The Maze Runner – Director Wes Ball Interview

The Maze Runner – Director Wes Ball

“My job coming in to this was to give the studio a franchise. My goal as a filmmaker was to make a good movie, so the puzzle for me was how to make both of those things happen” – Wes Ball

Wes Ball knows the score when it comes to the franchise machine. His debut feature film is The Maze Runner and shooting has already begun on the sequel, leaving the third as a practically done deal. Around a crowded round table with the remnants of lunch being picked at by assembled journalists, sits Wes Ball.

How long were you shooting for?

We shot for 8 weeks, which was a very short time to do our film. It was intense, but it was fun too. Some of those limitations help you, working in those parameters can help force out some creative ideas, but sometimes you can be frustrated at the compromises. That’s what we had, and what we tried to do the best with.

This is your first feature film and it’s shot very emotionally, especially since we’re given no information about the world outside the Glade. How did you go about putting that emotion on-screen?

I interpreted it as an experience. You’re on the ride with the main character (Thomas) and we see everything through his eyes. There’s only one scene in the movie where we cut away from what Thomas sees, it’s through his point of view. I like that idea of not spoon-feeding the audience, and I liked being on the journey with them and doing the best we could to make something entertaining, intense, fun and with moments that make you grab onto your seat. I wanted people to fall in love with these characters in some small way so that we can continue telling the story for the rest of the movies. My job coming into this was to give the studio a franchise. They’ve got a series of books and they want a franchise, and that was my job. My goal as a filmmaker was to make a good movie, so the puzzle was how to do both of these things happen. We did the best with the resources we had, and our great cast, and hopefully, we’ll get to tackle the ideas the ideas that we don’t fully explore in the first one. The next one picks up right where this one leaves off, and you basically get this four-hour movie and this crazy journey the characters go through.

What can you tell us about the future of the franchise, and your involvement? There’s definitely enough groundswell for a big future. Are you waiting for the phone to ring?

Well, I have options of what to do next. Fortunately enough people inside the industry have seen the film to know that I can, you know, use a camera? Right now, we’re prepping the sequel. The fan screenings have shown that people definitely want to see the movie made, and that’s partly by design. At first, I wasn’t going to do the sequel, but I couldn’t pass up on the chance to work with these actors again. We’re [3] weeks away from shooting right now. We’re in New Mexico and we’ve got stages, crew, script on its third draft already, it’s freakin’ massive. We’re changing a little bit from the book and I’ve spoken to James Dashner, the author. We’re rearranging things slightly to make sure this really has a nice trajectory because books more meandering that a movie can be. So, we’ve got kick-ass movie monsters and it picks up right where the last one left off, there’s a sense of growing up in the movie, it’s more mature, deeper, more sophisticated. The scale is way bigger than the last one, in terms of resources and time too. The first movie’s very contained, there’s no horizon in the movie.

Metaphorically, and literally, contained. (How’s that for symbolism?)

There’s basically three locations in the maze, which was a challenge on its own – keeping things moving when you only have three places to shoot. The next movie is a journey movie. It’s about kids on the run, they’re fugitives in a dangerous environment trying to figure out what the hell’s going on. The Maze Runner’s high school: [Thomas] is thrust into a new world, with no identity, but he latches onto one, navigating dangers, then you find yourself in another new world and you’re out of the frying pan and into the fire again. The next movie is more college, experimentation, about growing up and discovering who you are as a person and how you fit into the world. There’s the mythology that we hint at too that gets delved into more. If people can be patient with us and take the ride, it’ll be a lot of fun.

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Your earlier short film, Ruin (which has since been picked up by 20th Century Fox to be transformed into a full-length feature) also has a fascination with dystopias. What attracts you to the post-apocalypse settings for films?

I think there’s something romantic about the idea of the reset and the idea of a world where you’re self-reliant, a world of treasure. It’s the same thing as the Arthur C. Clarke quote “Anything you don’t understand is indistinguishable from magic”. With the Maze Runner, you don’t know it’s post-apocalyptic. It’s a little bit Lord Of The Flies maybe.

How closely were you working with the writer of the novels, James Dashner?

