Allan Ungar is the director of the new mixed martial arts action drama “Tapped Out” starring Cody Hackman, Martin Kove, Michael Biehn, Nick Bateman, Anderson Silva and Krzysztof Soszynski.
The story is about a one-time martial arts prodigy Michael Shaw who is sentenced to community service at a rundown karate school, where he gets back into the discipline of the sport. During a local MMA fight he encounters the man who killed his family a decade ago, and his decision to get revenge involves going behind his karate master’s back to train and compete in the upcoming MMA tournament. When he finally goes toe to toe in the ring with his parents’ killer he won’t stop until the last punch knocks his opponent to the ground, leaving him tapped out.
Allan stops by to chat with The Action Elite about the movie.
You co-wrote and directed upcoming MMA movie “Tapped Out”, can you tell us how you got involved ?
Absolutely! About 3 years ago I was in Los Angeles at AFM trying to get another film made and I was working for another producer at the time. He had hosted a party for some buyers of another film he was doing. One of the people at the party was this young gentleman called Cody Hackman who also happened to be from Canada.
We got talking and I found out he was from a small town nearby Toronto called London, Ontario which is where a lot of my friends and I went to College. Cody told me that he was looking to make a modern-day version of “The Karate Kid” but set in the world of MMA. Mixed Martial Arts was becoming a big commercial sport and the numbers were growing; it was something people were receptive to.
So I said “yeah, I’d be absolutely interested” as I was looking to direct a movie at that time. He’d only asked me to write the film but I said “if you give me the chance to direct it then I’ll do both”. So he flew me down to Los Angeles a couple of months later; we sat in Starbucks and we wrote the script over a couple of weeks. We went back to Toronto and shot a sizzle reel for the film and a year later we gathered the money privately from Canada and we got the green light.
Cody is also 5 times World Karate Champion which really makes him the perfect choice for Michael Shaw.
Yeah and the funny thing is he originally only wanted to be a producer on the film. When we went to shoot the sizzle reel there was nobody else who could do it. So I suggested to Cody that we shoot it and he sit in with me. When I looked at it after I said “You’d be great, why don’t you do it? Why don’t you do the role?” He said yes as he had always wanted to get into acting and he trained Jaden Smith for the actual “Karate Kid” remake.
He taught some martial arts classes out there and that’s how he financed his acting school. So, when I first suggested he play the lead in the movie he was a little hesitant if he could do it, but I encouraged him; I gave him the confidence and he hit it out of the park.
Legendary actor Michael Biehn plays the mentor character Reggie; what was it that made you think he was perfect for the role?
Around the time we were in pre-production “The Divide” had come out, directed by Xavier Gens. I watched the film and it was the first film I’d seen Michael in for a few years. I said “Oh my God, he looks fantastic! He’s in great shape; he’s still got that amazing gravitas and that presence”. I grew up watching him in all those James Cameron movies so why don’t we give him a call and see if he wants to do the movie?
So, one of my producers on the film, actually named Michael Bien without the H. So Michael Bien called up the real Michael Biehn and the two of them ended up having a bit of phone tag back and forth leaving voicemails. He fell in love with the script, he loved the character and he signed on immediately. He asked us to fly out to LA to meet him, Cody and myself and we hit it off and we spent a few days with him.
Next thing you know, he was up in London Ontario and Toronto and we were shooting with him. He was incredible!
Having Martin Kove is a nice nod to “The Karate Kid” too; I take it that was deliberate?
We didn’t actually think we could pull that off; what happened was, as we were going through the film we really wanted to give some nods to “The Karate Kid” because we grew up watching and loving films like it. We even have a reference to “Wax on, wax off” in the film, which is a cute little nod to the original.
Half way through our production we had an actor who was set to play the role that Martin eventually took over and we felt like we should really try to push the envelope and do whatever it took to get a guy like Marty.
[pullquote_right]We even have a reference to “Wax on, wax off” in the film.[/pullquote_right]
We had seen a video on Facebook about a year before on Cody Hackman’s wall from a friend of ours Jerry Buteyn who has a story credit on the film. He was doing a casting session that Marty Kove was in. He asked Martin to do a video on Facebook for Cody saying “Sweep the leg, happy birthday!”
So, we called his manager up and asked if he would be willing to do a small cameo in the film as John Kreese or Cobra Kai and something relevant with social media. He instead said “You know what, guys? I really like this script; why don’t you find something for me to do that would be the antithesis of John Kreese?”
