Navigating the Maze: Exclusive Interview with Director Wes Ball for the Home Entertainment release of The Maze Runner on Monday
American director Wes Ball has a background in visual effects and animation, contributing his skills to films such as Beginners (2010) starring Ewan McGregor, as well as creating his own short films, such as the action-packed Ruin (2011), which uses CGI to create a complex futuristic world where our hero is pursued by Terminator-style machines. Ball plans to turn Ruin into a feature-length film in the near future, and it can be viewed in full on YouTube. The big screen adaptation of James Dashner’s The Maze Runner is Ball’s first feature.
The opening of the movie is pretty bold, it’s almost experimental, what did you hope to achieve with that sequence?
It’s an experience. As an audience member you’re thrown into the movie, you’re waking up in the elevator, in this dark room. When I was first thinking about doing Maze Runner, I thought of that immediately. I loved the idea of introducing the sound first, to an audience sitting there in the blackness. I wanted to do more of that, to hold it for longer in there, but we ended up trimming it just a little bit.
It’s funny, for our first test screening I had some sound effects on the blackness, but there was so much cheering and clapping when people were waiting to see the movie, they were clapping over the top of the sound effects. So I went it and put in one big loud one at the front, to get them to shut up so they could listen to the thing (laughs).
It was cool, it’s a fun way to begin a movie, to get thrown in. We tried to do that the whole way throughout, to make it an experience.
How did you feel when you first read the script?
I thought the first script I read was good, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted to do, it was a bit too far away from the book. So we brought in two writers and kept working on it, to bring it closer to the book, because I thought that was important. That was our fan base, that was where we started from.
So we tried to take it back to that initial source material, while changing what we had to along the way to make sure it was a movie that could stand on its own. That’s the balance, what you can keep and what you can’t.
What was the audition process like? It’s an amazing group of young actors.
I auditioned Kaya, I wanted Kaya from the beginning, as I’d seen her on Skins and thought she was perfect. And Will was on my mind too, those eyebrows man, perfect villain. So I asked for those two guys immediately when I came on, I said that’s who I wanted to get - they had to put themselves on tape and all, but I wanted them right away.
As for Newt, I think when Thomas Brodie-Sangster came in he was auditioning for both Newt and Gally for some reason, but immediately we realized he really is Newt, you know what I mean?
Dylan was the last person we hired, because he’s our star and we really had to make sure we were making the right decision, and thank goodness we did, because he’s a fantastic kid. And Aml, Ki Hong and Dexter and Alex too, everyone had good stuff.
Then there’s the story of Blake, who bothered me endlessly on Twitter, so I told him to send in a tape and we cast him off that. He’s fantastic, I’d give him direction and he’d go right into it and just hit it. The focus of that kid is awesome, I’m excited to see where his career is going to go.
Dylan and Kaya have big followings from their shows, Teen Wolf and Skins, you mentioned Skins - had you seen those shows?
When we were really considering Dylan I was in Louisiana prepping the movie, and I watched the whole first season of Teen Wolf in a night. It was good! He plays a funny sidekick on that show, and I thought it would be fun to see the more serious, vulnerable side of him.
I also watched all of his YouTube videos, he’s a very funny guy. And he’s also very aware of storytelling, his dad is a camera operator and he really understands the process of making a movie.
You did a lot of design work, even before the actors were cast - can you tell us a little bit about that process?
It’s my way in, basically. It’s my writing process - designing and working up ideas and grabbing pictures, and more team members come in and they start contributing too. That’s my process, the visual design of these movies, and it’s helpful for them, they can picture some of these things that aren’t really there.
We’re not going to have as much of that on the next one, though. It’s much more of a world creation, we’ve got some awesome locations out in New Mexico that we’ve found - the cast won’t have to use quite as much of their imaginations, so it’s going to be cool. They’ve gone through this round of shooting, with all the heat and the bugs and the snakes, they’re going to be just fine - they’ve already gone through hell.
What was the toughest day on set, for you?
There were two of them, actually. Physically, when we were filming by the doors. We were filming Thomas going through for the first time, and it was just so hot. Sweltering hot, so humid - I remember that day well.
But, emotionally, it was the last day of filming, which featured a significant death scene. That was a tough one, because everyone was on edge, and we’re all saying goodbye essentially - emotions were high that day, so I’ll always remember that too. It was a quick shoot, eight weeks, so there wasn’t time to linger on anything particularly, it was all a big blur.
How on earth did you shoot this movie in eight weeks?
It’s fun, you just go. In a way, the schedule contributed to the movie. I’d say to the cast members ‘All right guys, we’ve got three hours to shoot this scene’ and they’re on it. ‘Okay, let’s do this.’ We all joined together to get this thing done, and there’s something interesting in that limitation, it forces out some good choices.
And what was the most fun day of the shoot?
I liked all of the Glade stuff, there’s something about being on location that I just frickin’ love. As soon as you go to the stage, there’s no sun going down on the horizon, nothing to remind you to just keep going, going, going. You get a little lazier, a little more comfortable. There’s something about being out on location in the real sun, with real sweat, it’s a special thing that makes it really spectacular.
I really enjoyed the two days we shot when we were running out in the maze, that was really fun. We had this crazy little electric go-kart with a camera on the back, and the guys had this big stretch of concrete, and I just told them to haul ass. Go as fast as you can. And the guys had to keep up with this real car, and we got some really cool shots out of it.
The Maze Runner is out now on Digital HD and on Blu-ray and DVD on 9 February from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment