There are many films that screen at the Sundance that rarely get seen outside of the confines of the annual film festival. Usually, these are films that don’t seem to make an impact on critics or the numerous studio and distributor execs looking for product that they think they can sell. But this year, there is one film that is generating the type of buzz that would normally have those execs in a bidding frenzy that you probably won’t ever get a chance to see – director Randy Moore’s drama Escape From Tomorrow.
At first glance there doesn’t seem to be anything that would prohibit a distributor from releasing a film about a man’s slow descent into despair and madness after being told he is being fired from his job while on the last day of his family’s vacation. That is until you realize that the entire film was shot surreptitiously at Florida’s Walt Disney World and California’s Disneyland theme parks without permission. As such, there is much of the famous (and copyrighted) Disney iconography seen throughout the film. The studio’s costumed characters can be glimpsed walking through the background. Scenes take place on the Snow White, Winnie The Pooh and Haunted Mansion rides. So many things Disney’s phalanx of lawyers would have to give permission for these trademarked and copyrighted images to appear in a commercial release of the film. And I’m guessing that the reported scene showing the Disney princess as high-end prostitutes with Asian businessmen as clients probably won’t help convince them to sign off on the film.
So how did he manage to make the film right under the noses of park security? Well, it was apparently pretty simple. With virtually everyone at the parks owning their own video cameras and looking to document their experience there, no one really took note when Moore and just a few cast and crew members took out a Cannon 5D DSLR and started shooting. Audio was sometimes recorded on cell phones or on digital recorders taped to the actors. Scripts and production paperwork were kept on iPhones. Moore, his cast and a cameraman rode certain rides multiple times in order to capture the footage they needed without any ride operators ever raising an eyebrow.
And amazingly, the final product doesn’t look like a found footage film as one may expect but instead is a polished production, if this short clip that has been released is any indication –
But despite all the legal hurdles, I doubt that this film will stay viewed by just the audiences who saw it the past weekend for long. Disney could buy the film and distribute it themselves, though it sounds like some of the material in it could be too strong for any of their distribution arms. Alternately, another distributor could pick up the film and try to negotiate with Disney for the usage of all the trademarked imagery in the film. That would leave Disney with two options – The first would be to be a good sport about things and let the film be released or be the bad guy and clamp down on it.
But it is possible that Moore could try and release the film for free online. It has happened before in films that had copyrighted material in them without permission. Animator Nina Paley’s magnificent Sita Sings The Blues used some 1920s jazz tunes that were still under copyright. When it proved to be too expensive and too much of a hassle to untie the legal red tape surrounding the songs underlying rights, she released the film online for free download.
Underground filmmaker Damon Packard managed to do something similar to what Moore has done with his own horror film, Reflections Of Evil. Purportedly shot in part at Universal Studios theme park without permission, the movie is available for viewing free on the Fandor streaming site.
In a worst case scenario, the film will eventually find its way out into the wilds of the internet. It has happened before with the Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four film and Todd Haynes‘s suppressed Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. Even the documentary charting the troubled production of the Disney animated feature The Emperor’s New Groove, The Sweatbox has managed to find its way online for savvy fans to track down and watch. Given time, it will probably happen again.