Saturday, April 13, 2013

Escape from Tomorrow

A movie called ‘Escape from Tomorrow’ has recently come to my attention. That’s not unusual in and of itself, as I probably see more new movies than just about anyone. The unusual thing about this particular movie is that I hadn’t heard of it, and the majority of it was filmed at Disney World.

“What!?!” – That was my reaction when I first heard about it.

The movie premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival to little pre-showing fanfare, and by all accounts isn’t that great of a movie as a whole.  Though it’s being lauded for having an interesting visual style, the “horror” and script are being written off as average. There’s a lot of speculation that it wouldn’t have been accepted to such a major festival without the Ninja-Disney cache.

It was shot, in secret, on small hand-held cameras and other subtle or “touristy” video cameras. They did this, because Disney has never authorized any outside productions to film in their parks. They’ve always been extremely protective over their branding and their images. Because of this, the movie is very unlikely to ever see wide release, since the movie not only takes place there, but depends on the location as part of the story, and Disney is pretty unlikely to allow this movie they had no hand in creating using their images. As of now, the only known showing planned for it is next week in Ebertfest. And then that’s it. Maybe it’s gone forever. Maybe you’ll be able to scrounge up a bootleg somewhere.

Thinking about this movie, and my desire to see it, and my overall love of Disney and Disney Parks has raised several questions for me. I’m going to take some time to toss them around.

First… What’s the issue?

Well, I guess it depends on who you ask, but the main issue would seem to be that Disney doesn’t want people using their images (characters, park rides, names, etc..) without their permission. Now, when last I heard, Disney hadn’t released any official “Cease and desist” statement. They simply said they were aware of the movie, and that was it. The idealist in me would like to think that Disney would let it go, and not stop it, but I can’t see that happening. So basically there’s this movie that won’t be purchased by a distributor because there’s a good chance Disney will just sue the daylights out of them if they ever try to release it. If the movie was undeniably good, maybe someone would take the risk, but not for this.

Second… If it’s not that good, who cares?

That’s a good point. I think there’s an obvious niche audience that just loves to see Disney images, and is sort of titillated by this sort of illicit depiction of “It’s a Small World” and “Space Mountain” in this unsanctioned way. There’s something kinda fun in the notion that you’re breaking the rules. Even the most staunch of Disney fans will likely admit to having had fantasies of hiding on The People Mover until after close and wandering the park all night. None of us wants to do damage, but all of us wants an unforgettable, unique Disney experience. This movie represents that unique experience, and there’s value in that to a Disney Fan. Someone got past the security. Someone figured out ways to perform whole scenes of dialogue amidst the unknowing crowd and on rides. It’s fascinating just to think about it.  Basically, there’s a small audience of big Disney fans who just wanna see it out of curiosity. That’s who cares, and I don’t think that’s enough.

Let’s say it was great? Shouldn’t it be released?

The thing that I’m reminded of most of all in regards to this situation is the Metallica vs. Napster case. For anyone who’s forgotten, Metallica sued Napster (at the time the world’s largest file sharing program) because their songs were being shared from user to user without Metallica’s consent. They insisted over and over it wasn’t about the millions of dollars they weren’t making through legitimate sales of their songs (that’s probably not true totally, since I’d definitely care about the money for sure), but rather that they believed that Metallica alone should have control over how their music (their “intellectual property”) should be made available.

Essentially, if Disney puts up a fight, or refuses to give consent to the filmmakers to use their images, Disney will be arguing the same thing. If Space Mountain appears in some movie, Disney wants to have the ONLY say in how. If Mickey Mouse is a major plot point in a story, you can bet Disney’s name is the only one on it.

The argument made by the other side is emotional and complicated and certainly worth considering.

“Disney is the most powerful entertainment company on Earth. It’s not going to hurt them”
“Disney has enough money. They should just let it go.”
“Shouldn’t they be encouraging young film makers?”
“What about all the fans who want to see the Disney stuff?”
“What happens to all the money the people spent making the movie?”

These are basically all valid, emotion-based questions, with boring, unemotional answers that all make sense to me, but the answer that resonates the most with me is this:

Maybe the money doesn’t matter to them, because them crazy rich, and maybe they’d like to encourage young filmmakers, and maybe this film wouldn’t hurt their image, and obviously they love the fans, but ultimately it’s not about THIS movie or THESE filmmakers. It’s about setting the precedent. There’s no way Disney is going to open the door to film makers not under their umbrella. Maybe this one movie doesn’t harm them, but what about all of the subsequent movies made in the same way? Does Disney have to give them all a pass? Even if it’s a case-by-case thing, I can’t see them wanting to encourage the practice at all.

And lemme talk about this “Doesn’t Disney have enough money?” argument for just a second, because it’s the same one leveled by Napster against Metallica, and it’s just as stupid now.

Disney doesn’t have enough money. Maybe to you they do, but they don’t. Their entire purpose is to make money… (Some would argue that their purpose is to entertain, to which I’d say… “that’s cute”…)  and the only way they make money is off of their own intellectual property (or the legal purchase of George Lucas’ intellectual property, as it were). If someone else is making money off of it, then it’s more difficult for them to. Even if the actual amount of money is small, I have a very difficult time saying they shouldn’t be able to make that money.

I guess, after talking through this with you, my position is pretty clear. The scenario is much less muddy to me than it was before I started writing.

Yes, it’s kinda cool that this dude made this movie and got creative to use a place nobody’s ever used before.

Yes, I wanna see it.

Yes, in a perfect world where nobody has any monetary or creative stake in such things, it’d be available for all the world to see…

But in the end, I was on Metallica’s side against Napster, even though I used Napster. I’m on Disney’s (presumptive) side in this. I care more about the Disney brand than I do about this movie. I am protective of their brand. I like that Disney is also. There was a time in the late 20s and 30s where Disney didn’t license their merchandise and it was bootlegged and replicated all over the place. Disney lost countless millions during that time when all of these other companies put out junk with Mickey and Donald on the side and passed it off as Disney. They have the right to protect their creative property. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue they have the responsibility to do so.

If they let THIS go, couldn’t there be an argument made that if I scrounged up enough money, I could buy a chunk of land in Iowa, and build my own Disney World? How is it different?

I applaud the director for his moxie. I hope to see the movie some day, but I won’t pay to see it.

A friend will be going to Ebertfest next week and will be seeing the movie. If they blog about it, I’ll be sure to point you all in that direction. I’m certain fascinated by the whole thing. But to me, the fascination is where it stops.

1 comment:

  1. It is one of the weirdest effing movies I have ever seen. If/when I blog the full synopsis, people are going to think I'm making it up.

    And I have so, so many opinions. Natch,