The Maze Runner: director Wes Ball interview

We chat to director Wes Ball about adapting The Maze Runner for the big screen, sequel development, and more...

Earlier this year, Den Of Geek was treated to advance preview to some scenes from the new film The Maze Runner (just out in the US), and damn fine they are too. Directing the movie is Wes Ball, who created a sensation with his 2011 short film, Ruin, and we caught up with the director to chat about the film, Young Adult novels, The Hunger Games and UK television show Skins.

But first, Wes noted the Star Wars tee I was wearing and we bonded over our love for the George Lucas space opera.

So, you’re a Star Wars fan?

Star Wars is why I want to make movies!

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I was introduced to Return Of The Jedi first and I distinctively remember my dad, he was so excited. We lived in the middle of nowhere, the closest theatre was like an hour away. He was so excited. I had all the tapes, Star Wars and Empire [Strikes Back] and watched them over and over again, like most kids.

I just finished watching The Clone Wars. I avoided it for some reason. My producer on Ruin [Ball’s 2011 short film] was a producer from season two and he told me how it just found its way and became something really special. It was really good, amazing.

Would you like to direct one of the upcoming new Star Wars films?

Oh yeah. [Laughs] But I won’t presume up to that. We’ll see how people like Maze Runner first.

The Maze Runner is in the “Young Adult” category of books, do you think it’ll draw similarities to other YA novel-based films?

The Hunger Games? I’ll take it. That success? We’re in good shape. Just a fraction of that. It’s easy to put the film in a certain box, but we’re trying to do something more than what people might try to categorise it as.

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I hope that it’ll appeal to people who grew up on Goonies and Raiders [Of The Lost Ark] – that’s what I tried to do. That sense of adventure. And the language in that movie [Goonies], the cursing! We’re not trying to talk down to anybody. There’s kids in it but it’s a little bit more mature, a little bit more sophisticated. It’s not sugar-coated for them. They’re gonna like that I hope. It’s going to be one of those movies that twelve year olds sneak into [laughs].

Why do you think YA novels are so popular currently?

I dunno, it’s weird isn’t it? [Laughs] It’s tricky. It’s nothing new ‘cos we’ve had plenty of young adult books before but it’s this label now. It definitely does put a target on our back.

But the thing about our movies is we’re not dealing with what it’s like to be in high school or those kinds of issues. We’re much more about adventure and hopefully, hopefully, that it feels timeless, so it will endure.

What does Maze Runner have that other YA franchises such as Divergent, Twilight and The Hunger Games don’t?

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It’s that sense of mystery – I’d pitch it as Lord Of The Flies meets Lost. That sense of mystery is a really big engine in our movie – what the hell is going on? And it’s a mystery that doesn’t fully get wrapped up ‘cos we wanna save something to explore in the next movies, if we’re lucky.

Mystery is a really strong aspect of the movie. And probably that sense of boyhood, of brotherhood. The Hunger Games obviously has a lot of people trying to kill each other [laughs] and that moral dilemma, ours is about survival together. It’s about a group who are placed into these circumstances and find a way out together. It’s different in that regard too.

I was a boy scout and that influenced the film too. This idea of building a world for themselves without adults, and making adult decisions int his world they find themselves in. There’s something cool about that. 

That’s very 80s, kids being adults, Spielberg…

Totally! Especially Goonies, right?

Yeah!

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We couldn’t afford to get actors too young. In the book they’re described as 16 year olds but we had to get older due to the length of shoot and hours-wise. I think we did the right thing, the cast are really good. They’re good people, really talented actors. They fully committed to making a really cool movie with me. I’ll be forever grateful for what they’ve brought to this thing, it really rests on their shoulders.

How involved were you in casting?

Totally. When I first read the book when I got the job, one of the first people I wanted was Kaya [Scodelario]. I wanted Effy from Skins [laughs]. And I wanted Will Poulter as Gally. Those were the first people I knew I wanted.

How did you know those British actors?

Netflix man! It’s a world thing man. [Laughs] I knew her from that. I love the idea of just not doing some delicate girl who need to be saved. She has this kind of toughness to her, aggressive. And coolness. She’s awesome. And she’s gorgeous at the same time.

I’m excited for the next movie, it’s really all about Kaya. And about her story and where it goes is fantastic. It’s really dramatic, operatic almost. She’s incredibly, I really love her.

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How do you think your work compares to book?

James Dashner [author of The Maze Runner] said we were better than the books! Which was amazing! I don’t know if he was being nice [laughs], but I’ll take it!

How far in sequel development are you?

We’ve just the finished the mix two weeks so I’ve been in Maze Runner land for so long but we are working on a script and working out what, potentially, it should be. The thing is, it’s a very different movie; a different world, a different everything. It’s a unique opportunity for a sequel to be a really weird right turn all of a sudden. There’s a lot of really good emotional drama.

You mentioned in our preview that you wanted to keep the creatures of the movie, the Grievers, out of the trailers and pre-publicity. Do you think trailers are ruining films these days?

Yeah, you see these trailers and you think, ‘I’ve sen the movie!’ The other thing is when they sell a movie they don’t have. You turn up to the cinema and it’s like, ‘This isn’t the movie you sold me!’ You come away pissed but if you’d been properly informed, you might have actually like the movie.Marketing is an interesting animal.

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We build up so much suspense to the reveal of the Grievers that, if you’d seen them in a trailer, it would have been a waste. We have all this cool spectacle stuff with the maze, so let’s use that to sell it.

So far, Fox is on board with keeping them mysterious. We’re a very small movie, really small for what we actually have and we need those things that keep you engaged and into the movie – those little surprises along the way that make it feel like a much bigger movie than it is. I’m trying to hold on to as much as possible.

The notion of surprises reminds of the television show you mentioned, Lost. Is that where it comes from?

It’s tricky dilemma of sometimes the questions are more interesting than the answers [laughs]. Lost was a huge touch-point for me, that sense of mystery and trying to figure things out. A puzzle. We take some risks on our ending, not wrapping up everything and we really throw to the next movie.

Finally, I really enjoyed your short film Ruin, how did that come about and any plans to make it into a feature-length film?

Thanks man. I had a little VFX and animation company and I just needed to make something. I had this project called Ruin in my head for six years or so. This really big, really ambitious sci-fi thing. It’s kind of my Star Wars. I’m trying to achieve what Star Wars did for me as a kid. I just decided to make something.

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I always wanted to do a very fun, adventurous kind of car chase and the opening of Ruin is essentially like the Star Wars trench run [when the rebels attack the Death Star]. It’s very contained and simple. Of course, it ballooned up in complexity [laughs].

It’s very ambitious, very hard sci-fi – the ideas that we’re exploring. About what it means to be human beings and the role of technology and evolution. It’s very much a phoenix story, something rises from the ashes; a new beginning essentially.

When that came out, it went all over town and it was a great selling tool, inadvertently. I didn’t mean it that way. We’re working on the first draught so hopefully it’ll be a feature. We’re working on it now, giving the time that it needs to make it great. I’m so fortunate it’s crazy. It’s not lost on me how lucky I am.

Wes Ball, thank you very much.

The Maze Runner is out in UK cinemas now.