“Low-budget” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad movie.” There have been hundreds of filmmakers who have decided that they wanted to tell a story, but they couldn’t get the studios to back them. So, they got it done as best as they knew how—they went out and made their films by any means necessary. Escape from Tomorrow is one such film, and although it didn’t necessarily have to be filmed at Disney World, it sure helped, both in realism and marketing.
Also known as “guerrilla filmmaking,” these independent directors and producers go to great lengths with tight budgets, skeleton crews and probably zero permits or permissions to make cinema magic. Mario Van Peebles made Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song in just 19 days. Robert Rodriguez shot his first film, El Mariachi, for just $7,000.
And then there’s Escape from Tomorrow, the horror flick that used patience instead of money wherever possible—by secretly filming at Disney World.
This indie film is famous for being produced in secret at the Magic Kingdom and other parks in the Disney complex. A horror movie, Escape from Tomorrow is about a man named Jim White slowly losing his mind throughout his family’s vacation to the Disney park. On their last day of vacation, they terminate him from his job.
While at the park, he becomes infatuated with two French girls, and he begins to find excuses to follow them. He eventually meets a mysterious woman with an amulet around her neck. Jim blacks out and wakes up to discover that he is having sex with the strange woman. She reveals that the two French girls are part of an in-park prostitution ring. Later, his wife discovers his infatuation while at Epcot and returns to their hotel, but Jim loses his daughter. While searching for her, park security arrests him.
The plot becomes increasingly bizarre and disturbing from there as Jim awakens to find himself in a secret underground laboratory beneath the park. However, in the interest of not spoiling this example of truly weird cinema for those who would like to watch it for themselves, we’ll just stop here.
The production of the film is actually as interesting as the movie itself. In order to make Escape from Tomorrow, the filmmakers and actors all had to pull off well-rehearsed and choreographed scenes.
Preproduction is an important planning stage for any film, but for the secrecy involved and the movie’s limited budget, this meant that this film had to go far beyond any kind of normal planning. Crew members even had to go as far as considering the position of the sun for some takes. Even then, the lighting still wasn’t perfectly uniform, so the movie is in black and white.
The actors themselves had even more to do than the crew. Everyone had to dress as tourists and enter the parks piecemeal, arriving at specific locations at predetermined times. To prepare for scenes, actors had to rehearse in their hotel rooms before going to the park for the day. They used cel phones to store all film-related documents and scripts.
In order to actually film the movie, the actors needed to wear microphones the whole time. And if you’ve ever had to sit through the “It’s a Small World” song and ride, count your blessings that you only had to ride it one time. The actors had to ride it 12 times on one occasion, and had to wait in line for each go-round.
Furthermore, the cast had to go to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, for additional shoots. In all, the film’s Disney pass budget was around $240,000. The rest of the film relied on green screens and soundstages .
Sadly, for the filmmakers, Escape from Tomorrow did not become a blockbuster hit. The film earned it’s place at the Sundance Film Festival, but that didn’t translate into greater ticket sales. The film actually lost money in the end, not even recouping the expense for the park passes.
If they were hoping for a Disney scandal to lead to free promotion through news coverage, they were wrong. Disney acknowledged that they know about the film, but the megacorporation declined to do anything about it. The film relied on its story and its own marketing budget for promotion.
Escape from Tomorrow’s 56-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes means that it died with a whimper. On the brighter side, however, they managed to avoid any infringement or trespassing lawsuits from the Big Mouse.