Director Wes Ball wraps up his Maze Runner Trilogy experience by discussing his favorite Death Cure featurette, if he’d do a Fever Code movie, and more!
It’s a rare occurrence to find yourself helming a popular YA book-to-film adaptation as your first feature-length film, but even more so to go on to do an entire three-film franchise. Wes Ball exploded onto the scene with The Maze Runner, and subsequently directed The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure, each starring up-and-comer Dylan O’Brien.
Now that Death Cure is out today, April 24, on Digital via Movies Anywhere and on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD, Ball took the time to talk to us about his experience directing the final movie in the franchise and what’s next for him as a filmmaker. You can find a transcript of our conversation below, which has been edited for clarity.
I just want to start off by saying congratulations on getting through all three movies. That doesn’t always happen!
Well thank you! It’s true, it’s true. It’s pretty rare right?
Yeah! And obviously we’re here to celebrate the release of ‘The Death Cure’ DVD, Blu-ray, and the box set.
Which is cool! My first big movie, and I have a box set!
Right?! So, I want to kick this off with asking you which is your favorite bonus feature from the ‘Death Cure’ Blu-ray?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’ll tell you what I think people will like. My favorites might not be what most favorites are. Obviously there is the commentary stuff where T.S. [Nowlin] and I, in tradition of the previous interviews, talk about the inner workings of the movie. Which is kind of fun. But I think the really die-hard fans have always loved these gag reels that I put together.
There will be a good gag reel. We had a lot of fun making this movie and people will get to see it. I had, like, 30 minutes of material. Of course, I could not release that. I think it ended up being 12 minutes of this fun stuff, you know. So that’ll be good for the fans to have. And then you know, second to that, there’s a lot of great deleted scenes. And there’s a ton of deleted scenes that I unfortunately had to cut from the movie because it just is what it is. But that can be a lot of fun for the people that really love these stories and want to see more. They’re not just gonna get extra little bits of scenes — they’re going to see whole new scenes that are going to be kind of fun to watch, I think. A lot of them are unfinished, of course, but you’ll get an idea of where our heads were when we were making this thing. So that’ll be fun.
And the last thing from me… You probably don’t want to know about my favorite things because I’m such a VFX nerd, but we did a lot of VFX stuff on this. To show, for instance, the train sequence, you know the very opening, but I don’t think people realize how much visual effects were used during that sequence. And so I have the whole train sequence that runs with the original plates — the green screen visual effects plates — running alongside the finished sequence, and it’s fun to really sit there and scrub through that and witness, sort of like you know, ‘Oh wow, he wasn’t actually on a moving train there,’ or, ‘That was all CG,’ or whatever. You know what I mean? So that’s going to be a lot of fun for the geeks that like that kind of stuff.
And you can’t even tell, so I think that’s going to be really cool to get to see.
Yeah, and people don’t even realize that all that train stuff was CG. Dylan was never on a moving train, you know? Which is cool.
It’s crazy. And going back to the gag reel, I love gag reels. It’s the first thing I always go to when I get a new movie.
I know, right?
But kind of on the flip side of that, was there a different sort of tone behind the scenes since this was the last movie, and will fans get to see a glimpse of that by being able to watch the special features on the Blu-ray?
I don’t think so. It was a different experience for me, which I could probably never put into words, but I don’t think it manifested itself in any way that the other movies hadn’t on set. We all know each other. We also love each other. We’re all kinda one big happy little family — this traveling circus that goes across the world making movies together. So it’s still kinda the same fun crowd and stupid silly gags with each other that always seem to happen. We have a lot of fun making these movies, you know? So it is fun to see it, but I don’t think there’s any kind of difference, other than we knew that this was the end. This was it.
Right. And given that it was the end, did you feel like you approached the movie any differently, or did you feel a different kind of pressure on your shoulders or even relief that it was the last move?
Yeah, I guess I was very aware. This movie is almost laser focused on the fans, right? We kind of know that we’re not going to gain a lot of new fans for a third movie of an installment, you know what I mean? So it was really about how do we make this satisfying conclusion — you know, a grand kind of farewell — to the story, these characters, the audience that supported us. That was the pressure. How do we stick that landing, you know what I mean? So you kind of make those choices that you think are going to work early on. You do it while you’re writing the script. And then you’re kind of hoping and trusting that those choices you made then apply when you’re on set because you can’t change it when you’re on set. It takes too much money and too much time. It’s all about speed, speed, speed; go, go, go. So we don’t change anything. So it’s just about, can we execute this as well as possible so that the fans feel satisfied by the end? And for the most part it seems like, you know, the people that really support these movies feel very happy about this one. This last one. I like that. That’s a great thing, you know? I’m happy.
