Maze Runner director Wes Ball – interview

We speak to the man behind the new Maze Runner film, The Scorch Trails, in cinemas now

Wes Ball was never going to be one to rest on his laurels, after the original Maze Runner movie banked ticket sales in excess of $340m. With cinemas still showing the first instalment of James Dashner’s critically-acclaimed novel, he decamped to Albuquerque, New Mexico to start production on The Scorch Trials. Picking up on the story of Thomas and the Gladers now they’ve escaped the maze, the film introduces audiences to The Scorch, and a whole new set of challenges faced in a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Did you start The Scorch Trails with more confidence having watched the first film be a hit?
Not at all. Making movies is tough, period. I don’t feel like I learned anything new – I think and I hope that we’re all the same people. We might be a little more cautious, I guess, sometimes, knowing there are things I knew would work on the first one that didn’t work and I had to wiggle my way out of those problems. Maybe I cover myself a little better now. But that’s kind of it, you know. You still just see it in your mind and try and go achieve it, you know. It feels the same.

Where does Thomas go in this film?
The big question is: what do they do now they’re out of the Glade? The first movie, for me, was about that period of your life when you’re in high school, and you’re still under the umbrella of your parents and you’re locked into your own world. It’s about breaking free of those constraints and setting out into the brave new world around you. This movie is very much the next chapter in that little stage of life, I think, when you’re going off to college and you’re on your own. You’re making your own choices and deciding who you’re going to become.

We’re really trying to lay the groundwork for two more movies that tell one complete, linear story, all on the same trajectory of the first one that we set up. It’s really fun and really neat to build those story- and character-arcs.

Did you feel you needed to up the ante with the set pieces?
Definitely. There are these things called Cranks, which James Dashner created, which are basically zombies but we’re trying to do something very, very different with them. We’re trying to make something a little more interesting. That’s kind of our movie monster this time.

It’s interesting: in terms of the VFX thing we probably have a couple of hundred shots less in this movie. The problem is that the shots we do have are 10 times more difficult and much, much bigger. The set pieces themselves are much more fun too. The last one, you know, we were on such a small budget for a film of that scale – and we’re not on an enormous budget now – and our MO is to squeeze as much as we can out of the budget we have, and put it all on the screen.

This next one is fun because we get to have these set pieces that remind me of Spielberg’s set pieces. They keep on going and unfolding and they’re not these two- or three-minute set pieces that we had last time. We get to really have a lot of fun now, so the set pieces themselves can be driven by story. It should be a lot of fun.

I think this movie is going to be very fun and very, very different visually and location-wise, and also emotionally. It’s going to be much deeper and hopefully more profound and mature. We’re trying really hard to up the ante on all those levels for the next two movies.

Is the Scorch an entirely different palette?
It really is. The last shot of The Maze Runner is the world we’re in now. That’s what I find really interesting, too – that last movie, the textures were greens and concrete greys, and then our last shot was these oranges and dark burnt colours. We get to play in that world now. But, even that, in itself, we’re changing too. There was no electricity or technology in the last movie. Now we get to go in these abandoned warehouses, and light them up with old generators and do some really fun stuff. Especially in this old, abandoned mall where they have these old work lights strung up. We get to really play and just the light itself is very, very different, so the colours are very different.

In truth, we’re still a very small movie, really, which is fine because it means we get to take some chances and do a lot of cool stuff without having to do the broad appeal to everyone. That’s the fun thing about what we hopefully did with the last one for people; maybe take some risks that you couldn’t afford to do in a more expensive movie.

Why do you think there’s such a trend towards dystopian sci-fi?
It’s obviously been around for a while, but you know, it seems like it’s in the cultural zeitgeist right now. It’s not anything we’re forcing upon people, it’s just something that people find interesting and we’re delivering what they want to see right now. But I do think there’s something that resonates particularly with young people, about the world being kind of a precarious place right now. Plus for me, personally – and it’s totally strange, and a little dark I guess – but I find it quite romantic, the idea of starting over. Hitting the reset button and building a new world, essentially.

Will you jump as quickly into the third film?
No. I don’t want to rush so much on the next one, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. There are certain timing things we just have to deal with and it’s the logistics of things. We just kind of roll with it and make the best movie we can.

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