Nowadays, it seems that most YA film franchises employ the skills of a new director for each installment. While there are a lot of reasons that this strategy can be good – bringing in a fresh take on the material, looking for specific strengths (visual effects, etc.) as the story evolves, etc. – everyone involved in the Maze Runner series agrees that much of the success of the franchise is due to Wes Ball, who directed both The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials. Fangirlish took part in a roundtable interview with stars Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, and Dexter Darden, during which the cast talked about working with Ball again for The Scorch Trials and how his energy and passion inspired them to make an incredible sequel to an impressive first film.
Hard to believe as it may be, The Maze Runner was Wes Ball’s directorial debut. Ball was best known for his 2011 post-apocalyptic short film, Ruin, which puts his impressive skills with visual effects and action choreography on display. After the overwhelming success of The Maze Runner, which opened at #1 and grossed more than $340 million worldwide, anyone would wonder if Ball’s attitude or approach might change (for better or worse) as he returned to direct the sequel.
“You know – *sighs* he’s such a dick,” Dylan O’Brien joked, before explaining that Ball is really the same hardworking, humble director he was on the first installment. “What’s amazing about Wes is that he goes out and he makes his first feature film, you know, and has success with it, too. And coming back for the second one, he’s given more money to work with, more freedom a little bit, more time ’cause of the success of the first one. He didn’t change a bit – from his personality, to the way he talks to us, or the way he talks to everyone on set. His demeanor down to the same sweaty hat he wears. That just completely exemplifies him – he’s just a regular dude who really understands and loves storytelling and films, and he’s visually genius. He’s an artist, man, he really is. He just knows how to tell a story,” he said.
While that extra time and money were certainly beneficial, it would still take a lot of hard work and dedication to make The Scorch Trials a stunning sequel – and Ball’s passion completely set the tone. “It’s never a burden for him how much he works. He just genuinely loves to do it. He does not stop and he always goes,” O’Brien said.
This total commitment to making an amazing film went a long way toward keeping the cast at their best and ready to work equally hard themselves. “As actors, it is so much better,” Dylan explained. “If I could work with a guy like that every time versus a guy who wants to go home even on one given day… If you’re the director, I’m sorry, but you cannot do that – ever. You can’t be someone standing around going, ‘Man, come on. When are we gonna get out of here? Come on, let’s get it.’ Wes is – you gotta rip the camera out of the guy’s hands, and that’s what you want, you know?”
O’Brien’s Scorch Trials castmates also appreciated Ball’s endless “kid in a candy store” enthusiasm for the series, as Ki Hong Lee called it. “He’s truly one of those guys who leads by example, and I think he kind of sets the tone,” Dexter Darden said. “We show up to set every day and we look at Wes Ball and how he still has energy, how he’s still passionate about making this movie. Not that we all aren’t, but there are days when we’re tired and we look at Wes and he’s been there all day and all night, then goes home and goes to the editing room, and he’s still got that smile on his face and he’s still ready to work. That’s another thing that inspires us constantly to just keep going,” Darden explained.
Ki Hong reaffirmed how motivating Ball’s passion for the Maze Runner series was for the cast during their rigorous shoot. “When you see him so enthusiastic from the beginning of the day until the end of the day, that inspires us as actors to give him and the movie 100% every time. It’s a real inspiration to get up and work for him,” Lee said.
In addition to setting the tone for the shoot, Wes Ball also inspired appreciation from the cast on a personal level – both by helping them prepare for difficult scenes and by truly knowing and respecting them as individuals. “The cool thing about Wes is because he’s so good with special effects, everybody thinks he’s great with just the big moments. But he’s also great with those little, small, intimate moments that kind of mean a lot to us as actors and castmates,” Dexter Darden said. “I remember there was a campfire scene that I had, and we’d [the Gladers] just gone through something, and Wes just came over to me and gave me a quick little pep talk before I had to go and get all emotional. It was really small, really intimate, but it was kind of something that meant a lot to me just as an actor and just as a person, too – for him to be able to get down on my level and relate with me.”
Dylan O’Brien also expressed his appreciation for Wes’ support of the cast. “Wes always pumps me up. I’ll get down on myself or whatever, for whatever reason, and he gets me back up. It’s not a better energy to work for, you know, than that guy,” he said.
One of the benefits of returning to direct the sequel – especially when, by all accounts, The Maze Runner shoot was such a family-like environment – is that Ball truly knows his cast and how they work individually as actors, as Kaya Scodelario explained. “He knows how to approach us, he knows what our strengths are, he knows which ones prefer having the first shot or the last shot – and that’s so invaluable, to have a director that just knows you,” she said. “With me especially, I struggle with directors sometimes – I’m so particular about a lot of how I work, and Wes just knows it.”
Kaya especially appreciated Ball’s consideration and insight when filming a particularly intense scene between Teresa and Thomas (O’Brien). “He was like, ‘What do you need? We’ll do it how you need to do it, and we’ll make it work.’ And especially on huge movies like this, you don’t get that opportunity,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Go here. Do this. Right, next.’ And he still takes the time to make it personal.”
Scodelario has even adopted Ball’s catchphrase on set – “Pain is temporary, film is forever” – as her own. Though she intended to turn it into a tattoo, her co-stars dropped some unfortunate knowledge on her during the roundtable, resulting in laughter all around.
Thomas Brodie-Sangster: “Didn’t he steal that from someone?”
Scodelario: “No, it was his!”
Brodie-Sangster: “Is it?”
Scodelario: “Don’t break my heart.”
O’Brien: “I think it’s either James Cameron or Spielberg.”
Scodelario: “F*** off. Did he lie to me? Well good, I’m not gonna get it tattooed. Did he really?”
O’Brien: “Yeah, yeah. I think it might be Cameron.”
For the record, it seems that Spielberg originated this timeless film advice – but it’s certainly a phrase applicable to the production of The Scorch Trials, and one that inspired both Ball and the cast to give their all for the franchise.
Though no director has been announced for the third Maze Runner installment, The Death Cure, we’re crossing our fingers for Ball’s continued involvement and share the cast’s gratitude for his return for The Scorch Trials. Wes has shown nothing but the utmost respect and understanding of James Dashner’s novels, staying true to the themes of the source material while making (author-endorsed) changes for the best possible film adaptation. We’re with O’Brien & Co. on this one – we can’t say enough good things about Wes Ball, and we’re eager to see what he has in-store for us in The Scorch Trials.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials hits theaters September 18. Stay tuned for more from our roundtable interviews with the cast, including this group and new additions Rosa Salazar and Giancarlo Esposito.
Why do you love ‘Scorch Trials’ director Wes Ball?
Featured Image: Movie Pilot