After the studio saw Ruin, they gave me Maze Runner. I wanted to do something different with it but obviously I wanted to stay as close as I could to the book, respect the fans and give them what they want to see. After I wrote the second or third draft, I brought James in and told him what I wanted to do. He understood that we wanted to make a movie and that a movie isn’t a book – they don’t have to replace each other, they can operate side by side. I would go to him and ask “Do you think fans would miss this if I took it out?” and “What about this tweak, and that thing, and that cut?”. He was really excited when we brought him out to The Glade, he could see his entire world. I also brought him out to the scoring sessions with the composer John Paesano. He trained under John Williams, worked with Hans Zimmer and he’s got this unique mix of old-school charm with modern edginess, and James got to see some of the scenes with a full orchestra in the background, which was…phenomenal. There’s something special about a live orchestra that you don’t get in cinemas.

The soundtrack plays a big part in the film, it directs the mood like a soundtrack should. Could you tell us a bit about the soundtrack of the film and how you used it?

I day-dream really well with soundtracks. I typically design scenes to soundtracks, so when I was looking for someone to compose this movie I wanted someone different from the “Hans Zimmer sound”. That’s no knock against what people are doing these days, but a lot of people have followed him with the driving engine, adrenaline, pulse type soundtracks. I wanted themes, character emotion and that kind of thing, and John Williams used to do that. The Jurassic Park soundtrack was the first soundtrack I ever bought. I spoke to John a lot about that, and coming from that school, he understood. If you listen to the score in its entirety, there’s a true character and whole story playing out on its own. I hope it’s not too over-the-top, but there’s all these different genres that emerge through the textures of the sound. Again, we’re basically setting it up for the next score.

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Were there any other challenges in production?

Being tied to source material meant that I couldn’t do what I necessarily wanted to do. This is a franchise, and there’s a certain structure that needs to be in place. That was tough to navigate personally. Secondly, there was the problem of resources. I think all directors have this, you can never do all the things you want to do, you have to compromise, but sometimes, I really felt it. We’re actually a fairly small budget film for what we’re trying to achieve, so that was difficult too. My imagination tends to be very expensive. Sometimes good things come out of that restriction though.

Well, even with the restrictions you still physically constructed the Glade, which looked remarkable. How difficult was it?

We went out and scouted for somewhere that had real character. Eventually we found this place: we were travelling through this guy’s cow patch and up to a line of trees. I thought “Guys, is this it? This is what you want to show me?” But then it dropped down into this swamp, so when you emerge into that and walk out of the hill, you come into The Glade. There was this little fence of trees on the edges, and it felt like the walls. The hedge was about a hundred foot tall and it wasn’t solid or anything, but you felt closed in and it felt right.

It was fantastic. The thing I said to myself when I was making this film was “I’m not making Twilight”. I wasn’t this teeny-bopper, polished, bubblegum thing with bright colours. I wanted to make something that was dark and moody and sweaty and gritty. It was important that the sweat in the film was real sweat. I think there’s a cool beauty in that.

And finally, what was the favourite scene that you directed?

That’s like choosing your babies, I don’t know. There was one particular scene from the book that got me wanting to make the movie. The scene in question has this cool idea of having kids needing to make adult decisions for the group. That was a scene that was so intense, brutal and merciless, you know? If they were going to let me do that, put that kind of scene into a kids movie essentially, I just wanted to do it. It helped me to not see it as a kids movie, but rather a movie with kids in it. There’s little character scenes too, just two kids on a log talking and seeing that type of life happening. It was a learning experience for me as a filmmaker, but we shot it so fast that it’s all crammed together and I’m dying to see the making-of’s of the days on set and think “Oh yeah, that scene, I remember how that one went”. Right now, it’s all kind of a blur.

The Maze Runner is in UK cinemas now.

For more from Peter visit his website at roomtoreview.co.uk

The Maze Runner – Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster Interview

The Maze Runner - Dylan O'Brien, Will Poulter, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster

The Maze Runner is the latest in YA dystopian adaptations and follows Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who finds himself with amnesia in a community of teenage boys in The Glade. Their field is enclosed by four giant walls which open into the maze that surrounds them and is patrolled at night by the bio-mechanical monsters, the “Grievers”. With the addition of Thomas, the Gladers are forced to head into the maze and investigate who put them there, and what their motives are.

Peter sat down with cast members Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster to talk about the film.

Dylan, how do you approach a character who has no memories of who he was?

