Editor’s Notes: The following interview is part of our coverage of Fantastic Fest 2013. For more information on the festival visit http://fantasticfest.com and follow Fantastic Fest on Twitter at @fantasticfest. Escape from Tomorrow is now open in limited release.
Escape from Tomorrow has been the talk of the town since the Sundance Film Festival. A team of guerilla filmmakers took on the task of shooting an entire film in Disney parks without Disney’s consent or knowledge. This is a risky move because if they were caught, Disney would have shut them down and they would have an incomplete movie. The result is a creepy voyeuristic journey that also dabbles in sci-fi. Escape from Tomorrow is an experimental film with fantastic results. As of this writing the film sees a limited theatrical release as well as a VOD release. During Fantastic Fest we had the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with Randy Moore (Director/Screenwriter) and Lucas Lee Graham (Cinematographer). The stars aligned for these two as their movie magic worked wonders and their chemistry is magnetic. We talked about the inspiration behind the film, the methods they used to shoot the film as well as how they overcame the fear of being shut down during the production of the film.
Next Projection: How did it feel to generate so much buzz for your first film? Escape From Tomorrow has been the talk of cinema all year
Randy: Wonderful and terrifying. Extremely unexpected. We worked on this film for so long. There was a time when a lot of people, including me wondered if it would ever be finished. To be noticed was great. I was so happy for everyone that worked on the movie. Finally people were recognizing the movie so that was great. But we got so much hype that I was worried. I knew the film would have trouble living up to the hype. It was like being thrown into the fire all of a sudden. I had gone from barely talking about the film to my closest friends to all of a sudden every single film site wanted an interview. It was a big switch.
NP: What inspired you to write this story?
Randy: I used to go there a lot when I was a kid with my father. When I had kids of my own I went back. I think that was the very beginning of seeing Disney World from a different perspective. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It wasn’t like while I was there I was like, “Oh I’m going to write something about this.” Afterwards I kept thinking about it more and more and it was strange when I went there because I was going on the same rides I had gone on with my father who I’m not very close to anymore. I think that’s what got me wanting to explore the relationship I had with my father and the park together is sort of where it came from. It’s not like I wanted to make a movie where I was going to punk Disney.
NP: How did Randy pitch the idea to you?
Lucas: We were sitting in a coffee shop, the same way you meet people in an independent film for an interview. He told me a little bit about the project. He was highly considering black and white at that point. He was just like, “How do you feel about making a movie in Disney world with no permits?” I met him and immediately became interested and he was like, “There is a really dark element to it. The main character goes through really horrible things. The backdrop has to be, The Happiest Place On Earth.” I was immediately taken by that juxtaposition of different ideas. I really fell in love with the project as I read the script the first time. I got probably 30 pages into it and I was thinking, “I gotta somehow talk this guy into shooting it in an abandoned theme park and we’ll mock it up to make it look like something else.” Then about 60 pages in you’re like, there’s no possible way this could be anywhere but there. Then by the end of it I absolutely fell in love with the material and was impressed with Randy in our meeting. I was like, “This guy is going to make this movie and if I’m not a part of it I will never forgive myself. I really want to do it!” He hired me the next day and we were on a plane to Orlando to scout. It was really fast!
NP: How did it feel after you wrapped the first day?
Randy: Can I tell the story?
Lucas: You wanna tell the story?
Randy: It was so exhausting, physically and mentally exhausting that first day. More than an indie film this film is really an experimental film in the truest sense. It was an experiment. We didn’t know if we could do it or not. If we would be able to get through the first day, let alone the whole shoot. That first day was so mentally and physically trying that after we were done shooting, and we had long days in Orlando because we didn’t have much time to be there. I went to Lucas’s hotel room and knocked on the door and went inside and Lucas was curled up in the fetal position watching Pirates of the Caribbean 2!
*All three burst into laughter*
Lucas: Couldn’t you just say Pirates of the Caribbean 1? You always make it the second one! How shitty is that, man?!
Randy: Before we started shooting he made fun of Bruckheimer. I knew he must’ve been just searching for some sort of comfort, a comfort food at some point.
Lucas: I’m not sure that was the first day but it was within the first two or three.
Randy: It was maybe the second day. The stress was just getting to us all. I was like, “What are you watching?”
