Stephen Amell and Robbie Amell on making sci-fi film Code 8: 'We were the bosses'
The Arrowverse actors (and cousins) have spent the last four years working on the passion project, which they first introduced to the world with a 2016 proof-of-concept short and an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign seeking to raise $200,000 to make a full-length movie. An overwhelming amount of backers pledged more than $2.4 million, and now the Amells are gearing up for the limited theatrical and on-demand release of the film.
It’s a lot more work creating, starring in, and distributing a movie instead of just starring in one like Stephen and Robbie have done in the past. But having control over a project was exactly what both actors wanted.
“People always ask me, ‘Why did you decide to do it this way?’” Stephen says before letting out a wry laugh. “People aren’t lining up to offer us jobs, necessarily. I’ve loved working on Arrow, but there’s also been a few times where I felt like I’ve represented the project but I wasn’t as in control or didn’t have certain says in things that ultimately, if things go well it reflects on me, and if they go poorly it reflects poorly on me even if I’m not necessarily in charge. So the idea of working on a project where it was me, it was [director] Jeff [Chan], it was Rob, and that was it. We were the bosses.”
Robbie agrees, adding that the chance to star in a movie together was also part of the appeal.
“It’s tough, we’re pretty similar in look. We’re not going to play related,” he says. “That was part of the reason they wouldn’t let [our characters] talk to each other on The Flash, they were like, ‘It’s too weird. People know you’re related, you can’t talk to each other.’ Part of it was we just needed to create something for ourselves. We figured if we weren’t willing to take a bet on ourselves, then why should we expect anyone else to? We wanted to give it a shot and make something that we would be proud of, something that people backing us would be proud of.”
Code 8, which is already set for a spin-off series at Quibi, is set in a world where 4 percent of the population is born with supernatural abilities. But instead of being billionaires or superheroes, these power-enabled people face discrimination and live in poverty, often resorting to crime. Connor Reed (Robbie), a power-enabled young man, is struggling to pay for his ailing mother’s (Kari Matchett) health treatment. Fighting to earn enough money as a day laborer, Connor is lured into a lucrative criminal world by Garrett (Stephen), who works for Lincoln City’s reigning drug lord, Marcus Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk). Garrett helps Connor sharpen his powers in order to execute a series of crimes on behalf of Sutcliffe, while a militarized police unit, led by Agent Park (Sung Kang) and Agent Davis (Aaron Abrams), hunts them down.
With Stephen’s eight years as the star of Arrow and Robbie’s arc on Arrowverse spin-off The Flash, these two actors are no strangers to the world of gritty sci-fi superheroes. So why make their debut feature another story set in the same genre? While Stephen says he “had no inclination as to what type of movie we were going to make” and that it was born out of the director’s idea for a script, Robbie explains that they did want to cater to their existing fanbases.
“We knew that the Indiegogo campaign was a part of it,” Robbie says. “A lot of our fanbase is built on Arrow and The Flash, so we knew we wanted to make something that they could get behind. With that being said, Jeff’s background comes from doing short films for Call of Duty, the videogame, so we knew we wanted it to be action-oriented and sci-fi-oriented, but ultimately we wanted to make a cool character piece, kind of a crime drama.”
The inspiration for the story, setting, and tone for Code 8 came from films like Chronicle, District 9, and Heat, Robbie says. “And we knew our budget restrictions were going to be real and we weren’t going to have $100 million or $200 million, but we wanted to make something that was cool and entertain people.”
Robbie also knows that fans of his short-lived sci-fi superpower series The Tomorrow People will notice “some similarities” to Code 8.
“In both projects, the sci-fi is the entertainment part but ultimately you’re trying to find the grounded side of things and the relatable side of things,” he says. “That’s what we wanted to dive into with Code 8; we wanted it to be a story that everybody could relate to and the sci-fi to blend into the background. That’s why we went with the main thing being how far someone would go to save someone they love. You can find that in a lot of projects.”
As for how Code 8 compares to working in the Arrowverse, despite the Amells having more responsibility behind the camera, they actually found it to be less complicated. “We had a little easier time not having to fill 22 hours of television — we could really grab a story and try to tell it without a whole lot of filler,” Robbie says. “There were definitely similarities, but Code 8 was definitely a little more grounded, straight line of storytelling.”
And although it’s been “a long time coming” to make and release Code 8, the cousins have enjoyed every step of the process because it finally gave them the chance to work together. “Steve and I got to do Larry King, which is just an amazing thing to do together,” Robbie says, while Stephen adds that shooting the film was his favorite part.
“It was just a blast. We were in Toronto, our family is there, our friends are there, we got a great crew,” Stephen says. “We had a very, very tight window because I basically said, ‘Yes, I want to be involved, but you guys have me for basically five weeks. That’s it. I’ve got no wiggle room.’ I had work commitments and then I had to go back to shooting Arrow. But shooting it was the best.”
“Steve and I spend a lot of time together but he’s been shooting in Vancouver for a long time, so getting to just hang out for five weeks, grab a beer, get family dinners, it was really nice,” Robbie adds.
And the entire experience taught Stephen that “we are so lucky and we caught lightning in a bottle here.”
“To actually be able to make a movie with your cousin and with the director, who’s our buddy, and be able to shoot it in our hometown, there’s just so many things that could have gone wrong,” Stephen adds with a laugh. “I feel like we were really, really fortunate.”
Code 8 opens Dec. 13 in select theaters and on VOD.