Last fall, Fangirlish had the pleasure of visiting the set of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials in beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico. We spent the day at I-25 Studios, watching several scenes be filmed and sitting down with the cast, director Wes Ball, and more key figures to get the inside scoop on The Scorch Trials. We’ll be sharing everything that we learned on set in the weeks to come, so stay tuned and get ready for Scorch.
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers literally enter a whole new world in The Scorch Trials – the remnants of ours, to be precise. Now that the teens have escaped the Maze, they will have to navigate the crumbling ruins and burning deserts of the Scorch. Albuquerque, New Mexico stood in for the Scorch IRL, and though the cast and crew didn’t experience any freak lightning storms or packs of Cranks outside of filming, the new setting was just as different from the Louisiana set of The Maze Runner as the Scorch is from the Glade.
“It’s a lot darker. Huge, open spaces, and less of the four walls that we were used to with the original film, The Maze Runner, anyway,” Alex Flores said. “There’s a lot of heat, a lot of looking at the sun, a lot of desert… A lot of desert.”
As cool as the change of scene and the visual dynamics of the desert are, what’s really exciting about the Scorch is how it completely expands the scope of the Maze Runner universe. “We loved shooting the first one – it was like our home. Like, the Glade was literally like our little camp, kind of, and then we had the Maze,” Dylan O’Brien explained. Now that the Gladers have left their home behind, they’re experiencing the real world for the first time in their memory. “I feel like each week, we’re at a different location. It’s really cool – it’s much bigger,” O’Brien said.
The new sets definitely establish a different tone from The Maze Runner. Seeing the remnants of the solar flare-ravaged world is fascinating – Dylan noted that Jorge’s Lair, in particular, is “really cool” – but going beyond the confines of the Maze also shakes things up for the characters and their group dynamic. “We’re not trapped anymore. We’re out in the world, and that kind of does something to our characters,” O’Brien said. “I think that’s interesting, you know? It’s like, we’re no longer forced to be together, so this movie’s very much about what it would take to make that choice to stay together.”
On a personal level, many of the cast were wowed by the beauty of Albuquerque – though some were longing for the warmth and vibrance of New Orleans. “I miss New Orleans so much. I think I just love [it] because of the music and the history and the culture – it just felt like it had so much life,” Kaya Scodelario said. “Oh god, I don’t want to offend anyone from Albuquerque. I’ve heard Santa Fe is really nice. But I do not miss the bugs from filming in New Orleans, because that was horrible.”
Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Alex Flores were also fans of the sets and the environment on Maze Runner. “I personally really liked the Glade. I thought the whole idea behind the Glade and the visuals of [it] were really nice, and it kind of felt homey, so I do miss it,” Thomas said. Even with the infamous Louisiana humidity, Alex agreed. “I loved the humidity. I was a huge fan of it. [laughs],” he said. “I know everyone’s like, ‘Ahh, it’s too muggy!’ I’m like, ‘That was so nice.’ Just a little moist air is totally fine. Dryness, I’m like, [gasps] ‘Water… Please…'”
That said, Alex and his fellow Gladers still found a lot to love about the desert landscape of Albuquerque - even when it made their jobs more difficult."As much as I was joking about how I complained about the desert, the desert was actually really cool. Sand everywhere, just running up those dunes. It's so beautiful," Alex said. "You get to watch the sun rise, the sun set on it, the pink skies... It was great. We love the desert."
Though Dylan was also enjoying Albuquerque, he did say that the new terrain made filming much more challenging. "The dunes, though. The sand dunes. I didn't think it could get any worse running in the first movie, and it has. [laughs] It's really fun," he said.
The Filmmakers' Perspective
In addition to our fun chats with the cast members about the new environment the Gladers will have to contend with in The Scorch Trials, we got to sit down with Producer Wyck Godfrey and Director Wes Ball to talk about the challenges of filming in Albuquerque.
Wyck gave some great insight on the complex logistics for Wes and the story in The Scorch Trials:
"I think it's the biggest challenge for Wes, you know? You think of The Maze Runner, and ultimately Wes was in hog heaven in his Glade - in his perfect place where so much of the movie was set. And then the other part of that movie was really just the Maze itself, and he had a very clear idea of what he wanted that to be. But really, you were bouncing from one giant set where you could shoot all your scenes and then another one where you had to shoot all the Maze action. This is a much more complicated movie. Now the Gladers have escaped the Maze, and they're discovering what the real world holds for them."
So, what does the real world (or what's left of it) have in store for the Gladers? According to Wyck, "That entails this initial bunker that they're brought to [where our interview took place], it entails the Scorch, it entails sort of the ruined city and Jorge's Lair, and ultimately we're going to kind of take them to the Safe Haven that they're looking for. It's a lot of moving pieces for [Wes] to deal with, but I think that's what made it exciting to him and challenging. As a filmmaker, you want to keep growing. So he's got a lot of balls in the air."
Wes was definitely up for the challenging balancing act - and his enthusiasm for the series and the new setting was clearly evident. The director said he "couldn't care less" about the high altitude that posed difficulties for the cast (to which we say, you try running up and down sand dunes several times in a row, dude), and he was eagerly anticipating exploring the landscape and making a movie that both expands the scope of the universe and maintains that great, character-driven core.
"We want desert - that's why we came here, basically. In fact, I want to go further out, even further, like to the Arizona sand dunes and these other bigger, massive locations where we can really get some epic scope. That's the other big thing for me in this movie, is that the last movie, you know, it's all about being confined - it's tight spaces, and it's claustrophobia. There's no horizon line anywhere; it's all walls. But here, it's about being open - you get to see the horizon for the first time, and imagine these kids seeing a sunset for the first time. I mean, they haven't seen that for how long they've been in the Maze, and that's a cool concept.
But at the same time, because there's all this open space, the idea for me thematically is the idea that they're out of the Maze, but they're still lost. It's cool to play with that landscape, that kind of empty nothing. It works really well for us, in terms of Albuquerque - what it offers us and everything - so it's cool. And all of the dilapidated kind of buildings were here, and great stages. It's the first time we've had real stages - our last stage was like 30 feet tall. Here, they're 55 feet tall. We have these huge, massive sets that we're building."
Even as production moved to these "massive sets," Wes is determined to keep the heart of the story intact. "The movie has really taken a step up in terms of scale, but hopefully we don't lose the very small, intimate story that I think people kind of liked in the first movie," he said.
Experience the whole new world of the Scorch alongside the Gladers in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, in theaters September 18.
Interview has been edited for clarity.