Lucas: I was like, hugging myself!
Randy: Of all places to be watching that movie! We all were just looking for solace at that point. What’s ahead of us?
Lucas: It was extremely hard to make. We planned and planned and planned. We knew every shot, we knew how the lighting was going to fall but the one thing we didn’t plan for was how hard it was going to be to move through the park with the cast and with kids. We would only have 15 minutes to get across and Randy’s got the longest legs in the world. I used to have to jog to keep up with him.
Randy: We had to get wheelchairs for the kids because we were running around from one side to the other and back chasing the sun the whole time.
Lucas: It’s hot and humid in Orlando! And you have to be there in 15 minutes or you lose the light. And so you spin around the park all day long and try to get scenes with these kids. It’s mentally and physically the most exhausting project I’ve worked on.
Randy: I lost a lot of weight. I was 215 when I started and by the end I was 168.
NP: I think I need to do that!
Randy: The Escape from Tomorrow diet!
Lucas: I was skinny when we were making the movie!
It was extremely hard to make. We planned and planned and planned. We knew every shot, we knew how the lighting was going to fall but the one thing we didn’t plan for was how hard it was going to be to move through the park with the cast and with kids. We would only have 15 minutes to get across and Randy’s got the longest legs in the world. I used to have to jog to keep up with him.
NP: Can you comment on the trust and working relationship between you two in the production of the film?
Randy: I don’t think there was that much trust in the beginning.
Lucas: There was a certain amount of trust because I met this guy at a coffee shop! And then had to stay in a hotel with room with him like, 48 hours later in Orlando.
Randy: We did not know each other very well at all when we started making this movie. It was so hard in the beginning. It wasn’t until I think two or three days into shooting; we were walking back to our hotel room we were walking along this beautiful lake on the boardwalk of downtown Disney in Orlando and I said to Lucas, “I need to know that you believe in this project in order to continue.” Because we were all just… Our minds were all over the place. We talked about it and by the end of that night I was like, okay he’s on board. But until then it was a strange getting to know each other process.
Lucas: It was one of those horrible days and every movie has ‘em. I think Sean Connery said, “Sometimes making a movie is a great pleasure but most of the time it’s like shoveling shit uphill.” This was like, times ten!
Randy: You can’t say that without doing a Sean Connery accent!
Lucas: *in his best Sean Connery voice* “Shoveling shit uphill!” He was pushing me around in a wheelchair. I was getting to my breaking point. People were crossing us. We were losing shots. The kids were being a pain in the butt.
Lucas: Yeah they were! That was when we were running down that Tomorrowland thing. They were just tired. They’re kids. We just ran them around for ten hours.
Randy: Lucas has a problem with the kids!
*All three laugh*
Lucas: *A* kid! I was kinda to my breaking point. We kinda psyched each other up.
Randy: I think the kids were some of the most professional people. They were amazing.
Lucas: They were.
Randy: To do what they did. To have to go do Disney World and then not be allowed to go on rides is one of the hardest things. Probably the worst thing imaginable for any kid and that’s what they did. I give them all the credit in the world. It was hot, we had long days, they knew their lines every single day which is more than I can say for some of the adult actors.
Lucas: I think there were lapses of faith in terms of whether we could pull it off. Luckily none of us all lost it at the same time.
NP: Let’s talk about Roy Abramsohn. How did you find him?
Randy: He came to a casting call we had in Hollywood. It was on the very first day. We cast for a few weeks in LA and a few weeks in New York. I never forgot his audition. He nailed it! It was obvious from the moment he started reading the scene that this was the guy. I didn’t know him from before. He was great. He was so good.
NP: He nailed the role. He made me squirm a lot! Did you guys have to come up with creative ways to bring in the equipment?
Randy: No. Everything we brought in was standard consumer equipment that everyone else had.
Lucas: It’s basically professional photo grade.
Randy: People had better cameras inside the park! There were some kids running around with a Sony EX3 on a tripod. Uh oh, we have to hurry up and finish this movie because someone else is doing the same thing right now! There was a security point. We opened up our camera bags and they made sure nothing else was in there and that was it.
NP: Away you go, go make your movie!
Randy: That would have been funny if they said that!
