No, we hadn’t heard much about the thirtysomething director either. He’s been working in below the line arts like graphics, cinematography and visual effects for over a decade, including directing several shorts.
20th Century Fox obviously agreed Ball’s background was fertile developmental territory, handing him novel ”The Maze Runner” and a bag of money and setting him loose.
How did you get the job?
They gave me this book and said ‘what would you do with this? I took it home, read it, did some artwork on it, had a take on it, came back in and told them what I wanted to do and they liked what they heard.
What appealed about the book?
I fell in love with the darkness of it. I thought instead of making it a kids’ movie I could make it a movie with kids in it. It’s young people making adult decisions.
I also grew up on The Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark, stories that are about thrills and suspense but have an emotional heart at their core that I think make things more than just spectacle.
What was the budget?
$33 million, something like that.
How conscious were you of standing apart from other stuff in the genre like Divergent and the Hunger Games?
Very. I think we’re very different from those movies. We’re not doing a movie about teenagers dealing with high school issues hidden in a different world. We don’t have any kind of oppressive government we’re trying to overthrow, at least not in this one. We don’t have any love story (we might have one in the next one). It’s just a simple situational concept that I get to do fun Alfred Hitchcock type stuff in, a fun adventure.
I hope it stands out when people see it. It’s easy to put that YA label on our back and it’s a little bit of a target right now, but I hope people will give it a chance and come out of it feeling like it’s a little bit different than all those other ones. We certainly tried not to do a YA thing.
So a second one’s happening?
We’re making it. We’re shooting in 9 weeks. We’re in New Mexico right now, we have stages lined up and crew moving in. I’m moving out there tomorrow. Our writer is there writing as we speak.
We have a bit more money this time, which is cool. Granted, anything could happen in the next few weeks and that plug could be pulled but right now we’re going forward and spending money but we’re all cautiously optimistic.
It’s shaping up to be something really exciting, it picks up right where the last one left off. The kids get to almost grow up and mature with the movie. We get to really explore the emotional arc to the characters as they’re being tried even more and we get to tie up some of the loose ends and really craft a saga.
How was the experience of doing a big movie being so young as well as a first time director?
It’s a huge gamble. I got super lucky making this movie and they took a huge chance on me. It took 10 or 11 years of trying to be a director so I didn’t feel too green – I knew enough about cameras and sets and effects.
The one thing I didn’t really have was directing actors. I was very nervous about that but when you work with this cast it’s easy. I had a great crew I could lean on, so it was really setting me up for success.
I had a budget and I could play within that box and we all worked together on ideas and all I had to do was focus on the direction. So hopefully it works out and I get to have a career. I’m certainly aware of how fortunate I am.