plate number!

My God, it sounds like the closing scenes in “Argo!” You guys are ready for the CIA!

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Escape from Tomorrow is currently playing in select cities and is available on VOD, iTunes, and Amazon.