Dylan O’Brien: My favourite thing about it is the discovery. The audience is able to watch a character and discover the things that he never ever knew about himself before in his previous life as he cannot remember. He’s the “Greenie”, the new guy and the audience kind of experiences that too. Through his perspective obviously and learns as he goes, and then to watch him discover these leadership qualities, the real qualities that he has is a really cool thing. The way you approach it I guess it just honestly, as honest as you can. That is all you have to work with in that sort of situation.

How do you feel about your growth as an actor and taking on such a big project?

Dylan: I feel comfortable. From day one, I loved the script and the story, I thought it could be something cool and interesting. The first thing I saw was that you two [Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Will Poulter] were attached to it, and Kaya as well. Then I met Wes, and saw his vision for the film, it was easy to feel comfortable, everyone was so good at what they were doing and bringing to the table that I was confident. I wanted to live up Wes’ vision and keep up with everyone else.

Thomas, looking back through your career, you’ve already played an extraordinary variety of characters. Were there any new challenges in Newt’s portrayal?

Thomas Brodie-Sangster: The same with any character that comes along. The fun thing about what we get to do is messing around playing all sort of people. People that existed, people that exist in a book and fans already have a specific idea of who they are – so you have to work with that. It takes a bit of juggling, but it’s all part of the fun. All I was told was that Newt was the nice guy, he still had the English accent, and he had a bit of a limp. So I just played around with that really.

Will, in terms of contrast, how did you feel going from your hilarious role in We’re The Millers, to this much more serious, straight role?

Will Poulter: I felt lucky to have something quite different. I love the actor’s actors, those people who can do a mixture of stuff, all of that versatility, which I don’t feel I have, but I wish to aspire to and keep people guessing by choosing a role that is different from the one before and hope that all goes well.

Had you read any of the books before being auditioned or cast?
Will: Like Dylan, I slightly freaked out when I got halfway through reading it because there wasn’t total synergy between my character, the script and the book, but I think the script is adapted well and the best-loved features have been translated perfectly. From an acting perspective it was tricky, on and off set we would talk about how our characters didn’t have that “thing” anymore. We’d go back and forth over what was just in the book, and what we were confusing with what. So I actually stopped reading it, but finished it afterwards, and then also The Scorch Trials [next book in the series] – which is pretty insane!

Gally cares a lot about Glader traditions, he’s attached to the environment and protecting the Glader community, so do you think he had a hand in creating these traditions? What sort of person do you see him as?

Will: He was one of the first boys up, so I feel it was naturally part of building that hierarchy because physically too, he is a builder. There’s a few things that I identify with, but I hope there aren’t too many similarities. There is a strong by-the-book quality about him, he’s pedantic, likes order and finds comfort in the hierarchy. He’s an enforcer of that but he has power struggle issues too. He struggles with his superiors, Alby particularly, and he sees an opportunity to set up his own kind of revolt. I think a lot of that also comes from fear, he is ultimately a coward and he likes that protective bubble, he’s scared that one day they will need to leave the oasis and leave the maze.

What was it like shooting those scenes between your two characters, Newt and Gally? There is so much tension there and it could have went to quite a dark place, did you keep it wrapped up or try to use it?

Thomas: There was, but there is also a big mutual respect between the two characters. Newt respects Gally’s opinion because he likes to hear what everyone has to say, he is an open person and sees everyone for who they are and how they can be best fitted into this establishment. He sees people as how they can help, and how he can help. He could completely shun Gally away, but Newt has a different way of dealing with things.

Will: By the way, I am awful with politics, but if you’re going to put it in political terms, Thomas and Newy come across as more democratic, and consider everybody views and strive for a bit more collaborative running of the Glade. Once there’s a threat to the idea of staying in the Glade forever then Gally becomes a dictator in a way and tells people what they’re doing, and leads the revolt. Wes always said Gally and Thomas are two sides to the same coin, and it really nearly kicks off because there is some serious tension, so that was really fun too.

How did you find the green screen CGI-heavy scenes?

Dylan: Wes was so animated. He describes what’s out there, in such a way that you want to crack up. He is so detailed, we’d hear him shouting “IT’S COMING AT YOU, [BANG BANG CRASH] AHH!”. You could understand what is happening exactly, and we also had a great balance of having real worlds that we were shooting in. The Glade was built, and geographically specifically too. The entire thing that you see in the film is exactly like that. Nothing is cheated, we actually had the door there to go into the maze, the box in the ground, a tree house, they even grew a cornfield! The visual effects are just the icing on the cake. Having this real environment to feel a part of was really important to Wes. He would paint a picture for you when you were shooting, he’d draw sketches that looked incredible.

