The names Stephen and Robbie Amell have become almost synonymous with superheroes from their roles on the CW’s Arrowverse– Stephen as the eponymous Arrow, and Robbie as Ronnie Raymond aka Firestorm on The Flash. The Canadian cousins have also been heavily involved with another project about beings with powers called Code 8, which began as a short film directed by fellow Canadian Jeff Chan, which – thanks to a hugely successful IndieGoGo campaign – evolved into a feature.
Both the Code 8 short and feature take place in Lincoln City, a place where those with special powers have been minimalized and reduced to working menial petty jobs to earn a living. Robbie stars in the movie as Connor Reed, a young man with powers whose mother has been dying, forcing him to work for a local drug-dealer named Garrett (played by Stephen), who has put together a gang of powered people to commit crimes.
While Robbie Amell first got attention in the CW’s short-lived The Tomorrow People before getting his recurring role on The Flash, he’s front and center in Code 8, also having been one of the film’s executive producers, along with Stephen.
The premise for Code 8 is pretty solid, one that we might see in a much bigger and more expensive studio movie, but impressive in what Chan was able to do on a far-more-limited budget with visual FX. And yet, it’s also far more character-driven, allowing the Amells and the rest of the cast – including Sung Kang from the “Fast and Furious” movies – to build on what they’ve done on television.
The Beat got on the phone with the younger Amell to talk about Code 8 earlier this week. Around the same time we were speaking, the news broke that entertainment site Quibi is developing a new short-form series based on Code 8with Chan and co-writer Chris Paréboth involved, as well as both Robbie and Stephen Amell.
And yes, we also asked Robbie about maybe returning to the Arrowverse someday, so read on…
THE BEAT: How did you meet Jeff Chan? Have you known him a long time?
Robbie Amell: Jeff and I got set-up on a man-date in L.A. We’re both from Canada, and he was living in Toronto at the time. He was in town for a Call of Dutyshort film for the video game. We were both at ICM (a talent agency), and an agent there was like, “These guys are both Canadian, they’re around the same age. They definitely dig the same stuff. They should have lunch.” We went and grabbed a bit, and we just became fast friends. He came over with a bunch of the members of the visual FX team that worked on his Call of Dutyshort, which happened to be the same team that did the visual FX on the short film for Code 8and the feature film, Code 8. That was kind of the first night that we all hung out. We had a beer and became fast friends, and whenever Jeff would come to town, he would stay with my wife and I. We would hang out with them in Toronto when we went to town, and it was just a fast friendship. We always wanted to work together but day conflicts in the way a couple of times. Then we just said, “Let’s make something ourselves,” and the two of us went to Stephen and talked to him about it, ‘cause we always wanted to work together, then we decided that if we weren’t willing to bet on ourselves, why should we expect anyone else to, and we made a little short film.
THE BEAT: It’s a great premise, one you might see done in a comic book series, because it’s too expensive to make as an independent movie or even a series. Did it take a long time for Jeff to get the feature together after you made the short together?
Amell: It was a slow process by regular means, but by filmmaking means, it was actually very fast. We made the short film. We knew that we wanted to turn it into a feature – it was never just going to live as a short. We planned an IndieGogo campaign with Steve, and we just had a perfect storm working out. The short film was good, and front-paged on Reddit, which got us a lot of eyeballs. Stephen is unbelievably good at running his social media, so we just attacked it on all fronts. Luckily, over 28,000 backers liked what we were putting out and wanted to be a part of it. It’s just been an unbelievable ride of the last four years. Getting to meet people and share something with them and have them take pride and ownership over it is really awesome.
THE BEAT: Your character is more fleshed out in the feature. We learn a lot more about Connor Reed. Stephen actually changed roles and played a different role and has a more prominent role as Garrett, the gangster. Did Jeff keep you abreast of his plans for the feature? Did he have an outline or something when you did the short?
Amell: Yeah. The short film was never supposed to be too accurate as far as what the storyline went. It was more of just a world-building and a proof of concept. “This is the world the movie will take place in, and here’s proof that we will use your money wisely, and it will look good. You’re not paying for some junky independent movie.” Stephen was supposed to be in the short film to a bigger extent, but we lost him due to Arrowscheduling. Sung Kang came on and was great in the short and is great in the feature. He’s become a good friend. Stephen ended up just doing a voice in the short. He’s the police drone voice, which is pretty cool. Some people pick him up, but it was always supposed to be him and I in the feature, and Jeff and his writing partner, Chris Paré, really spearheaded the whole thing. They talked to us about things we liked and didn’t like about the characters and wrote for our voices. They really tailored the movie for us.
THE BEAT: You can really tell that there’s a collaboration there, and it wasn’t just a matter of a few actors showing up, doing the script and collecting a check. It definitely feels like everyone worked closely with Jeff and vice versa.
Amell: That was such a great part about taking the movie through IndieGoGo was that we got to retain ownership and be our own boss and really lean into something that we would be proud of and that we thought the fans would be proud of.
THE BEAT: Was this all shot in Canada or was it in L.A.? What place ended up being the film’s location, Lincoln City?
Amell: We shot the short film in L.A., and then we shot the feature in Toronto.
THE BEAT: Nice. I’ve been to Toronto a lot more than L.A., but I didn’t really recognize many of the locations.
