“Escape from Tomorrow,” filmed on the sly at Disney theme parks, is the talk of the Sundance Film Festival this weekend. But what was it like to make a movie over 25 days at Disney World, Epcot and Disneyland without park employees, or tourists, knowing?
In the black-and-white film, Abramsohn plays a down-on-his-luck father touring the park with his wife and children.
“As an actor, once you get over the fact that you didn’t get caught that first day, no one threw you into ‘Mickey Mouse jail,’ then you’re really just playing the scene,” Abramsohn said. “It’s almost easier, because you’re not waiting for lighting setups” and other typical preparation between takes.
Abramsohn described the experience as “almost more exciting” than a normal production because there was “always the thrill of getting caught.”
“It’s the constant thrill, like an illicit affair,” he said. “You’re never bored.”
Still, at various points during the shoot, the cast and crew were faced with the difficult task of playing the scene while not attracting too much attention from park staff and visitors. Abramsohn recalled one particularly challenging day when they filmed at the Germany section of Epcot in Orlando.
“There was a scene where I’m getting drunker and drunker and more belligerent,” Abramsohn said. “The waitress didn’t know [what we were doing], and I would have my arm around the waitress and saying ‘Deutschland uberalis!’ and I was trying not to say Nazi stuff so I wouldn’t get thrown out…. That was a little touchy.”
“There was a few moments where I was just crossing the edge, [where a person might say] ‘What are you doing?’” he added. “She didn’t know it was a movie. The cameramen were just at the other table, filming very quietly.”
Moore said he decided to make the movie in black and white because he “didn’t want it to be home movieish, didn’t want it to have a found footage feel.”
Without color, he said, audiences see “almost an alternate Disney World.”
“Fantastic things were popping out of the woodwork, things you normally don’t notice,” he said.
Moore said “Escape” is an exploration of a childhood that was influenced by “a great deal of time spent with my father at these places, particularly Disney World…. I was trying to explore the relationship I had with the park and my father as a child.”
Abramsohn said it was interesting to explore the question of “how do you live in a place that’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth, but you’re miserable and longing? There’s a real sadness, longing and wanting in this movie.”
It’s unclear if Disney will have legal objections to the movie that might prevent it from being shown beyond the festival, in movie theaters nationwide or on DVD or video-on-demand. So far, no distributor has picked up the film.
Moore said he was hopeful Disney executives “would just see it as a creative exploration of someone who does have a nostalgia for the park.”
“I’m not trying to shut Disney down or hurt them,” he added. “This was the story, and that was the only place I could tell it.”
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