Back in 2016, Arrow star Stephen Amell and his cousin, The Flash star Robbie Amell debuted a short film called Code 8. The short was set in a world were 4 percent of the population have special powers but were treated like outcasts as opposed to heroes with the powered forced to live in poverty and followed Robbie's character attempting to simply earn a basic living in the face of the oppression. That short quickly got a lot of fan attention and soon after the short's release, the actors launched a crowdfunding campaign to make that short a full-length feature. Flash forward three years and the feature-length Code 8 film is just days away from its debut.
Directed by Jeff Chan, the Code 8 feature film is, like the short, set in a world where four percent of the population is born with supernatural abilities but instead of being welcomed as heroes, they're discriminated against, heavily policed, and live in poverty, a situation which prompts many to resort to crime in order to survive. In Code 8 Connor Reed (Robbie Amell), is one of those powered people and is struggling to pay for the medical treatment of his ill mother (Kari Matchett). When working as a day labor simply isn't enough, Connor is lured into a lucrative criminal operation led by Garrett (Stephen Amell). Garrett helps Connor harness his powers to pull off a series of increasingly dangerous crimes on the behalf of Marcus Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk), the city's drug lord, while the militarized police led by Agent Park (Sung Kang) and Agent Davis (Aaron Abrams) seek to bring them all down.
With Code 8 headed into theaters as well as on demand on Friday, December 13, ComicBook.com recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Robbie Amell to talk about the film's evolution from that original short film, his character's journey, and more. Read on for our chat with Amell about Code 8!
ComicBook.com: I remember when the Code 8 short came out and I was a huge fan of it. I thought it was great. And then I saw you guys were going to work to bring that to a feature. Can you tell me a little bit about the process from that first short all the way to where we're coming up here in just a few weeks of it actually hitting screens?
Robbie Amell: Well, it's about four years total process. You know Jeff Chan, who directed it, is one of my best friends and Stephen, obviously my cousin. We all wanted to work together.
So we talked about making a short film and Steve was supposed to be in it, but timing wise didn't work with his Arrow schedule. So Jeff and I fully financed the short film, which we thought would maybe cost like $10 or $15 grand each, and $35,000 each later we filmed this short film and we just kind of hoped that people would dig it. Sean Kane did a real solid and he came in, was a great part of the short film and the feature and has become a good friend.
And luckily, the short kind of caught fire. Front page Reddit, which was huge for us. And the Indiegogo campaign was just a smashing success, which was so incredible and has been so fantastic to get to share a movie that means so much to me with so many people. You know, we've had 28,000 backers or something. I can't remember the exact number. And we've had a global premier tour, sharing it with people across Canada and the U.S. And London and Australia.
So it's been a long process, but it's been incredible, and it'll probably be one of my favorite work experiences and life experiences that I'll never forget.
ComicBook.com: you're definitely expanding from a very small snippet and tantalizing piece of a world to a much larger story. With that in mind, what if some of the major changes and, well, without getting too spoilery, but from the short to the filming, how did that kind of develop?
Amell: Yeah, I mean the short was just kind of like a proof of concept. This is the world it will take place in and this is proof that we can make it look good and hopefully you guys think it's cool. And with the movie, we had a couple couple changes. I don't have a younger brother anymore. It's a story about myself and my mom and kind of how far I'll push my moral compass to save her. And we thought that that was just a very relatable story. Everybody can imagine doing bad things for the right reasons.
So, we thought a story about somebody pushing their moral compass for their mom was very relatable, and at its core, we wanted this to be a character drama that had a sci-fi background to it. And we wanted the sci-fi to feel real and grounded and obviously be there for entertainment purposes, but also kind of just blend in with the world. We didn't want it to feel like that was the whole point of the movie.
ComicBook.com: One of the things I noticed is that going into the film, they do all the world building at the beginning. Very quickly you get this idea that this is the way it's been and then you're dropped into Connor's life. Can you tell me a little bit about the character's actual journey? Because he goes through a lot of development in a very short period of time. That's just really fascinating.
Amell: Thank you. I'm so glad you felt that way. That's why we did the opening credit sequence, was just to be like, "Here's everything you need to know. Now just watch the movie." And with Connor, this is a kid who, anybody with powers ... We wanted to kind of flip it on its head. Anybody who watches anyone with powers, normally you think, "I would do anything to have that," where in our world, you'd probably be better off being born without them and just being able to live a normal life. If you're born with powers, you're kind of up against the wall right off the bat. People are afraid of you. People don't necessarily want you around. So this is a kid who's grown up with that, under the poverty line, comes from a family of people with powers.
And dad, he had a weird relationship with his dad. He died when he was young. So his mom is all he has and he would do anything for her. And when she gets a little more sick or when she gets to a dangerous point, it's kind of like what anybody would, I think anybody feels like they would do for their loved ones.
