The Maze Runner is the hugely successful Young Adult novel, centred around ‘specially selected’ teenagers whose memories are wiped before being plonked into a towering, unsolvable maze and are left (more or less) to their own devices to figure out what happened to them. It’s classic YA fiction, making teenagers feel both marginalised and special at the same time, and the crossover from book to screen will be a chance for its devoted teen audience to see their beloved book brought to life by the current crop of relevant young things. The likes of Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf), Will Poulter (Son of Rambow, We’re The Millers), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones), Kaya Scodelario (Skins), Aml Ameen (Kitdulthood, The Butler) et al are enough to keep the casual filmgoer interested, but for the keen observer, it was the announcement of Wes Ball to direct that raised a few eyebrows.
At first glance he appears to be some YouTube filmmaker, seemingly pulled from obscurity. Why would Fox hedge their bets on a small name to helm such an ambitious project, with its complex VFX requirements, bleak post-apocalyptic landscapes, high stakes action, and high concept teen allegory? Those more familiar with him will be aware of his VFX background and the success of his viral hit short film, Ruin, an eight-minute “sliver” of a story (it’s being developed into a full-length movie), featuring complex VFX in a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape with high stakes action. OK, but can he handle high concept teen allegory in a way that the hard-to-please YA audience will relate to?
After watching some footage from The Maze Runner (it’s really strong, the man knows his VFX), we sat down with Wes to find out how he got from YouTube to Fox, and what makes him qualified to helm the latest YA adventure story.
Bleeding Cool: When you were making Ruin did you think of it as a calling card?
Wes Ball: I didn’t make it for that. I knew that I’d try to do the best I could. That’s all I really can do. I like doing things that are visually ambitious, and I knew it would be, so I enjoyed doing it for that alone. I put it out on my little tweet and then watching it was fascinating, seeing it spread across the internet. It was fascinating to be a part of that. And the film definitely opened up doors.
I learned traditional live action filmmaking at film school. I was part of the last class to cut on film and I was totally thankful to have that experience, but my thesis film was my first animated short. It was very Disney, very sweet and I got a student Oscar off of that. That opened a bunch of doors ten, twelve years ago when I first got out to Hollywood. So I’ve been through the process before of there being interest, though it went away and I started my VFX company (Oddball Animation). It was when it got to the point that I was thinking “I’ve got to make something, I’ve got to make something for myself,” that I made Ruin.
This time I was a little bit older, a little bit wiser and more confident. When I pitched on Maze Runner the studio liked what I had to say. I had a bunch of artwork that I created when I read the book. They seemed to be on board.
BC: So, what is The Maze Runner about? If you were pitching it to me now and I asked you, “Okay, but what does it all mean?” what would you say?
WB: I am making entertainment first of all, for sure, but in the back of my mind it’s about a purity of life. I didn’t want the message to be heavy but there are a lot of metaphors. There’s a maze, and having to find your way through, which isn’t too unlike what you go through at High School. You’re placed into this world by adults and you’re told what you can and can’t do. You can’t go out there, you have to stay in here, and you want to test the boundaries. You start to find your way out into the dangerous world with all of the monsters. Then there’s a whole new world that’s even more dangerous, and you have to go into it to find yourself. It’s a coming of age story. It’s very much the idea of a vulnerable boy who comes up in this world and leaves a man.
So the next movie, for me, would be very much be about college. That period where you’re on your own and have to find out who you’re going to be. It’s also a time when you drift apart from people you love and I get to explore those ideas in the next one.
BC: Your audience will get to grow up with the themes.
WB: It’s cool. The themes are important to me and they find their way into the subtext. For people who want to see it, it’s there but I don’t want this to be one of those movies where it’s forced down the audience’s throat.
BC: Having seen Ruin and now some of Maze Runner, you’re going more in that right direction. You are moving from something…
BC: Not fluff, but kinetic.
WB: With no subtext. It was all about mechanics and film language. A demonstration of the syntax of film. The true things are story and character. You should watch my other short, A Work in Progress. It’s much more story oriented. It’s about a girl who’s very lonely and finds her way. It’s very cute. That shows the story side of things. For me as an audience member, it’s important to me. I grew up on Cameron, Zemeckis and Richard Donner, those guys who made Hollywood movies with substance, great entertainments that are about something. I tried to bring that in to Maze Runner as much as I could, tried to elevate this material as much as possible.
There’s more of this interview to come as the film gets closer to its official release, where Wes talks amore about the look of the film and the whether or not a meeting with Kevin Feige is in his future. We’re holding it back for now as the filmmakers are pretty proud of what they’ve achieved and want to give the fans a surprise. For now we’re going to see what the cast and crew have to say at Comic Con this weekend, where we’ll be reporting all the latest news for you.
The Maze Runner is released in the US on September 19th and in the UK on October 10th.
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