Will: I don’t use the words visionary and genius lightly, but they do genuinely apply to Wes Ball. We all feel really lucky to get to work with him at this stage of his career, so that we can say we worked with Wes Ball on his first feature film.

Is Wes signed on to direct any of the future films?

Dylan: Hopefully! He’s so passionate about it, he’s adopted this project as his baby.

Last one. Any humorous stories from the set that you can share with us?

Dylan: It was like being at summer camp with ten of your best friends! In one of the hotels, we had BB guns, but I decided to go out and get an M16…

Will: It was the size of a sofa! We were all running around with pistols and stuff, but Dylan comes out in the hallway, looking like a drug-free Scarface, and sprays the hallway! Getting lots of M16 BB bullets in my back was a good prank. Somehow, he kept it a secret too. Did you keep it under your bed?

Dylan: It was so hard for me to keep from telling everybody. Thomas came into my room and I whispered “I got to show you something” … and I said “you cannot tell anyone, but I am going to whip it out when we play tonight”. At one point, a security guard came up, it’s two in the morning and we’re running around this hotel shooting with our air-soft-guns. (We were the only ones in the hotel though). We were immediately like “Oh no, we really sorry”, as if we were in trouble, but he just said “Y’all rehearsing. That’s okay. Do you think you could keep it down? How long are y’all supposed to be doing this for?”. We were so shocked. “An hour or so?”

Will: He was so kind! He said “I can organise a place that y’all can play, like a conference room?” but I said “No, this is better for the film and stuff”, so he walks away and we’re left pretending we’re rehearsing! “Okay, let’s take it from the top.”

The Maze Runner is in UK cinemas now.

For more from Peter visit his website at roomtoreview.co.uk

The Maze Runner – Film Review

The Maze Runner

Hello and welcome to “Not Another Teen Dystopia”. Today’s guest is The Maze Runner, the newest adaptation from the world of young adult fiction to graduate to the silver screen. After the Harry Potter and Twilight dynasties retired, it’s been open season for hunting the teen fantasy market, and as a result we’ve suffered all manner of teen-skewed releases, each less identifiable than the last as the pool grows wider and the averages lower. The Maze Runner doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but it leans away from what makes its contemporaries blend into each other. It doesn’t stand out, it falls out.

The first half features run-of-the-mill world-building that is necessary to set up the franchise for a lucrative future. We are thrust into “The Glade” alongside its latest inhabitant or “greenie” Thomas. In their community of teenage boys, amnesia is a prerequisite – a sly bit of storytelling which allows for constant doses of exposition without having to slow the story down. No-one knows how they ended up in their square meadow prison, but each month a new greenie is sent to them. Any more background runs the risk of spoiling the thrill of the film because The Maze Runner thrives on telling the audience barely enough to explain itself. It’s claustrophobic, hurried, and tense by design with testosterone driven alpha male political struggles within the Gladers.

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The action flows fast once the world is set up and the boys of the Glade are set in their roles enough to take on the maze, which is inhabited by murderous bio-mechanical sentries. Back in the Glade, the society is strictly defined. There’s the angry traditionalist Gally (Will Poulter) and the builders, the runners who map the shifting labyrinth of the maze, fresh-faced children, doctors and diplomatic leaders. Everything’s holding nicely (apart from the hundred foot high brick walls surrounding them) until the balance is shifted further by the arrival of some feminine energy in Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and the Gladers head into the maze.

Once you sideline the ridiculous mythological overtones of the constructed maze and the Lord Of The Flies social drama angle, the obstacles start piling up behind the enjoyable action sequences once our heroes leave the Glade. The score, by John Paesano, is emotion-by-numbers and undeniably annoying as it looms over the actors and some powerful performances, especially Aml Ameen and Thomas Brodie-Sangster. As dystopias go it’s action over politics, explosions over social commentary, but director Wes Ball hoists the film around wherever possible to up the action ante and there’s a tantalising finish that’ll be the main takeaway from a certified money-spinner. Although it’s best seen with no prior information, the tension balances out the action and fulfils the purpose of the film; to set up the franchise.


The Maze Runner is in UK cinemas from 10th October.

For more from Peter visit his website at roomtoreview.co.uk