During the San Diego Comic-Con, James Dashner spent some time with Hypable to talk both about the movie adaptation of his book, The Maze Runner, as well as his new book, The Eye of Minds, which is the first book in The Mortality Doctrine trilogy.
Hypable: How did you feel when you found out ‘The Maze Runner’ film was finally going ahead?
James Dashner: It was part ecstatic and part relief. About three years ago, we got really close. We had a director, a screenplay, but it all kind of fell apart – which happens in Hollywood a lot. I was much more level-headed when it started happening again.
I tempered my expectations, but when the ball really got rolling, I knew that was happening when all the producers had a conference call with me. Then Wes Ball, the director, called me, and I was like “Okay, it’s happening.” Since then, I have been on Cloud 9.
How did it feel to see the characters that you wrote standing there in real life?
There’s so much relief with it. I don’t know how I would have reacted if I have disagreed with all the choices, or if they were butchering my book or my vision. I agree and support everything about this film.
I love the casting, I love the script, I love Wes’ vision for it. The tone and the spirit of the movie, it’s almost too good to be true. I am extremely satisfied and happy about it.
Were you involved in the casting process?
A little. From the get go, it was a cool relationship. They wanted me involved, they were very good about reaching out to me. By the same token, I understand that that’s not my expertise. So it worked out perfectly – I was involved, and I felt involved, but I never tried to be heavy-handed or enforce anything.
I was involved, but on a small scale. Wes has been really awesome about staying in touch, asking me questions, asking for my feedback. I think he has taken a lot of that feedback when it worked for him.
Was there any casting that was not how you had pictured the character?
Yeah. It’s all about matching the spirit of it. Frypan was not how I literally envisioned him, but everyone else pretty much was.
When I think of Minho, and Thomas, and Alby – and especially Chuck. Chuck is like he literally stepped out of the pages of the book, it’s almost eerie.
And with Teresa, I was really surprised. I don’t really describe her in too much detail, the hair colour and maybe the eye colour, and then leave it up to the reader’s imagination, but somehow, I saw her and thought “That’s Teresa.”
You’re a huge movie fan, and there are a lot of adaptations around at the moment. What do you think is the most important factor in making a successful adaptation?
I think to be careful of trying to be literal. A great example is the Harry Potter movies. I am a huge Harry Potter fan, I love the books. The first two movies, I felt were very literal to the book. It was like going through a checklist while I watched the movies, and it bored me to tears.
Then with the third movie, they thought “Well we can’t do that anymore, the books are getting huge,” so instead of trying to be literal they tried to transform the book into a cinematic experience.
It is what Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings, and I think that is the key, to stay away from literal translation, and more about capturing the vision and spirit of the plot and characters.
Do you have a favourite adaptation?
I would have to say Lord of the Rings. I consider them all one movie, and that is my favourite movie.
So they are something to aspire to as they make The Maze Runner trilogy?
Yeah! They’re not going to be as big, and epic, and grand as Lord of the Rings, but if they can follow that pattern of staying true to the spirit, I will be ecstatic.
‘Lord of the Rings’ was an adaptation where a lot of things were changed quite drastically. Can ‘The Maze Runner’ fans expect similar changes in the film adaptation?
There are changes, and they all make sense. I will spend the next seven months soothing my fans, preparing them. For example, the telepathy between Thomas and Teresa would just not work in the movie. Telepathy never works, it just looks cheesy and stupid.
It works great in the book, it’s a cool way for them to be connected, but that is not in the film. But Wes Ball is a genius, and the way he creates that connection in a different way is very cool.
And small things, like WICKED is just WCKD, and of course there are a lot of fans that went nuts. But it means the exact same thing, it’s pronounced the exact same way, it just looks cooler visually than spelling out the word.
Do you feel any extra pressure because of the level of dedication from your fans?
I feel my own personal extreme pressure. I desperately want the first movie to succeed so they can make the other two, and make the prequel, who knows. I know I can’t take it upon myself for the movie to perform, but I feel it. I am going to fight my hardest.
Did you still work out the backstories for those ‘Maze Runner’ characters whose past weren’t revealed within the books?
In a general way. I do have a lot of background notes. I’m not quite as off the cuff as Stephen King, so who does no outlining, and no plotting. I do some of that, but I took the journey of The Maze Runner trilogy with my characters.
Thomas and Teresa I worked out quite a bit, and the others I thought about, but to me their story started with The Maze Runner. When I went back and did the prequel, I changed things. I definitely thought more about their pre-story since then, and it would be something fun to explore in further prequels.
There are some parallels between ‘Eye of Minds’ and ‘The Maze Runner’, particularly with a young male protagonist dealing with an adult situation that he never should have to. Why do you feel drawn to that set-up?
That’s such a hard question to answer. My protagonists are usually male, because that’s what I am, and I feel like I can most genuinely depict a male. Then if something seems cool to me, I’m drawn to it.
From the time I saw The Matrix, that idea was living inside my brain.The Maze Runner was such a huge chunk of my life, basically five years of devoting my life to it.
It was fun, and refreshing, and exhilarating to take that spark of an idea, and create an entirely new world. That was the real excitement of it.
To read the full interview, go to Hypable.