Amell: Toronto is a pretty great city to find different pockets of … we also had a great visual FX [team]. We had to hide the CN Tower once or twice. We wanted to have Toronto’s DNA, but we didn’t want it to be Toronto.
THE BEAT: I’m also impressed that a movie like this could be made without it being a $100 million studio movie, so does Jeff come from a visual FX background? Did he already know how he was going to depict the different powers?
Amell: When we talked about making a movie, we knew that we wanted to make something that we would be fans of, and we’re all big fans of grounded sci-fi. Our first job was to entertain people, but we wanted to make something grounded and elevated a little bit. We wanted to make a character crime drama with sci-fi blended into the background. We wanted it to feel like five seconds into the future, not fifty years.
THE BEAT: The movie draws parallels between the treatment of people with powers and the treatment of immigrants, which is a huge issue in the States right now. Lincoln City’s people with powers have to stand on lines to get day work, much like immigrants have to. Was that something that’s been happening in Canada, too, or was that the influence of your time in the States?
Amell: A lot of the themes of the movie became more prevalent over the years leading up to making it. That was just how it worked out. That being said, we wanted our movie to exist in a world of grey area, not black and write or right and wrong. We wanted it to feel real, and these people are just playing the hands that they’ve been dealt. People make some selfish decisions. People do a lot of wrong things for the right reasons, and I think that’s life. We wanted it to be a story that anybody could relate to, and I think at its core, it’s about how far someone will go to save someone they love. I think anyone can relate to that.
The other thing is that we just wanted to put the superhero thing on its head. Everybody glorifies these superpowers, and you always wish you had them, but what about a world where having a superpower or a small power makes life harder?
THE BEAT: You’re also a producer on the movie, so how has that experience been? Are you looking to produce more in the future?
Amell: It was great. I’d love to continue to produce, maybe eventually direct. It was nice to be on the other side of the casting process and just see how a movie gets made from beginning to end.
THE BEAT: Do you know if Jeff is doing anything else? A movie like Code 8is a great calling card for getting more directing work, especially for television.
Amell: Yeah, we are exploring our next steps for Code 8and are hopefully going to be announcing something within the next 24 to 48 hours.
THE BEAT: Too bad you can’t give me the scoop on this.
Amell: I know. If you look at mine and Stephen’s social media pages, we should be able to pop something in there before this actual goes.
THE BEAT: I’ll keep a lookout for that. Have you heard about this other Canadian movie, Freaks, which also deals with superpowers in a realistic but darker way?
Amell: No, I don’t, but I’ll look it up.
THE BEAT: It’s moodier and maybe more in the horror vein, but it’s interesting that these two movies come out of Canada this year that deal with timely and topical issues using superpowers. I hear you’re coming back for Netflix’s horror-comedy sequel The Babysitter 2?
THE BEAT: For some reason, I thought your character died in the first movie… so do you start that soon?
Amell: I did [die]. We’re already wrapped on it. I shot it over the last four weeks. I had a blast. It was great to be back. I love McG. Mary Viola, one of the producers, we worked together on The Duffwhen we first met and The Babysitter. This is our fourth movie together. It’s really fun. They’re great people, and the movie is just as crazy as the first one, dripping with all the same amount of style.
THE BEAT: Nice to hear. I’ve spoken to McG a bunch over the years, and I like the fact he does a lot of different things and can’t be lumped into one genre.
Amell: He’s one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with. He keeps such a great, positive vibe on set. It’s really fun.
THE BEAT: I am not The Beat’s resident “Arrowverse” expert. We do have one who is much better at keeping up with the series than I am. I am a big Firestorm fan, though.
Amell: Oh, thank you so much.
THE BEAT: I was happy to see the character you played on the show, although I know Ronnie Raymond is no more. Were you approached at all to come back for “Crisis” and are you still in touch with the producers? Superheroes never really die in the comics; the heroes that died in the comic book version of Crisis on Infinite Earths are a good example.
Amell: I would have loved to. It didn’t work out for “Crisis,” but there are so many characters. The other thing is that it wouldn’t really be fair to come in and play a big role for a short amount of time. A lot of the people on those shows have earned their time. I would love to go back. Maybe it works out for a little guest spot. It would be an ideal on an episode that Danielle [Panabaker] is directing. She started directing on the show, and she’s become a good friend and she’s so talented. That would be a really fun way to get back on there, but no plans as of yet.
THE BEAT: Are you looking at doing another TV series sometime soon?
Amell: I have a show coming out on Amazon. It will be out in April or May. It’s called Upload, and it’s from Greg Daniels, who did Parks and Recreationand The Office. It’s set in a world where if you know you’re going to die, you can upload to consciousness to heaven and heaven’s run by these different corporations. It’s really fun and very weird, in a great way. I shot that this past spring, so that’ll be out, I believe, in May on Amazon.
THE BEAT: With Amazon and Netflix, we’re getting to see a lot stranger stuff that in the past, you’d never get to see either on network TV or studio movies.
Amell: Definitely. I think you have to be kind of weird these days, because there’s so many things out there. You gotta make something different.
Code 8 hits theaters in select cities and will be available On Demand (and digital download, such as Apple TV) starting Friday, December 13. You can also watch the original short film discussed below: