When it came to casting Uncharted star Nathan Drake for director Allan Ungar’s fan film, there was only ever one choice: Nathan Fillion
Photo: Nathan Fillion as Nathan Drake in a very familiar pose.
“I had already carved out storyline, a treatment, and I had my own ideas of what [this fan film] would be,” said Ungar, who also co-wrote the film, to io9. “But when I met with Nathan I said very candidly, ‘Look, we don’t know each other. I know we just met. But I’m not going to proceed with this if you’re not even interested because there’s absolutely no point. It would be futile. It would defeat the entire purpose.’” Thankfully, Fillion was interested and the excellent Uncharted fan film that came online earlier this week was born.
Fillion has long been the internet’s choice to play Nathan Drake, the star of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted video game series, if and when a movie got made. This is both because he’s a dead ringer for the character and because, with Firefly and more, he’s shown a penchant for being the exact kind of heroic scoundrel Drake is. In that time, Sony Pictures, who has the rights to Uncharted’s film adaptation, has flirted with a movie a few times: once with David O. Russell and Mark Wahlberg and most recently with Shawn Levy and Tom Holland. But along the way, Fillion has become a huge fan of the franchise, played (most) of the games, and jumped at the opportunity to play the character in any capacity.
Fillion has the hair, the scars, the outfit, all of it just right.
“I’ve been waiting for, and I think we have all been waiting for, the next Indiana Jones and it’s Nathan Drake,” Fillion told io9. “And I, like Allan, like other fans, we’re tired of waiting. We want to see something. Give us something. And we know the movie has been talked about for ages but we haven’t seen anything yet and we just wanted to do something and the timing was perfect.”
The idea for the fan film came about when Ungar had a movie he was working on pushed back and suddenly found himself with some free time. “I had this window and I was trying to think about what I want to spend my time doing. Something that I could get really passionate about,” he said. “This is something that had come to me a few years ago and I was like, ‘Why has nobody done this yet?’ I kept feeling like someone was going to beat me to the punch.”
He knew had a friend, producer Alex Lebovici, who knew Fillion, and so Ungar pitched Uncharted to Lebovici, Lebovici passed a note to the actor, and the two met and hit it off. “When I spoke to Allan about it, it was clear to me that he loves, honours, and respects what makes Uncharted so great, which is the story and the characters,” Fillion said.
But how does one make a 15-minute fan film, on a budget, that honours and respects a franchise whose action sequences over four games would cost hundreds of millions of dollars? Ungar wouldn’t say how much the film, which shot for five days at the beginning of May, cost, just that “I like to joke that it was my Bar Mitzvah money.”
Due to budget, Drake couldn’t go exploring temples or caves.
Whatever it cost, he felt the best course of action was to do something different. “You don’t try to rehash something that’s already been done so beautifully and so well, it doesn’t make any sense,” Ungar said. “That’s actually why I applaud Shawn Levy and Tom Holland, because their version of the movie, if it does get made, would be doing an origin story not based on something that’s already been done.”
Ungar took a similar approach. He came up with a story about a lost treasure in a lost city, linked them with some historical figures, and infused it with as much Uncharted swagger as possible. But, because of the budget and schedule, it had to be fairly contained.
“I knew that we would never, ever be able to go out into a temple or a castle or any of these other things,” Ungar said. “That was the strength we found when writing it because it’s about character and story. When we’re going to do action or were going do dialogue, [I ask] ‘How can we ensure that the story and the character traits come first?’ So that was something that I was very conscientious about.”
One signature piece of action Uncharted fans won’t find in the film is Drake climbing and hanging from precarious places, which is how he spends much of his time in the game. That’s not for lack of trying, explained Ungar, it was only because it didn’t end up being fiscally, or physically, possible.
No more bullets, Nathan.
“Right now he jumps out the window, he lands, and it turns into the [third-person one shot],” Ungar explained. “What it used to be was he jumped out the window, he’s sliding down the roof, his gun skids away and he goes, ‘No No No No’ right out of the game. And then he ends up hanging off the roof, it breaks, and he falls. That was something we had written and would have been a lot of fun but looking at our schedule and what was and wasn’t going to make sense, we would’ve had to build the roof, bring in more riggers, it just would not have been feasible.”
There still are plenty of other winks and nods to Uncharted’s fans, from the aforementioned shot, to some of Drake’s physical fighting style, the supporting characters, and much more.
“What I wanted to do was take Easter eggs from each game,” Ungar said. “So [for example] he’s wearing the outfit he wears in the fourth game. He’s got [Sir Francis Drake’s] ring which tells you, if [the film] existed in that world, it’s between game two and three.”
Avatar star Stephen Lang and Mircea Monroe play Sully and Elena in the film.
Despite the cliffhanger at the end of the short, there are currently no plans to make a sequel, at least for now. “I’m a never say never guy,” Fillion said, “Right now, everything that we set out to do we have accomplished. So it’s already a dream come true.”
Still, the door remains open. “I said to Nathan when we first met, ‘If this lives and dies as just a 15-minute piece we’ll have done everything we need to do,’” Ungar added. “Now, if Sony or Netflix or Amazon or YouTube or someone came forward and said, ‘Hey, there’s enough demand for this, do you guys want to continue this story?’ We’d be very happy to talk about it.”