Of all the films to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, perhaps none have garnered more hype than “Escape From Tomorrow,” a guerilla film shot without permission at Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California.
In the film, Roy Abramsohn stars as Jim, a man who finds out that he lost his job while on vacation in “The Happiest Place on Earth” with his wife and kids. Over the course of the film, Jim struggles to maintain his façade of happiness while at the same time becoming infatuated with two young French girls.
“Jim goes through a bit of a midlife crisis,” Abramsohn said. “He loses his job and is kind of stuck in a loveless marriage. He has a lot on his plate.”
As the film goes on, things get stranger and stranger for Jim, and eventually his trip with his family becomes a surreal nightmare. The film has been described as fitting in a variety of genres including horror, drama and thriller.
“There’s a lot of themes involved, but ultimately what I think it’s about is what it’s like to be unhappy in the ‘Happiest Place on Earth,’” Abramsohn said. “It’s a lot of things, but I would categorize it as an experimental art film. There are some David Lynchian elements in there and certainly some elements reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Lolita’, but I think ultimately it’s an art film.”
Since debuting in Park City, Utah in January, Tomorrow has become infamous with film geeks and those familiar with director Randy Moore’s bold choice to shoot the film almost entirely on location without Disney’s permission. His unflinching recognition of this is seen in the film’s movie poster which features the bloody, gloved hand of Mickey Mouse. Interestingly though, Disney ultimately decided not to get involved in a lawsuit against the film, which marks Abramsohn’s first leading role.
“It was an absolutely great experience,” Abramsohn said. “I found out about the film through a friend of mine, and so I went to audition at this small theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Randy told me the premise and what he wanted to do up front, and he asked if I would be interested, and I said, ‘Yes, absolutely!’ because, much like in improv, as an actor, it’s always best to say yes. If you don’t, you start limiting yourself.”
Although the film was shot mostly in the park, Abramsohn said that he felt acting in this environment was almost easier than acting on a set.
“A lot of times, you go to the set and there’s a lot of added pressure because of time restraints and budget restraints … so there’s this pressure to get things right on the first take and get them done in a certain amount of time,” Abramsohn said. “In a case like this, I found it almost easier because all of that was pretty nonexistent, and once I was able to get over the fact that I was just blending in in public while playing the character, I felt really comfortable, actually.”
However, that’s not to say that acting in a film shot in this style did not come with its difficulties. Abramsohn had to shoot a scene in which his character gets drunk in the Germany section of Epcot. The thin line between acting like an obnoxiously drunk tourist while nailing the performance was tricky, he said.
Despite the film’s unconventional style, and perhaps because of it, Abramsohn said that everything from the production side was incredibly planned.
“Randy and his crew went to the park eight times to scout out locations and lighting and things like that,” he said. “So when we went to shoot, everything was practically planned out.”
Abramsohn also said that despite shooting the film guerilla style, there was never really a plan in case the cast and crew were caught or stopped by security, something that the actor said only nearly happened once.
During the last weekend of shooting, the crew had to film a scene in which the entire family was seen entering the park. When the crew re-entered the park for the second time to get the shot, a security guard pulled Abramsohn aside and asked him why he came into the park twice in the past seven minutes.
“He asked if I was a celebrity, because I had photographers and paparazzi following me … and that was when I realized he was talking about the camera crew,” Abramsohn said.
The security guard told Abramsohn and his fellow actors to wait while he consulted another officer.
“I rushed to the bathroom to take off the sound recorder I was wearing,” Abramsohn said. “I did the same for the boy playing my son, and for the woman playing my wife and the girl playing my daughter. When we got back, the security guard had his back to us and one of our production members whispered for us to get to our production van that was in the parking lot, and so we made a run for it to the van.”
Abramsohn said the best advice he had for any upcoming actors was to always be working on something.
“Always do plays, or go to table reads. Change genres. But always be working on something between gigs. How else can you get better as a performer and an actor?” Abramsohn said. “You’ve also got to really want it. You need to want it like someone trapped in a burning house wants to escape.”
Abramsohn’s upcoming projects include “Rubber” director Quentin Dupieux’s next film “Réalité” and Oren Peli’s (“Paranormal Activity”) upcoming “Area 51”.
“Escape From Tomorrow” opens Oct. 11.
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