After receiving due praise for his work on a stint of successful Brit flicks, including Snatch, Layer Cake and more recently 2005’s acclaimed modern horror classic The Descent, you might think it would take a lot to pry Jon Harris away from the editing suite. But after being offered the chance to return to the story that cemented him as one of the UK's most sought after editors, Harris found himself taking on the biggest challenge of his career. LWLies caught up with Harris recently to discuss the difficulties of not just swapping but juggling roles for his most recent venture, The Descent: Part 2 – as both chief editor and debut director.
LWLies: Four years on, what lured you back down the cave?
Harris: I hadn't directed a film before and there was a palpable desire from the producers to have a sequel. But they didn’t really have a plot in mind, so I was sort of just handed the thing on a plate. It was a bit of a no-brainer for me really and the fact that it was pretty much a blank canvas was what really tempted me. I wasn't just handed a finished script.
LWLies: Even though you were involved heavily with the first film, was it nerve-racking taking on a sequel now, especially as a first-time director and with Neil Marshall not involved?
Harris: Actually although Neil had other things on, he was always around to give advice and help out. Neil and I are great mates and we discussed a lot of ideas together, he was very much involved throughout, so that helped a lot.
LWLies: Did you have a clear direction you wanted to take the story in?
Harris: The only thing I was sure about was that it had to be a continuation of the same story. I wanted to carry on Sarah's story and by making that choice we decided that we wanted to pick up where the first film left off.
LWLies: Did you pay much consideration to the alternative US ending of the first film?
Harris: To be honest I don't really acknowledge that ending. In order to continue Sarah's story we had to open with her having escaped from the cave. There was a lot of discussion over it but in the end that's what we decided to do. At the end of the day I felt that this film had to be able to stand on its own terms and a large part of that was presenting Sarah as a mystery, which is what she is. She's a mystery to us, a mystery to herself and a mystery to the cave rescue people. If we know too much about how she’s got to where she is then it undermines her amnesia and therefore her mystery.
LWLies: So was this intended more as a follow-up for people who have seen The Descent?
Harris: I don't think so really. I mean if people haven't seen the first film then I'd like to think that this film stands up on its own. What I liked about undertaking this project was that because of the ambiguity of the ending of the first film you're more likely to come into this thinking, ‘Hang on a minute, what did go on?’ That aspect was really interesting to play around with.
LWLies: So in that sense you could watch the films back-to-back?
Harris: I would like to think you could, you know like the Back to the Future films where if you wanted to you could just cut the credits off and watch them back-to-back. I think that would be a fun idea to try out here actually.
LWLies: As well as new characters there are also a few familiar faces, namely the crawlers. How important was it for you to get them right again this time round and did you work on making them more effective in any way?
Harris: Absolutely yeah. A chap called Paul Hyett, who pretty much designed and built the creatures for the first film, was responsible again and he had some things he wanted to improve on. He wanted the crawlers to be slightly more individual and more specifically he wanted their mouths to be a lot snarlier and sharper.
LWLies: Was it difficult trying to add more depth and personality to them in that respect?
Harris: It's really difficult because whenever you are making a film the schedule inevitably gets a bit behind you. So the logistics of getting a crawler on the set become more difficult because for a start they are having to spend four hours in make up before they can even get on set. To acheive that level of individuality was a real task, even more so because we only really had three or four crawlers available at any one time.
LWLies: Is directing the future for you now?
Harris: I'm going to go back to editing for the time being. I love editing. It's what I've done for the last 12 years and it's what I enjoy doing the most. If I did direct again, however, I don’t think I would edit the film as well. In hindsight that was very difficult. I've realised that what really makes a film is teamwork, it's a collaborative effort and it's slightly torturous editing your own work. The joy of editing is solving problems but there really isn't any joy in solving problems you've caused yourself.