Uncharted Fan Film Director, Allan Ungar, Shares His Process

On July 16th, the Canadian director, Allan Ungar, uploaded a 15-minute short film on his own Youtube account. Now in less than 10 days, the film has already been viewed more than three million times. But how and why this short film has become this much popular? Well for one reason, it is a live action fan film inspired by the beloved video-game series Uncharted. The short film got viral and made fans go crazy. It was not only appreciated by Uncharted lovers and even developers but also among movie fans, as well. Although the film is an indie self-funded, it shows a fantastic class of filmmaking, from its cinematography to performances and even visual effects. But what struck me the most was its great writing and directing which proves that making a film based on a video game, can be done perfectly. If you put enough hard work and passion into such a project you can keep everyone satisfied with the results.
So in order to learn more about Allan Ungar’s process and approach, I contacted him and asked him some questions. He generously accepted my interview offer and what follows is the output of our Q&A:

Adapting An Uncharted Video Game

We know you had the idea for a long time, but how much time did you spend on the actual writing? And how hard a challenge it was for you guys, to narrate a story based on the already existed theme and characters?
The writing itself was two weeks, but I spent another few days prior to meeting Nathan for building the basic treatment. I didn’t find that it was too difficult to adapt it because all of the source material was already so rich. The challenge was ensuring that we stayed true to the characters and themes.
Lots of amateur filmmakers chose adaptations form in order to practice and enhance their directing skills. But your case is different, you already are a professional feature filmmaker and your motive is more like a fan tribute to the Uncharted series. How does that affect your approach in directing this short film?
My approach to directing this was the same as my approach to doing larger films. I prepare as much as possible and try to remain true to the heart of the story. I also make sure that I’m ready to answer any questions that my actors or crew have for me with regards to the plot and character motivations.
As you are experienced in both territories, what do you think is the most important difference between an original story and an adaptation, in writing for a short film? 
 I think the only difference is that something already exists and you have a responsibility to do it justice. It still takes time and it still involves lots of hard work and commitment. Whether it’s a feature or short, you need to honor your story.

Nathan Fillion and Allan Ungar on the set of Uncharted Live Action Fan Film (2018) – Photo credit: Allan Ungar Twitter Account

Things That Excited Fans

Uncharted fans absolutely loved this short film, obviously. But when you were writing and directing it, did you ever consider the audiences who were not fans of the series?

I always felt deep down that people would like it, especially because of how so many fans felt about the source material. The great thing about Uncharted is that the characters embody everything we want in heroes, but they are also relatable. With the plots, they’re always engaging and exciting. That was our recipe. Whether you’re a fan or not, this has something for everyone to enjoy. Especially fans of this adventure genre. I know of people who have watched it who know nothing about the video game and they really seemed to enjoy seeing the piece unfold.

As a fan of the Uncharted game series, you have put lots of great details in this short film. Did this great attention to details helped you to give any tips to Nathan Fillion, regarding his portrayal of Nathan Drake?
I didn’t have to give too many details to Nathan because he was already very familiar with the game. In addition to that, we formed a collaboration that was built on trust which really allowed us to achieve a certain vision. Any time I wanted to make sure we got something or mention something, I didn’t need to do much convincing. I simply explained why, and Nathan and the other cast were on board.
Beside Nathan Fillion’s amazing performance, the rest of the cast is also incredible and all professional actors. How did you pursue them to participate in this non-profit project?
They’re a wonderful group of people. Stephen Lang, who plays Sully, was already a friend of mine. We worked together on the Netflix film Gridlocked. I called him up and asked him if he would consider coming out for a day to help me. He’s always been a big supporter so he was happy to do it. Geno, our villain, was a friend of our Stunt Coordinator and his fan loved the game. As for Mircea, Nathan and her were already friends so it didn’t take too much convincing.
The humor in the film (whether in dialogues, or physical reactions) is really well managed. How much of it was scripted and how much was improvised?
95% of the humor was written. There were a couple of things that Nathan brought and a few things that came out of time constraints, but it was mostly written. Nathan did the line “Does that mean if I care deeply about you, you’ll leave?” and the end of the fight scene where he holds El Tigre back like a little kid was done on the day.
That fantastic shot in which the aspect ratio changes, was according to fans “jaw-breaking”, and I can’t agree more. I wonder how many takes does that take? And did you have any mention-worthy challenges about that scene?
We did 11 takes of that. The challenge is that we needed to time all the practical effects and stunts together as it was one long take. It required a lot of preparation. It was also extremely hot that day and it was slowing us down a bit. The first several takes were frustrating because Nathan’s gun kept jamming and I didn’t want to rely on CGI.  Eventually, we got into a groove and we ended up with 3 takes that I like. We settled on take 7 because it was the one I felt best captured the performances and the stunts.
uncharted-video-game-fan-made-film-nathan-frake-fillion - Allan Ungar

Left: Nathan Fillion in Uncharted Live Action Fan Film (2018) / Courtesy of Allan Ungar – Right: Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) / Courtesy of Naughty Dog

Believing in the Vision

It’s no doubt that your Uncharted live-action short film is indeed very successful. What do you believe is the key factor to its success?
The key factor is that everybody believed in the vision and everybody came together passionately. It was an amazing crew and a great cast. I worked very hard to make sure that, first and foremost, this was an adaptation, fans would love and recognize as something that pays tribute to the character and game.  In doing that, I also wanted to make sure I didn’t alienate those who hadn’t played the game. For me, more than anything it was about staying loyal and true to the source material.
I appreciate if you share some words as a suggestion or helpful tip for young filmmakers.
My advice is to keep learning, keep making mistakes, and keep moving forward. Don’t let the word “no” stop you or discourage you. You will hear no many times before you hear yes.  You need to be tenacious and believe in yourself. It’s crucial that other people see your passion. It’s contagious. I think we also have so much technology now that makes filmmaking more accessible.  There’s no reason you can’t find a way to capture or tell your story. And most of all just be true to yourself and your vision.
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Showing 3 comments
  • Will

    It was an interesting article. I’m excited to watch more Uncharted films like this. Hope Sony make the right decision.

    • SA

      I think the talks has already started.
      Fingers crossed 😀

  • Jurima

    Useful stuff! Thanks!

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