Robbie Amell is one busy actor. In the past year alone, he’s appeared on “The Flash” and the revival of “The X-Files,” and shot the features “Nine Lives” and “The Babysitter,” as well as the Netflix movie “ARQ.” As if all of that weren’t enough, this week he also unveiled the short film “Code 8,” a labor of love that he hopes to adapt for the big screen.
Directed by Jeff Chan (“Call of Duty: Operation Kingfish”), “Code 8” is set in a world where super-powered people are arrested for using their abnormal abilities. Amell plays one of those superhuman lawbreakers, under fire from robotic enforcers descending from a ship. The 27-year-old actor also served as a producer, alongside his cousin, “Arrow” star Stephen Amell.
Amell spoke with SPINOFF about the genesis of “Code 8,” keeping the story grounded despite its fantastical elements, his hopes for a feature film, and the (already-successful) crowdfunding campaign to help make it a reality.
Spinoff: How did this project develop? Were you and Stephen sitting around and bouncing off ideas?
Robbie Amell: Stephen, Jeff and I have all wanted to work together for a long time. Jeff and I have been friends for about six years. Stephen and I have wanted to work together since we found out we were both in the industry. We always talked about it; we were open to finding projects. Then one night we were sitting around and we were like, “Why don’t we just make a project?” We brainstormed some ideas. Jeff and his writing partner Chris [Paré], wrote the short. It went through a couple of different versions, ultimately settling on this one because Stephen was unavailable, but he stayed on creatively and he will be in the feature film as long as we are able to raise the money we are looking to raise.
Stephen is not in the short because we had to shoot it while he was going back and forth between “Arrow” and “Turtles.” It just wasn’t something we could maneuver around. Plus, we had crew put together, and this amazing cast with Sung Kang. We just decided to go for it, especially since it wasn’t so much a scene from the movie as much as a proven concept just to show people we are serious about what we’re doing and we know we can make something awesome, and that they’d be proud to be a part of. The feature film would be shot during Stephen’s hiatus so that he can be a part of it.
Why did you go the Indiegogo route instead of shopping “Code 8” around to the movie studios?
We decided Indiegogo was the way to go because we can keep creative control and make sure we are delivering the product that we are promising. The other thing is, we are putting our own money into this. We’re not looking for the entire budget from the fans or the Indiegogo page. We set our goal at the minimum just so we can get the movie off the ground and maintain control.
What is “Code 8’s” premise?
“Code 8” is a criminal incident involving someone with a superpower. In our world, it’s slightly futuristic, and people have started to develop these mostly minor superpowers. They do get more powerful in rare circumstances. It’s illegal to use your superpowers: Most people with superpowers are treated like a minority: They live under the poverty line; they are just scraping to get by; they make up most of the arrests. We weren’t especially trying to comment on anything, but we did want it to feel relevant. We just wanted it to feel real and grounded.
You and Aaron Abrams are front and center in the teaser. What can you say about your characters and how you came up with their set of abilities?
We talked about the powers for a while. We actually talked about whether or not these would be my powers in the feature. I won’t give you too much information about that because the feature is very much a secret. Stephen, Jeff and I all feel very strongly that people reveal too much in trailers and press releases. For the short film, you meet my character and find out he’s living with his brother and his grandmother. He had a lot of bills and he has a lot of weight on his shoulders. He’s really trying to scrape by. Aaron and my character are doing some day labor work, trying to make a little money and we get stiffed. It’s kind of the last straw for him. He does something stupid and ends up having a run-in with Sung Kang’s character, who is a cop who handles Code 8s.
With Stephen, you and Sung Kang on board, viewers expect a certain level of action. How did you approach that element?
It has to be very contained, and we wanted it to feel real. Although we’re making a movie about people with superpowers, we wanted it to feel as realistic as possible. We are all huge fans of “Flash” and “Arrow,” as well as the bigger ones like “Avengers” and “X-Men.” We wanted this to feel more like “End of Watch” with superpowers, not even quite as big as “Chronicle.” No huge, massive city destruction scene at the end of the movie. We wanted this to be as if people had real powers, what would happen in the world we live in? We had to take a few liberties like creating the Guardian Program, which are the robotic agents you see in the trailer. We wanted to keep the action as grounded as possible. There is action in the short film, but it’s done in a very grounded way.
Shorts often provide promising springboards for feature films, but too often they fizzle from a thin plot. What’s the secret to expanding “Core 8’s” core concept and keeping it engaging?
The nice thing is we’ve had the time to develop it. We shot it in August of last year. We’ve been thinking about the feature film since then. The other thing is we talked about adapting it as a TV series because we have so much to pull from. We’ve created what we think is a very interesting world to take place in. There are a lot of stories. I don’t want to get too into the story because we don’t want to spoil anything, but Jeff and Chris have been working on it non-stop. They have some really fantastic ideas. We have some really talented people to work around. Getting to work with Sung Kang is awesome. Jeff, Stephen and I are huge fans of his. Stephen and I getting to work together – We get to play on that. Ultimately, you never know if it will work.
We just wanted to make something that we were proud of. I’m really excited about it. Jeff has said it’s the most proud he’s been of anything he’s made and I’ve really enjoyed some of the work Jeff has done. I’m proud to have produced it and to be starring in it. I think it’s something people will be pumped to get behind and be a part of.
Besides acting in “Code 8,” you are producing it as well. Why was that an important step and what did you enjoy about wearing more than one creative hat?
It’s very stressful; we put our own money into it. There was nobody to blame and nobody to fall back on. It was all on us. But the nice thing about that is the creative control. We got to make all the decisions. We get to make a project we can say, “If it works, we did that. If it didn’t work, there’s nobody to blame but us.” Having seen the final cut, I’m very proud to be part of it. If I hadn’t produced it, I’d be very proud to be a part of it. I won’t take a lot of credit for that. Jeff and Chris and Stephen – we all put a lot of time and effort into this.
Lastly, Firestorm creator Gerry Conway praised “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow’s” interpretation of the character. As a comic book reader yourself, how does it feel to get that kind of feedback?
That’s super-cool. I didn’t know he said that. That means a lot. I appreciate you telling me. It’s been a privilege to play that character. I’ll play him as long as “The Flash” will have me back and let me.