So I think that the biggest thing with him is it's just a desperation. A lot of these character arc is built on desperation and how far are you willing to go to save the people that you love? And whereas Garrett's character is a little more of the mind that what he's doing is okay, and he deserves these things. People took them from him so he should get them back.
And Connor understands where that's coming from. We wanted to create a world and a story where it's not black and white and it's not right and wrong. It's people trying to get by, and people are selfish sometimes. And we wanted to show that. But I think that some people aren't ... People can do bad things without being bad people.
ComicBook.com: And I think that definitely comes across. And like you mentioned Garrett, the character, one of the things that I really kind of picked out a little towards the later end of the film, but you definitely kind of get shadows of it earlier on, is that he's also kind of like Connor in a sense that you get the idea that he's also had some pretty negative experiences in the path he took, which was very different. Do you feel like that was a deliberate choice to kind of highlight how the cruelty of the world can send you in different directions?
Amell: No, I think Jeff and Chris really put so much effort into this script and these characters. And I think part of it is Garrett is somebody that Connor should be able to see a version of himself in. And Connor can see a future as somebody like Garrett because Garrett makes strong points when he talks about what it's like to be a person of power living in Lincoln City. You have to look out for yourself, and you have to take back what should be yours.
ComicBook.com: Now you have played characters with powers before. Most of my readers are going to remember you from The Flash, which you did have a fantastic turn there. I was also a big fan of The Tomorrow People. And in a sense, I actually see some similarities between Stephen from The Tomorrow People and Conner. Not necessarily in the story, but in kind of they're trying to push back against the world that they're in to an extent. Was there anything that you drew on from your experiences playing those characters when you came to make the Connor for the full length feature?
Amell: For sure. I mean, I feel like I pulled from almost every character I played just because I learn more with every job that I'm on. But obviously the similarities with Connor, it's kind of ... With Stephen in The Tomorrow People, it was kind of like he was the reluctant hero. Whereas Connor is reluctant to do the right thing just because all of the wrong things are the things that is going to help his mom. He's doing bad things for the right reason, whereas Stephen was just kind of didn't want the life that he was being thrust into in Tomorrow People. There's definitely sort of similarities, but I think the biggest, I know it sounds weird, but the big thing with me was the, which I had in both Tomorrow People and Code 8 was this relationship with my mom and kind of being willing to do anything for her. I grew up with my mom. My dad and I are very close, but my mom raised my sister and I as a single mom for a little while in our childhood.
When Jeff and I were talking about it and he was telling me some of the things that Connor was going to do and I was like, "Yep." I'm like, "Yeah, I have no problem with that." I'm like, "Yeah, I would do that." I'm like, "I would do these things for my mom." I'm like, "I get it."
But I understand some people don't feel that way. And I think that's what's interesting about our movie is that it gets people talking, and the short film is the same way. A lot of people were like "You threw the brick through the guy's window. He deserves what's coming to him." Maybe not to the extent of his friend getting shot by police, but a lot of people were like, "It was his fault. He brought it upon himself." And other people were like, "F**k that. The guy stiffed him."
So it's nice to see people argue about this and people have different sides, different opinions on what's right and what's wrong, because I think that's life.
ComicBook.com: What was one of your favorite scenes from the film?
Amell: The diner scene is an interesting choice for me just because it's the first time Stephen and I ... It was the first scene Stephen and a shot together, which was cool because we have never actually worked together other than the quick shot on The Flash. So that was cool just to actually interact and talk. But fight scene at the end with me and Stephen and teaming up. I guess I can't give too much away, but that was really fun to shoot. We just had a blast. We shot that for a day. The guy that plays Rhino is a stunt man who we lucked out with as a stunt actor, and so he was really beating the crap out of us, which was really awesome.
ComicBook.com: What do you think the most challenging part of making Code 8 was for you?
Amell: Stephen's schedule. We had to build the entire shoot around his schedule from Arrow, which sounds easier than it is. But movies are hard to make, and making good movies are really hard to make. And I'm really proud of what we've done, and I think we've made something that people will enjoy. And I think we made something that people who invested in it will be proud of.
ComicBook.com: Is there a particular message or a feeling that you hope people come away from Code 8 with once they've seen it?
Amell: No. I think that there are definitely themes that resonate with the world that we live in today, but we never wanted to preach anything. We just wanted to ask questions and we wanted to create situations where people might start talking. So that was the main thing we wanted to do with with Code 8.
ComicBook.com: The way the movie ends, again, not giving anything away for people, kind of leaves, closes the story, but it also kind of leaves things open. Do you hope we'll get to revisit the world of Code 8 sometime in the future?
Amell: Yes. We would like to make more and we plan on making more, so hopefully we have good news in the not too distant future.