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Allan Ungar is in Uncharted territory

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Behind the scenes on Uncharted with Nathan Fillion and Allan Ungar. (Allan Ungar photo)

In early 2018, Allan Ungar was sitting across from Nathan Fillion in a vegan Thai restaurant in Los Angeles. Hiding his nervousness, Ungar pitched his idea to the Hollywood star: he wanted to make a 15-minute, not-for-profit fan film, which he’d finance himself, based on the popular video game series Uncharted. Fillion, naturally, would play the game’s rugged Indiana Jones–style lead character, Nathan Drake.

Fillion was giddy. He’d been wanting to star in an Uncharted movie since 2010, when he publicly pushed for the role on Twitter, leading thousands of fans to support him with the hashtag #NathanFillionforNathanDrake. Fillion’s manager, sitting beside him in the restaurant, took a more measured approach, emphasizing that if this were to happen, it would have to be good.

Ungar nodded along. No problem, he assured them. It would be good. And it would be quick, too – he wanted to peg the film’s release to San Diego’s Comic-Con International, the largest comics convention, held in mid-July.

“I was confident I could pull it off,” Ungar told The CJN over the phone from the convention, days after the film’s release. “In this entire process, sitting down with Nathan and his manager was the easiest part.”

For Ungar, the days leading up to Comic-Con have been a blur. “It’s been a little insane,” he says, then corrects himself: “It’s been really insane. I never thought that I would have to charge my phone halfway through the day, because I’d be so busy. That’s definitely changed in the last few days.”

Ungar released his 15-minute short film on July 16. Within three days, it amassed more than 2.5 million views on YouTube, along with near-universal praise from fans, critics and video game developers. Gaming website Kotaku called it “just about everything you’d want from an Uncharted movie,” while David Jaffe, creator of the acclaimed God of War game franchise, called it “f–king fantastic”.

“We knew people would love it,” Ungar admits. But he also expected diehard fans to pick it apart, the way fans do. He hasn’t heard much of that yet, but would understand the impulse – he’s been a keen fan of Uncharted since his second year at York University. He applied to the school’s film-production program but got rejected, choosing instead to study film theory and history there – which he hated.

So when he found the game sitting in the common room of his dorm, the distraction was welcome. “I fell in love with it immediately,” he says. Nathan Drake’s charismatic flaws, the game’s campy vibe, the action-heavy look at history – it all appealed to Ungar.

He soon began shooting his own films while studying at York, which eventually led to him directing two bombastic action feature films, Tapped Out and Gridlocked, with modest North American releases and warm reception.

Around that time, gritty fan-made films for nostalgic franchises like Mortal Kombat and Power Rangers began popping up online, often earning more critical acclaim than Hollywood’s studio releases of those same franchises. That’s when Ungar thought to himself: “Why has no one tried to do Uncharted with Nathan Fillion?”

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Plans for a feature-length Uncharted movie have languished in Hollywood purgatory for nearly a decade. Right now, Shawn Levy – the Jewish Canadian who helmed the Night at the Museum franchise – is set to direct Tom Holland, the latest actor to play Spider-Man, as Nathan Drake in a story that would chronologically predate the game series.

Fans are not optimistic. That makes Ungar’s film a bittersweet joy: it both fulfills what people wanted to see, and will likely never be picked up for anything more.

But Ungar is fine with that. “If this lives and dies as a great 15-minute piece that goes viral,” he says, “we accomplished what we set out to do.”