Maze Runner: The Death Cure director Wes Ball talks about the film's home release, completing the trilogy of YA movies, and what's next for him. The first movie in the blockbuster film series, The Maze Runner, hit theaters in 2014, amid the success of fellow YA-based franchises like The Hunger Games and Divergent. With the middle chapter, The Scorch Trials, debuting in 2015, the trilogy wrapped up earlier this year with the release of The Death Cure. All three movies followed novels by James Dashner, though the book series also includes two prequels.
For his part, Ball directed all three films in 20th Century Fox's Maze Runner trilogy, with the first movie serving as his directorial debut. Now that The Maze Runner trilogy is complete, with a box office cume totaling nearly $1 billion, Ball is looking back on his time with the franchise as well as forward to what's next.
In an interview with Screen Rant to promote the home release of The Death Cure, and The Maze Runner trilogy box set, Ball spoke about his experience directing all three films in the series and previewed what fans can expect from the third film's special features. Additionally, Ball teased what's next for him - though he didn't confirm his involvement in the Mouse Guard movie.
Screen Rant: You’ve been working on all three films for about five years now, what’s it like now that they’re all completed?
Wes Ball: It’s great, y’know, it’s my first three movies so there’s an element of - it’s kind of amazing that I got this opportunity. The fact that we got to complete this story for these book fans that are super in love with these characters and these stories, they seem to feel very satisfied with the end result, that’s very rewarding. So the adventure’s been fantastic, on and off screen, and now it’s exciting to move on to other things.
Screen Rant: Understandable. Looking back, what was the biggest lesson or your biggest takeaway from doing these three movies?
Ball: Good question, I don’t know. It probably has to do with that thing I was talking about, just how rare it is that we got to make these movies. I mean, they’re a popular book series, but they’re not like The Hunger Games or Divergent series. They sold a fraction of those stories, but the fact that the studio let us go and try to turn them into a franchise was pretty cool because it’s not a giant superhero movie or it’s not one of these giant franchise things. We were trying to create a new franchise for the studio, and that’s been really cool. Even though we had to do it on a limited budget, the fact that we were given the opportunity to do this and it was successful enough to continue to be made is really cool.
Y’know these three movies cost less than big studio tentpoles - all three movies combined - and the fact that we’ve gone out and brought in almost a billion dollars in box office, that’s a great success story for the franchise. Regardless of the money aspects of it, the fact that people paid to go continue to watch these movies, that to me is really cool. Who knows why that worked, I think it probably has to do with the characters, it has to do with that crazy fan base that loves these books and went out and evangelized these stories to people. But the fact that I was there, and had a small part in making this work, that’s really cool, that’s really great. And whatever the next thing is, hopefully we can repeat that.
Screen Rant: Yeah, I was also wondering, because these were your first three films, how did your style as a director evolve over the course of the trilogy?
Ball: Ha, well, you would probably give a better answer than me. I have to admit, it’s hard for me to go back and watch my movies. Honestly, I just usually don’t. I haven’t seen the first or second one in quite a while, since [they] probably came out in theaters. It’s hard for me to watch them again, but I would imagine that there is absolutely some element of me as a director kind of growing. If someone were to sit down and watch all three movies back to back, there has to be some element of growth that you could probably witness through them all. How I became more comfortable with the craft, how I became more comfortable running a set, and dealing with set pieces and actors and all that stuff.
I certainly feel more comfortable doing that stuff now, but I don’t know how it manifests itself in the movies themselves necessarily. So it’s hard, that’s hard for me to answer, but I’m sure there’s some element that has grown. I will say this, I’m fascinated with filmmaking in general, the craftsmanship behind filmmaking, and I imagine that there’s probably an element of more confidence in putting together scenes in the last movie compared to the first movie. And then there’s the question of which story is better and all that stuff, and I couldn’t tell you anything about that.
Screen Rant: Yeah, I understand, I have a hard time going back and reading what I’ve written because I always want to change things—
Ball: All you can see is what you couldn’t do, or what you didn’t have time to do or you weren’t good enough to do - or whatever it is. You’re probably a perfectionist like myself, it’s kind of a curse.