I completely agree. And there are so many great scenes, in all three movies, but especially this one that really had me on the edge of my seat. How do you manage to keep that tension so palpable, especially when you’re shooting these scenes multiple times to make sure they’re just right?
Yeah, I know. It’s the job. You know, it’s tricky. I was talking to someone about this the other day. That suspense, that feeling of anticipation of knowing what’s going to happen and waiting for it to happen. And how long can you draw that out to keep the audience in that place on the edge of their seat kind of thing. I love that feeling. That’s, to me, kind of our stock and trade with these moves. All these movies, you know? All the way from Thomas first waking up in the elevator. It has this kind of, ‘What the hell is going on?’ So BOOM, we reveal where he is. And then that scene where he runs in the maze for the first time. How we draw it out.
You know, the same thing here, with, say, Thomas and Newt when they’re at one of their critical moments. You know, how do we draw that out as long as possible so you can really just enjoy that, which is something that cinema does so well, right? It’s that suspense and the thrill and the adventure and the drama. The emotional kind of stakes that are involved in this movie, they’re fun to play with. This movie in particular is super, super emotional. Where the movie mostly operates is where these characters are going to end up. How is this going to go down? It’s not so much about how they’re going to get away from WCKD, how they’re going to escape the maze. This one is about… are they going to save their friends and are they going to die trying? That’s kinda cool. That’s fun to play with.
And speaking of Newt and a lot of emotions, this movie obviously saw the end to Newt in a really horrific way. Was that difficult for you to shoot as a director, given that you’ve been in charge of the film version of this overarching story for three movies and several years?
Yeah. I mean… it is really funny. Like I was talking about before, you make these choices months and months in advance, and that’s where you’re really contemplating it all. But when you’re on set, it’s like you don’t have time! When we shot that scene that you’re talking about, it was one of the biggest wind storms that Capetown had ever seen. Huge, huge, 70-80 mile an hour winds! To the point where we had to lower cranes and lower our lights and on the spot we had to change our plans and figure out how to get this scene done. So that’s kind of on the day what I’m dealing with. How do I wrangle the elements to get the stuff I need?
On top of, you know, making sure that Dylan and Thomas and those guys are kind of operating in the right place for the experience we want to give the audience. But at this point, having been with these guys for five years, it’s a pretty easy conversation. We can all talk about what we want to see happen. They know these characters very well, we’re all on the same page, we have similar taste, so it ends up being very easy. So then it’s just my job to sit back and kind of check and make sure we are threading that needle. Hitting that sweet spot between horror and emotion and all those things, you know? That day in particular, it stands out in my mind for sure because of how emotional it was and also the sheer effort of trying to film it. But yeah, it was fun. And it is different from the books, but it seems for the most part the book fans are happy with that scene, which was very important to them to be in the movie.
And I know that this is going to be a pretty difficult question, but looking back at all three movies, which moments make you the proudest as a filmmaker? Which ones really stand out to you?
Oh gosh. That is a difficult question, isn’t it? Well I answered this one before once, and it’s probably not what people would expect, but there was a scene in the first movie where Thomas and Newt and those guys are having a conversation. They’re talking in the woods, and they’re talking about Alby — Alby’s past, his story — and I always go back to that scene for some reason in the first movie because it’s not an action scene. You know, it’s not some big complicated set piece thing. It’s just this simple little scene where these actors do their thing. And that was like, for me, early on in the shoot, and I remember that day because, being my first movie I felt very confident with the action stuff and the visual effects side of things. I felt like I could handle that stuff. That felt familiar to me even though it was my first movie, but it was the dramatic kind of character/actor-based stuff that was a complete unknown to me, right? And I just remember shooting that scene and feeling like, I love this. I want to do more of this. You know, it kind of made me — it’s all obvious of course — but the fact that characters and the actors that represent them are so crucial to things. And it’s because of that scene that you care about them being hurt later. It was kind of the moment where I realized how important the simple, subtle stuff is to support the bigger fun adventure stuff.
I think you see it even in the second movie and the third movie. I get more and more into the kind of emotional drama of things. Especially in the third movie. It’s more centered around character than the previous movies completely. So yeah, it’s usually that kind of stuff that I go back to. It’s more like things that kind of changed my outlook on moviemaking as a director. More than, say, “Oh, we accomplished that big giant train scene.”
