Robbie Amell has a lot to celebrate this week. After launching an Indiegogo campaign on Tuesday to help fund his first feature film, Code 8—alongside cousin, Arrow‘s Stephen Amell—he reached his funding goal in only a day and a half. Considering the campaign was scheduled to run for an entire month, to say he’s satisfied with the success of the campaign is a massive understatement.
“It’s a huge relief. You never know how these things are going to go, but it’s been a lot of fun and the fans have been incredible,” the younger Amell tells Nerdist with a laugh. “The interesting part about it is that it’s been a lot of people buying small perks, there haven’t been like all the huge perks selling. So it’s just a lot of people all chipping in. It’s been like, ‘it takes a village.’ And we’ve been phoning people to say thank you because they give us their phones numbers. It’s been a very weird, very cool experience.”
This is the first time Amell has taken on the role of executive producer, and taking on the responsibility of an entire project was an eye-opening experience for him.
“It’s very nerve-wracking. We invested our own money in the short and we put it on our own shoulders,” Amell says. “So if something goes wrong, when you’re on a big set someone else is handling the problem. If something goes wrong on your own project, it’s your problem. It was a lot of responsibility, but we didn’t run into too many complications. And we had a great team around us [to whom] we’re so grateful. We called in so many favors, and that’s really the only reason we were able to make something that we’re so proud of in the time that we had.”
The campaign launched on Tuesday with a 10 minute short film introducing Code 8, its universe and its characters. Amell stars in the short along with Sung Kang (Fast & Furious franchise), Aaron Abrams (Hannibal, Blindspot), Chad Donella (Scandal), and Alfred Rubin Thompson (Club Dead).
“Stephen and I always wanted to work together and Jeff Chan—who directed it—we’ve been wanted to work together for a long time,” Amell says. “We got set up on a man date like six years ago because we were at the same agency and they knew that we were both Canadian and had similar tastes in movies and video games. So we’ve tried to work together before many times but things got in the way, and we were just sitting around one night and were like, ‘Why don’t we just … do it?'”
And so they did. Instead of waiting around for others to help get it made, the Amells teamed up with Chan to make their dream a reality.
“Jeff has an amazing network of people in Toronto and we figured we could make something special,” Amell says. “We went through a lot of different versions of the short film. Originally Stephen was going to be in it but Ninja Turtles came up, which was awesome for him but a letdown for us. We had to move forward because we couldn’t wait for him, and we knew he would be in the feature which was the more important thing.”
While Stephen doesn’t make an appearance in the short film, he will still co-star in the feature film and serve as executive producer. And while some have been comparing Amell’s character in Code 8 to his work in The CW’s canceled series The Tomorrow People (since they both have superpowers), Amell stresses that this film is going to be more real and mature.
“It’s a little more grounded than that,” Amell says. “We wanted to make everything feel as realistic as possible. There are definitely some similarities there [with] Tomorrow People. Some closer comparisons would be District 9, End of Watch if there was superpowers in it. But this isn’t a superhero movie with costumes. This is a darker world where you’re not celebrated for being a hero. You’re just trying to get by. People with powers are treated like a minority, and most of them live under the poverty line. It’s illegal to use your powers. We weren’t trying to comment on anything specifically but we wanted it to feel relevant and real and grounded.”
Code 8‘s story follows a young man with special powers (Amell) struggling to find work as a day laborer. After a dispute over payment, he finds himself in a confrontation with a police officer (Kang) and the autonomous robots backing him up. But that’s about all Amell will say about the actual plot or characters in the movie.
“We’re not telling people too much about the feature,” Amell says. “Stephen, Jeff, Chris and I all feel the same about how trailers are too long and give away too much and spoil things. We shot the short just to show the world that people are buying into. We have a lot of interesting and cool people who want to be a part of the movie, and we’re going to keep calling in favors like we did for the short so we can make something even more impressive for the movie.”
