News & Cues: Will “Escape from Tomorrow” be Disney’s next “Air Pirates”?

Randy Moore’s twisted horror movie set in Disney Land and Disney World was shot entirely using guerrilla tactics without any kind of legal authorization from the Disney Corporation – and Disney is doing nothing about it.

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and has been taken from the Flickr photostream of Diana Garcia
This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and has been taken from the Flickr photostream of Diana Garcia

“Escape from Tomorrow”, is being called a genre breaking, quirky horror movie that  raises some serious questions about the commerce of happiness, and how we’re living in a rather distorted reality dominated by the materialistic and the unreal. So how does the movie accomplish this? By trashing the “happiest place on Earth” of course. Course, the bigger legal question here is why Disney, popular for its fierce IP protection strategies, is choosing to ignore rather than pursue any action against the cast and crew of “Escape from Tomorrow”?

Wait, what is “Escape from Tomorrow”?

“Escape from Tomorrow” is the name of Randy Moore’s feature film debut and is a horror/supernatural flick that was shot in both Disney Land and Disney World. It follows the story of an all American dad on vacation with his family who finds out he’s been fired from his job on the last day of said vacation. Keeping the news of his sudden unemployment to himself, the protagonist of the film tries to enjoy the last day of his holiday but gradually finds the theme park getting weirder, sleazier and spookier.

“Escape from Tomorrow” was screened to a limited audience earlier this year at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and is most likely not going to make it to any commercial theatrical release owing to a huge legal controversy.

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photostream of Sam Howzit
This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photostream of Sam Howzit

And what might this legal controversy be?

When the creators of “Escape from Tomorrow” said they had not taken the requisite permissions to shoot or use any Disney paraphernalia, they weren’t kidding. Completely unauthorized, the entire movie shoot took place using guerrilla tactics by a cast and crew posing as ordinary tourists. Scripts were read off of phones and footage was shot entirely through hand-held cameras. Worried about Disney prematurely shutting down his project, Randy took his movie to a studio in Korea to finish up post-production and edits. He had good reason to be worried – Disney is notoriously famous for protecting its intellectual property. So without any legal permits and tons of intellectual property rights violations, there’s a lot stopping “Escape from Tomorrow” actually seeing a future theatrical release.

Wow, so no brainer – Disney must be ruining them right?

If you thought the plot of “Escape from Tomorrow” was weird, you’re in for a bigger shock when you hear what Disney’s been doing about all the use of so much of unauthorized footage – a big fat nothing. Disney’s response – one of complete ignorance – is coming across as a bit of a surprise to most industry folk, including Randy Moore himself. With scenes depicting Disney princesses as prostitutes or the theme park running with demonic animatronics and rides, “Escape from Tomorrow” paints a rather disturbing picture of Disney World making it a far cry from being wholesome family goodness. The fact that the shooting is unauthorized also means that there is some incredible, never-seen-before-on-a-movie-screen footage taken from inside different park rides. All this basically spells a lot of trouble for Disney, which just looks happy to sit back and let the show go on. A wise move probably, considering the last time someone tried to mess with Disney.

Who are the Air Pirates and what did they have to do with Disney?

While most of us are used to associating happy feelings with the word Disney, the corporation has historically been the subject of a great deal of criticism. Way back in 1971, a group of cartoonists known as the Air Pirates, decided to create a series of comics called the “Air Pirates Funnies” that were all about criticising consumerism/capitalism via Disney’s characters. The Air Pirates were so keen on getting their message across to Disney that they went to amazing efforts of making their comics widely available, including taking the pain to smuggle a set of copies into a Disney Board meeting. Long story short, Disney decided to sue the Air Pirates for copyright and trademark infringement, while the Air Pirates decided to claim fair use (you can refresh your memory on fair use or fair dealing  here).

A long legal battle ensued with the Air Pirates losing to Disney but the Air Pirates litigation made a ton of trouble for Disney because it actually pushed the “Air Pirates Funnies” into the limelight. The underground comics took no time in becoming popular owing to their anti-establishmentarianism sentiments thereby damaging the hell out of Disney’s brand image. The Air Pirates continued to produce new and exceedingly satirical material against Disney, even during the course of the litigation and after the judgment against them had been announced. The never-ending onslaught of the Air Pirates resulted in Disney having to approach the Air Pirates for an out of court settlement asking them to stop publishing any more editions of the “Air Pirates Funnies” in exchange for excusing the damages and sentence made against them by the Court.

Ok so what then? Why bring up the Air Pirates now?

The “Air Pirates Funnies” and “Escape from Tomorrow” have one major thing in common – their criticism against Disney. Both works treat Disney as the symbol of corporate anarchy, capitalism and consumer exploitation. Perhaps then, Disney has learnt from its previous experience with the Air Pirates, that it’s better to suffer a bit and ignore the problem instead of actually trying to actively curb it, thereby giving it more attention.

Alright, and what do we as artists need to understand from all this?

Two things – first, that entities and artists are free to pursue action against another on the ground of infringement OR not. Like so many things in the realm of the law and intellectual property rights, the choice is yours to either enforce a right or not. Second, even an individual artist can turn a big behemoth of a company on its head, but understand that Randy Moore took a huge risk in producing “Escape from Tomorrow” – so it’s always important to make informed decisions, even if you are an artist battling an evil consumerist society.

Have you heard of any other instances of weird and unexpected strategies taken up by big media houses, corporations and record labels? Do share by leaving a comment or getting in touch. (Also, if you’d like, go ahead and look up the Mouse Liberation Front)

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