We ended up putting him in as the principal who pretty much does the complete opposite of what he was trying to do with Ralph Macchio in the original movie. So here, he’s trying to lead him to the dojo for the right reasons and put him with Michael Biehn’s character.
You’ve also got Anderson Silva and Krzysztof Soszynski; with all of this fighting talent involved, did everyone have a say in how the fights were put together?
Interestingly enough, we didn’t know that we were going to have Anderson until half way through our shoot schedule. We ended up moving it around because we knew that he would be such a valuable asset to have.
Anderson and Lyoto came in as trainers and so they weren’t really involved with fight choreography per se, but they brought a certain level of authenticity to the training scenes so that Cody’s character Michael Shaw would be then using moves that they taught him in the tournament, where he eventually fights Krzysztof.
The fortunate thing about having Krzysztof play the bad guy is that he was able to help us with the choreography from a realistic standpoint. So, we had the Hollywood choreography and then he would come in and he would completely ground it where he would say “This would happen, this wouldn’t happen, so we should do it like this…” So he was there every day for the fight scenes, off to the side actually coaching Cody off camera.
TAPPED OUT TRAILER
I liked that article Twitch film did about the domestic and International trailers for the film. Both are quite different. Which do you prefer?
I prefer the international trailer; I mean we’re making a film that at its core is about these characters trying to overcome struggles with themselves, with their pasts and with things happening around them. Your action has to be secondary to your characters because at the end of the day your audiences are smarter now so there needs to be a certain depth.
There needs to be layers to your film so the action just doesn’t work if you don’t care about the characters. So, when we sold our film we knew very well going in what it would be marketed as to get people in their seats or to buy the DVD. They have to pump up the action so we totally understood that going in. But we wanted everyone to know that at the end of the day this as about the story and the characters and not just about the action.
We actually cut the international trailer ourselves to show people what the film was really about and how it really did have a story.
I’ve noticed a lot of marketing is targeted towards Brazil specifically, is that due to Silva’s involvement and is there a big MMA following there?
I think it’s two-fold; I think yes there is a very large Mixed Martial Arts following in Brazil but when you have household names like Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida in the film then it seemed like a no-brainer to push the film as hard as we could in Brazil. This is also the biggest acting role that Anderson has done so we felt that it was really important to cater to that market.
What is it you’re most excited about with the film; is it that it’s almost more of a character film rather than an out-and-out action piece?
To be honest I’m most proud of the story and the heart that it has; while we did set out to make an MMA film, we really wanted to make the action grounded. We didn’t wanna do anything flashy or over the top so I’m most proud of the story. As much as the fights are engaging, brutal and raw, I don’t think it would have the same impact if you didn’t find yourself invested in the story and in the character of Michael Shaw.
How do you think MMA has changed the action genre? Even in Marvel blockbusters like Captain America 2, we get to see GSP fight Chris Evans MMA style.
I think we’re starting to see that it’s branching out a lot more, especially if you’re looking at some of the Hong King films that Donnie Yen has been doing where they started introducing a lot of grappling and a lot of clinching. I definitely think it’s growing by the year; people are becoming a lot more familiar; the numbers are up especially with the Pay per View buys. I think it’s just hard to argue with and I really think MMA is blowing up.
It’s having a very big impact on Hollywood and I think it’s helping people to feel like they did when they watched Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or The Matrix, where they were introducing wire kung-fu. That was something that was new for people and now you’re seeing (like you said) GSP fighting Captain America; Chris Evans doing a lot of the grappling and flying arm bars.
It’s exciting for this young audience who may not even be watching mixed martial arts; they may not even be familiar with the UFC but at least for the films being made in Hollywood they get exposure to it.
What else you have in the pipeline?
Yeah, Gridlocked is an action thriller done in the vein of “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Ride Along”. It’s actually a project that I’ve been passionate about for a few years now and I’m really excited to do it.
It also gives me the chance to make the kind of action film that I want to do; with “Tapped Out” it was a very straight forward fighting in the cage so there are certain restrictions to what you can do. I’m a huge fan of tactical action like gunplay and close quarters combat so I really want to demonstrate my abilities in handling that kind of big scale action.
The story is a lot of fun; it starts off as a Buddy Cop film and it turns into a contained thriller. We’re assembling a very exciting cast which we’ll be announcing very shortly and I’m really excited for the world to see that one.
Thanks very much for taking the time to chat with us and all the best with “Tapped Out”.
TAPPED OUT is available on DVD, VOD, and Digital Download from today.