Screen Rant: Yes, but, looking back at your most recent one, is there anything you would change?
Ball: Ah, good question. There are definitely things that I would change, but what’s interesting about movies is that the decisions you make a year in advance from when you’re shooting it or editing it, you’re stuck with them. And they’re decisions that you make in faith and there’s things that I would certainly change, but by the time we felt like we needed to make those changes, we couldn’t. It was too late. Other than going to reshoot something, which, we’re not the kind of budget to go and reshoot something.
So these movies, unlike a lot of Hollywood movies, we did no reshoots. There were no pickup days, no nothing. What we shot was what we edited and what we worked with, which is pretty frickin’ rare actually. Most people don’t know that, but most movies go back for weeks and reshoot scenes or reshoot whole story elements. We didn’t do that because we didn’t really have the budget for that kind of thing. So, like I said, you roll with what you have and you try to make it as good as you can.
Screen Rant: Yeah, so, I’m curious, because the movies are based on source material by James Dashner, how involved was he in helping you wrap up this trilogy?
Ball: Well I gotta say, very little, but not in the way of we didn’t want his help or he didn’t want to be involved. He always said from the very beginning - I pitched him my take on his books and what I loved about them, especially the first one really. My entry into working with James was through the first book. That’s what I thought I was going to do, make that first book and move onto something else. I wasn't intending to do the subsequent books, but James was always very, very generous with saying, “Look, the books exist, you seem to understand what I was going for in spirit, go forth and make your movie. I’ll be here if you need me, but I trust in you guys to go make the choices to make this a movie franchise.”
So he was always very gracious in that way, that I didn’t feel like I needed to - y’know if I needed to veer from the books, I did. And if I needed to ask him a question about something, I would, but for the most part, we were lucky enough to be trusted enough to turn his books into movies, which is great. I can’t imagine having to do this where you hear these horror stories where the author is behind you sneering, or [saying] “I didn’t do that in the book,” that could have just been awful to have to deal with. Fortunately, James isn’t that way, he’s very gracious.
Screen Rant: I’ve read all three books; I was a fan of them, that’s how I got into the movies. I’m curious, because one of the big changes I noticed in the third movie was that you kind of eliminated the epilogue from the book, so I was wondering what your decision process was of eliminating that.
Ball: Well I feel like our ending, because obviously the ending does change from the books a little bit - even though it does kind of feel true in spirit - I feel like our ending is the epilogue. There are things that we already changed in the first movie, that just didn’t make sense in those books, like the idea of the Flat Trans and the idea that Ava Paige happened to have a safe haven stored away for them just in case. If we were to do that in the movie, it’d be really weird. So we knew pretty early on that we needed to make those changes and ripple them throughout. Our epilogue is Thomas with his final choice in his hands, and what he’s going to do next, and what kind of person he’s going to be. I think it’s good parking lot conversation material, our ending, where it’s a farewell to the book series and the fans that have watched these movies and it’s in their hands now. For me, the movies are done, they’re over. There are no more adventures or questions to follow. Thomas knows the truth about everything now and now the choices are in his hands.
Screen Rant: So I take it you’re not going to adapt the prequels.
Ball: Personally, no. I’m done. It’s been a hell of a ride, three movies - one, two, three - it’s a great number. Beginning, middle, and end. I’m moving on to something else. I can only stay in the world of WCKD and Grievers and Mazes for so long, before I just go crazy. But hey, if someone out there wants to do it, I’m sure there’s a way in.
Screen Rant: Understandable. So, looking back at all three movies, what was your favorite thing to film.
Ball: Y’know, it’s funny, the first movie - I’ll talk about that one - the first movie, there was this one scene where Newt is chopping at a log and they’re talking about Alby and his past. It’s a really quiet, simple scene with just actors talking, and I was so surprised on the day with how much I enjoyed shooting that scene. It being my first movie, I felt like I was pretty comfortable with the set piece action stuff, I felt like I was OK there, I was confident there, but I had no idea about the nuanced, performance, actor-based character stuff. I thought, this is just going to be filler, this is just going to be the thing that gets to the next set piece or whatever it is.