James Dashner has talked about wanting to see an adaptation of ‘Fever Code.’ What do you think the likelihood of that happening would be and would you be interested in taking part in that?
I won’t be making a [Fever Code] movie, personally. I’ve done my movies here. You know, 1, 2, 3, beginning, middle, and end. It’s a good number, you know? I’m done with this story. Not that I wouldn’t offer my help to anyone who wanted to tackle that. I’m certainly not opposed to it. I don’t know how you would do it exactly, but hey, where there’s a will there’s a way. But for me, personally, as a director, I’m done. These movies are it for me.
And on that note, I guess, what are you working on next?
W: Well, that’s the question! It’s been fun, obviously, because I’m really excited to kind of move on to other things, of course. I am working on something now that’s this gigantic kind of fantasy epic that is really exciting. It’s still early days. Who knows. A million things could happen, if something else will come up or something else will take precedent, but it’s kind of where I’m at right now. It’s conjuring up the things I always loved when I grew up watching Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, and these kinds of movies that are really great escapist entertainment — world creation — and at the same time taking them very seriously. Making a story that feels very real, you know? So I’m working on something now that might be that, might check off those boxes for me. But I dunno. It’s still kind of up in the air a little bit.
I guess the good thing from these movies is that I have opportunities to do something else. Which is great. I’m very thankful for that, you know? That they’re successful enough that someone wants for me to make another movie and give me the money to do so. I love that and that’s fantastic — I just want to make sure whatever I do next is going to be really exciting and fun and challenging. I’m not sure what it’ll be, exactly, but it’ll fit somewhere in that world.
Absolutely. That sounds very exciting. For my last question, this one’s fun and completely random to end our chat, but if Marvel called you up right now and asked you what movie you’d like to direct, would you say yes and which one would you pick?
Oh gosh. I have to say, I don’t know, honestly. I think we’ve all kind of seen these filmmakers who dive into these gigantic franchises — pre-existing franchises — and they don’t come out the same people. They don’t come out having loved the experience sometimes. So I’m very aware of that, and I have to say I’ve been spoiled a little bit by The Maze Runner and the support I’ve gotten at Fox because it was about starting a new franchise. How many people get that opportunity, to start a new franchise and not jump onto a Star Wars movie or jump onto a Marvel movie. That’s really kind of exciting. So hey, if someone were to call me and hand me an opportunity, I’d certainly have to consider it, but I have to admit I didn’t grow up on comics — I grew up on movies — so they don’t have the kind of nostalgia and pull on me that other movies would, you know what I mean? Other movies that I may have grown up with. So yeah. I don’t know. In terms of Marvel, they obviously have their formula, their system that is working bonkers for them. They’re making a ton of money and people are enjoying their movies and stuff, but I don’t think they need me! I mean, clearly not!
Well, I’ve been a fan since the first ‘Maze Runner’ movie, and I know everybody at Hypable is eagerly looking forward to seeing what you do next. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out.
Me too! I really appreciate that. And I do think that whatever we do next, it’ll be what we kind of need as moviegoers right now. You know we’re seeing a lot of the same stuff, and I’m really anxious to break the mold a little bit and do something completely new and original. So, you know, we’ll see. Fingers crossed.
Don’t miss our exclusive clip of the Death Cure featurette titled “Unlocking the Cure – Dystopia: The Completed World.” The rest of the special features include:
- Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary by Wes Ball, T.S. Nowlin, and Joe Hartwick Jr. (BD and Digital Only)
- 4 Featurettes: “The Final Run,” “Dystopia,” “Allies Reunited,” “A Look Back,” “Going Out on Top” (BD and Digital only)
- Gag Reel (BD and Digital only)
- Visual Effects with Optional Commentary (BD and Digital only)
- Audio Commentary by Wes Ball, T.S. Nowlin and Joe Hartwick Jr. (on DVD, BD, UHD, and digital, but will not be available for boxed clients)
- Gallery (over 300 images; BD and digital)
Maze Runner: The Death Cure is out now on Digital via Movies Anywhere and on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on April 24 and comes with an exclusive 24-page original comic book, “The Maze Runner Origins Comic Book,” written by T.S. Nowlin (Pacific Rim: Uprising, Godzilla vs. Kong).
The trilogy box set (The Maze Runner, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, and Maze Runner: The Death Cure) arrives the same day and includes the exclusive comic book and a limited edition bandanna, as chosen by the fans!