And Amell knew going the sci-fi route for his first feature film was the smart move. “Part of it was that’s where a lot of Stephen and my fanbases are, and that’s what we enjoy,” Amell says. “And since we’ve both been a part of those worlds, we’ve seen things we like and things we would have changed. I was familiar with this kind of world. Same with Chris, Jeff and Sung. It was a world we were all comfortable tackling.”
But there was also an economical reason behind that choice.
“We had to make something that was marketable worldwide,” Amell says. “We didn’t want to put this all on the fans. With the explosion of superhero movies, people are looking for more and we figured we could do something a little different, a little refreshing. And it all boils down to I just want to make good projects, I don’t care what the genre is. I trust Chris and Jeff, and getting to work alongside them and have a hand in it gives me the confidence to know that I’ll be proud of it.”
Although the Amell cousins have worked together onscreen in the DC TV universe on Arrow and The Flash, Code 8 presents a unique experience for the two actors as they work together onscreen and off as executive producers.
“We didn’t even get to say anything to each other onscreen in the Arrow/The Flash crossover,” Amell says. “So to actually get to shoot scenes together and create a dynamic between us is going to be special. It’s rare to be in the same profession as a sibling or family member, so for both of us to be able to work alongside each other in front of the camera and behind it is something I’m looking forward to.”
While most actors end up producing at some point in their career, Amell was surprised to take that next step so soon.
“I honestly didn’t see myself executive producing this early on in my career. I figured I’d do it later, but this was just too good of an opportunity to pass up,” Amell says. “And Stephen, Chris, Jeff and I all thought that if we weren’t willing to take a chance on ourselves, why should we expect anyone else to? So we figured we’d give it a shot, but it’s definitely more terrifying than I expected it would be.”
He continues, “We had a couple things go wrong, a few problems in our three day shoot, and it was scheduled so down to the wire based on people’s conflicts, so it was rough. But we got it done! You just take it for granted when you work on a show like Arrow or The Flash, because they’re such well-oiled machines. Everyone knows what they’re doing. But this was all on us. We saw it from start to finish, and we found out that we’re capable.”
Since Code 8 reached its fundraising goal of $200,000 way ahead of schedule, Amell reveals they already have a plan in place for all the overflow funds they end up earning.
“$200,000 was really the minimum that we needed to make this movie a reality. We never wanted to ask the fans to fund the whole feature,” Amell says. “We’ve been talking to other people to get finances to get the movie made. This was so that we could make the movie that we wanted to make and that people wanted to see. Anything over the $200,000 just makes for a bigger, better movie. The more money we have, the more things we can do.”
Expect to see the Indiegogo campaign unveil more fundraising perks throughout the next month, each more exciting and unique than the last.
“We didn’t expect to have such an amazing first day, but the fans have been so incredible so we’ve been figuring out things to add for the next 30 days to keep them engaged and do more things for them,” Amell says. “It’s been a wild ride so far and it’s been amazing to see the fan support for something we’re proud of.”
While Code 8 is Amell’s current passion project, he does want to return to the DC TV universe on The Flash or even Legends of Tomorrow as his deceased metahuman character Ronnie Raymond aka one-half of Firestorm. He recently appeared on The Flash as his Earth-2 evil alter ego Deathstorm, although he was killed by the season’s big villain Zoom.
“I had a blast playing Deathstorm, but the bad thing about Deathstorm is that I don’t get to work alongside Victor Garber,” Amell says. “I love Victor and always have a blast shooting with him, so if I were to go back, I would prefer to go back as Ronnie Raymond, Firestorm, so I could spend a few scenes opposite Victor. And it’s more fun to be a hero, so I wouldn’t want to play Deathstorm for too long.”
And there’s no bad blood between Amell and Garber’s new Firestorm partner, Franz Drameh, who plays Jefferson “Jax” Jackson on Legends of Tomorrow.
“I like Franz a lot. I met him when I was shooting the finale,” Amell says with a laugh. “He was up there screen testing, and I’m a big fan of his. We hung out for a bit and talked. I was confident that Firestorm was in good hands with him, and I’ve dug his work on Legends of Tomorrow. And it would be fun to show up on Legends, since it’s a time travel show so there could be two versions of Firestorm.”