HUG: We’d like to start by congratulating you on your directorial debut Jon. The Descent: Part 2 had its World Premiere at Frightfest in Leicester Square and will be released in the UK on 4th December. Your first feature film is a reality but does it seem real to you yet?
JH: Thanks very much. I’m not sure it does feel real at the moment. I’ve been in some very different situations than I’m used to including introducing the film to 1,300 people at Frightfest. But everywhere I’ve been people have been so positive and seem to really like the film.
Because I’ve already finished editing another film, Kick-Ass, I’m having to go back and recall everything that went on last year making The Descent: Part 2. Usually I finish things and don’t look back. All the interest and anticipation for the film has been very exciting.
How easy has it been to let go of a project over which you have ultimate charge?
JH: The same as any other film really. You could go on fiddling with them forever but there always comes a time, thankfully, when you simply have to let them go and move on.
The biggest difference with this one is that I’ve been travelling around and introducing the film and talking to audiences and getting their feedback first hand. I’m obviously much more accountable on this one and people are very interested to know how we went about it.
Again I’m just very grateful that people are aware of the film and we’ve worked very hard to see that they are not let down.
Director Neil Marshall spoke of The Descent as “a perfectly calibrated scare machine“ ““ a description we love. Unusually the second film picks up very soon after the end of the first, how did you maintain the tension to successfully bridge the two?
JH: Part 2 is a direct continuation but if you were to put the two films together there is definitely a switch of focus at the start of Part 2. We begin from the point of view of the rescuers who have been searching in vain for the missing girls and are starting to lose hope. So we drop the audience right into the middle of an already tense scenario.
When Sarah appears she is a mystery to them and to herself. Part 2 could equally stand alone as we follow them trying to unravel this new mystery. Hopefully by the end, when all the clues have fallen into place, it feels like the end of a longer story that began with the death of Sarah’s husband and daughter at the start of The Descent.
For HeyUGuys it was an exhilarating experience to watch The Descent: Part 2 at Frightfest ““ the audience were so vocal in their enthusiasm for the film. How did you react to such a reception?
JH: To be honest I was hiding in the stairwell most of the time. But the response was just great. To be accepted and appreciated by that audience in particular was more than I could have hoped for. If they hadn’t liked it I would have been very disappointed.
I really hope people go and see it in a theatre as that’s really the best way to experience it, huddled in the dark with a bunch of terrified strangers. A bit like being down there for real.
The best thing about both the Descent films is watching them with an audience because you really get to hear and enjoy their appreciation. It’s a very nice reward for the hard work. After Frightfest we went and got spectacularly drunk, which I think was the most responsible thing to do in the circumstances.
The Descent was lauded for its girl power, “˜chicks with picks’, attitude. How difficult was it to inspire the same emotional investment in the characters this time around?
JH: It would have been very contrived to make it all female again but we kept the girl power vibe alive by making it clear that it was the ladies who were more adaptable and savvy in this new environment.
The men, for all their bluster and bravado, are usually the ones that cause more problems than they solve whilst the ladies figure out a bit sooner that stealth and quiet are the keys to survival down there.
This was a great angle because I really wanted the story to be about a small group who all had their own private agendas and split loyalties. We get to watch them all begin to unravel and turn on each other even before they realise they are about to be attacked by these horrible creatures.
How much of a challenge was it to progress the story and open it up to new characters while staying true to Sarah’s journey? Did you feel any pressure to innovate unrealistic Crawler powers ““ an end-of-level style boss character perhaps?!
JH: I wasn’t particularly interested in developing the crawlers or learning any more about them. Neither film is really about them. They simply exist as part of this hideous environment our human characters find themselves in. They, coupled with the claustrophobia, are what cause people to react in their most basic fight or flight survival modes. That’s when you find out what people are really capable of doing, to others or to themselves.
The new characters were introduced around Sarah in ways that would either help or impede her progress. They are all quite suspicious and wary of her to begin with but gradually it becomes clear to them that she may be the only one who really knows what’s going on. But of course she has no loyalty to the people who dragged her back into this nightmare. They are potentially as much at risk from her as from the crawlers.
Editor and director have such a close working relationship on a film set and obviously you and Neil collaborated on The Descent. How did you find the experience of wearing both hats. Did it make life easier to have total control or did you take editing decisions more personally because you had directed the footage you were cutting?
JH: You’re right, editing decisions were more difficult. I absolutely got where I needed to be in the end but it took a while to switch roles and achieve the distance I needed. Editing can be exhilarating when you are solving problems but strangely there’s no satisfaction in solving problems you caused yourself.
But editing is not as lonely as people think. There’s usually a core of three or four people involved throughout the editing process, a producer or two, a writer, a director and an editor. I had a very solid team around me.
Many of the original heads of department returned for The Descent:Part 2 and you and producer Christian Colson chose to bring all six girls back together to shoot the camcorder footage. Why was that continuity such an important ingredient for you?
JH: We had an open-door policy for anyone who worked on the first film and wanted to come back and thankfully everyone wanted to be involved. An awful lot was tried and tested and learned on the first film in every department and it was good to know everyone had that experience to build from.
As a first time director it was great to be supported by all these people I had met before. I think it gave them that extra bit of faith knowing that I had edited The Descent that I understood the material and wouldn’t let them down.
Beyond that I wanted the story to be a continuation, not a re-tread. Finding the camcorder footage was a nice nod to the first film but it’s built in to the story as our new characters begin to piece together the clues and slowly realise what they have got themselves into.
All the girls came back for a day and got into their old costumes and Neil Marshall came in and shot the camcorder footage. I think it was a strange deja-vu experience for all of them but it really pays off. It’s one of my favourite bits in Part 2 where the two films kind of meet in the middle.
After The Descent: Part 2 you had another reunion of sorts when you returned to work with Matthew Vaughn on his adaptation of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass. How has the experience been and is there anything you can divulge about the film at this stage?
JH: I’ve always been very lucky to be asked back to work with people I know as we’ve begun to feel like a company. I’ve cut four films with Matthew Vaughn now if you include Snatch. Working on Kick-Ass was like getting into a warm bath after the cold caves.
They showed some clips of Kick Ass at Comic Con which went down very well and then we had a screening on the outskirts of LA a couple of months ago and I have to tell you the roof nearly came off the place.
Finally Jon, we know from speaking with you at Frightfest that your favourite “˜80s movie is The Breakfast Club. However, since the question is a HeyUGuys interview staple, we’ve given it a Descent twist to end on: Jon Harris, what’s your favourite “˜80s horror film?
JH: I have to say you really caught me off guard with that question at Frightfest. I’d just done a sort of Q&A to 13,00 people, then I was in the very surreal position of being asked to sign things which was an entirely new experience for me. I was looking at the room through a fish-eye lens and someone crept up behind me and said “What’s your favourite 80’s film?” You might as well have asked me what I had for lunch three years ago.
I said the first 80’s film that popped into my head. Thankfully I didn’t say Dirty Dancing which is my girlfriends favourite. Now I’ve had time to think I would more likely say Back To The Future or Ferris Buellers’ Day Off. But if we’re talking horror then it has to be The Thing, hands down. Or hands off to be precise.
The Descent: Part 2 is in UK cinemas from Dec 4 (previews 2-3 Dec)
Images © 2009 Pathé