*All three pause for laughter*
NP: Why Parisian girls? Was it a tough sell to their families/agents?
Randy: Originally in the script they were Brazilian. We tried to cast girls who could speak Portuguese. We had difficulty finding the right two girls. At the very last minute in the casting process we thought it might be easier to find two French-speaking girls. I was reluctant because I thought it was a cliché to have French girls. We were really close to our start date. I loved the girls we ended up going with. They were game! The youngest one (Danielle Safady) was younger than 18 so her mother was always with us in the park at all times. The older one, Anett (Mahendru) is now on FX’s The Americans, she was great. She loved it. She loved playing a younger character. You know, flirting with Roy in character.
NP: I know you get this question every interview. Our Next Projection readers will want to know. How did you get through the fear during the production of this film?
Randy: It was always there. It was always prevalent. There was always a high level of fear. Eventually you just got used to the fear and had to just deal with it. That fear probably heightened everything and allowed us to focus and even do stuff we normally wouldn’t do.
Lucas: The fear went in waves for me at least.
Randy: I think our camera department got a little cocky towards the end.
Lucas: We got way too cocky!
Randy: For me that fear is still lingering somewhere.
Lucas: We got a little cocky at the front end too. I was just trying to do weird stuff with the camera in my hand to see what would happen and nothing ever happened. Then you would get a family of people dressed up like pirates wearing red crocs dancing in front of you and you’re like, they’re never going to pay attention to me. The first day of principle photography we were shooting in front of the ball at Epcot. The family entering Epcot was the first thing we did. I remember we had already gotten a little too cocky. We were shooting with prime lenses and changing lenses all the time. After that day one of the photographers was geeking out over the gear we had and he was a Disney guy. I thought, we gotta tone down our profile for a little bit. People thought we were paparazzi. We went in waves in the camera department. Randy had a steady dose of fear.
Randy: I tried to get the camera department to shave and to dress respectably. But you know how camera department guys are!
Lucas: We shaved for the first couple of days!
Randy: In Orlando I think you guys did it but once you got to Anaheim you were like, fuck this I’m gonna wear what I wanna wear.
Lucas: We were too tired to shave!
We got a little cocky at the front end too. I was just trying to do weird stuff with the camera in my hand to see what would happen and nothing ever happened. Then you would get a family of people dressed up like pirates wearing red crocs dancing in front of you and you’re like, they’re never going to pay attention to me.
NP: Did you have a favorite location to shoot?
Randy: We were just telling the previous reporter our favorite place to eat was this gumbo and clam chowder shack in the French quarter in Anaheim. They had bread bowls filled with clam chowder. In Orlando they had a Moroccan pavilion which is great because there’s almost never anyone there. I guess middle America doesn’t really care that much about Morocco. They had great couscous and they had everything there. We hung out there a lot between takes.
Lucas: Shooting wise I felt like there was an ease when we got on the rides to shoot. You’re in the dark, you’re isolated. We don’t have to run around. We normally had a ride every day or every other day to shoot.
Randy: We spent a lot of time in the Tiki Room. We were worried about the weather the most in Orlando because it rains a lot there. It didn’t rain one day! But then when we were in Anaheim where it almost never rains we had like a week of rain. We had to figure out what we were going to do so we ended up just like, let’s go shoot some more stuff in the Tiki Room. We have hours and hours..we could make a whole movie in the Tiki Room called, “Roy Goes to the Tiki Room.”
NP: Was that where he was drinking in the film?
Randy: No it’s where the birds are singing and the phallic fountain.
NP: That got a huge applause in my screening. Everybody loved that! The whole audience knew what you were going for there.
Randy: *laughs* We weren’t that subtle!
NP: Do you guys have future projects lined up together?
Randy: We definitely want to do something soon. I hope. He’s busy, if his schedule permits.
NP: *I receive the “one last question” motion from their publicist* How many times on average did you have to ride each ride to get your shots?
Randy: I think we rode Small World with the actors 9-10 times. Then we went back and did a lot of B roll.
Lucas: The longest shot to get in the whole movie was on the People Mover. When he goes, “Are we following those girls dad?” And he goes, “What girls?” And he goes, “Those girls!” That shot of them took us 2.5 hours to get. Just to line up the People Mover. It was a pain in the butt to get.