But I fell in love on that day with that side of directing. So it was on that day that I remember feeling like OK, I don’t want to always make action movies, I actually want to make some real character and drama type stuff, and that’s where it sort of found its way into the second or third movie. They’re kind of more - I would say more - dramatic, more character-based stuff. It was interesting to be a part of that. And of course, it’s always fun to shoot these set pieces, it’s really fun to come up with them, but the stuff that I had the most fun with are these really intense circumstances that the characters find themselves in - whether it’s in the third movie with Newt and Thomas at that last moment. It’s these really intense audience experiences that I really enjoy being a part of.
Screen Rant: I’m curious about The Death Cure in particular, were there any scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut that fans will get to see on the home release?
Ball: Yeah, there are a lot of deleted scenes, honestly, this time. Unfortunately, I shot a three hour movie. It wasn’t the plan, but there’s a lot of characters in this movie, a lot of characters that we have to track and follow and stories we have to witness and, unfortunately, the reality is that there’s a magic number. There’s a reason why a lot of movies - the longer movies - don’t go past 2 [hours and] 20 [minutes] or 2 [hours and] 21 [minutes], it’s because they lose a theater, supposedly, in the theater showings. So that’s obviously a lot of money. For whatever reason, that’s the magic number, and we had to come in there. This meant that unfortunately we had to lose some things that I think fans will love seeing on the DVD. Maybe one day we’ll have a supercut where we finish all those scenes properly and put them into the movie, but for now they’ll just be enjoyed on their own. But yeah there’s definitely lots of great little things. More so than all the other movies, this one has lots of big ones. I think there’s like seven or eight full-on scenes that got cut.
Screen Rant: Which one hurt the most to cut?
Ball: That’s a good question. There’s one that has to do with - I don’t know if we should talk about spoilers, but there’s a character that comes back into the fold and there’s a couple scenes that are tied to his story that were hard to cut, it was really hard to cut. We had to, I think, for pacing and you kind of know it, too, when you test these movies, you can tell where the audience - they tell you where they got bored. So there’s a couple of those scenes that are really good, and then there’s one particular scene that involves him a little bit and it was the biggest set I ever built. It was this huge set that we built and we never got to finish the VFX on it or anything, but we spent a lot of time and money doing this one scene and it had to go, it had to get cut, and it was so painful to cut that.
With our movies, like I said, we don’t have a lot of money. We’re not a huge budgeted movie, so the money that we spend on set, that’s money that we can’t spend on VFX or money that we can’t spend somewhere else. We don’t have an endless supply so we tried to focus really hard one making sure the money we spend winds up on screen and not thrown onto the floor. So that was one of those days, unfortunately, that I don’t feel like I did my job properly in recognizing that scene - we shouldn’t have spent so much time on it.
Screen Rant: Yeah, I’m excited to see those scenes. But, looking forward for you, what’s next for you? Have you started looking for your next project yet?
Ball: Yes I have. I’ve got a couple things that are all in the works, but I’m super pumped to move onto new things, for sure,, and that’s where I’m having a lot of fun right now. I’ve been in, for five years now, the kind of knee-jerk thing of Grievers, Cranks, [and] WCKD. Because I’ve been living with that subject matter for so long, I can even today feel - in the back of my mind - I don’t know, I don’t want to call them an anchor, but it’s like these questions that you kind of lean on and I don’t have them anymore. It’s really thrilling and exciting, so I’m working on a few things. I’m not sure that there’s anything I want to announce yet, but there’s a couple of things in the works and they’re all really going to be fun. There’s one in particular that’s kind of a big, giant fantasy epic that I’m really interested in right now. I love the idea of escapism and world creation and this would be that tenfold, so we’ll see how it goes. It’s a little early days, but hopefully soon I’ll be diving into the next thing here.
Screen Rant: Sounds great, I’m excited to see whatever it is you do next.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure is available April 10 on digital, and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on April 24. The Maze Runner trilogy boxset is available April 24 on Blu-ray and DVD.