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Stephen Amell, left, and Robbie Amell arrive at the premiere of Code 8: Part II, on Feb. 26 in Toronto.Arthur Mola

The one-eyed Guardian droids are back, with brand-new robot dogs. When the sequel Code 8: Part II arrives on Netflix Feb. 28, stans will notice a few upgrades to Code 8 (2019). Sergeant “King” Kingston (Alex Mallari Jr.) now commands the Guardians, who hunt down violators of Code 8 (unauthorized use of superpowers). The crime rate has decreased, but institutional corruption is rampant. In fact, everything in Lincoln City is faster, chunkier, louder and fancier, thanks to the budget beef-up that comes with being the first Netflix Original film produced in Canada.

What hasn’t changed? Four per cent of the population still possess mysterious powers to electrocute, burn, bend metal or control minds, and the other 96 per cent still hate them. Garrett Kelton (Stephen Amell, Arrow) remains a criminal. Connor Reed (Robbie Amell, The Flash, who is Stephen’s cousin), now an ex-con, is still trying to go straight. And the whole enterprise has retained the gritty geniality of a project cooked up by friends who shared a dream and an Indiegogo campaign.

So much Code 8 has been whipped up from nothing, I got on a video call with both Amells and their director, Jeff Chan, to revisit how truly scrappy its origin story is. Here are highlights from our conversation.

You three, along with the visual effects team from Playfight, had been friends for five years by the time Jeff called Robbie and said, “Let’s make a short.”

Robbie: Jeff had been working in L.A. and Toronto. He wanted to make something he had more control over. He said, “A short will cost us 20 grand each.” I said, “What’s it about?” He said, “I don’t know yet.” I said, “I’m in.”

We rehearsed in my front yard in L.A. We cast friends, and Jeff found a few people on Craigslist. They’re wildly successful now – one just finished directing Kung Fu Panda 4; another is a cinematographer for the Lord of the Rings TV series. Seventy thousand dollars later – not forty thousand – we finished it.

Why a short, and why this subject?

Jeff: We wanted to prove to people whose doors we were knocking on that we could do this. We’re big Marvel and DC Comics fans, but we didn’t think a whole city had to be destroyed in every film. We wanted to tell a story on a more human scale. I’d been paying attention to the way tech is evolving, especially around policing and surveillance. Which has only intensified.

The Amells’ characters aren’t related in the films. Were you and your co-writer, Chris Pare, ever tempted to make them brothers?

Jeff: Everyone thinks they’re brothers anyway.

Stephen: Jeff hasn’t even given my character a last name.

Jeff: He has a last name.

[All fall silent as they struggle to remember it.]

The short worked so well, you launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to turn it into a feature.

Robbie: Between my and, really, Stephen’s fan base, we thought they’d be interested in grounded science fiction.

Robbie, you have 1.6 million followers on Instagram. Stephen, you have 7 million.

Robbie: The way Indiegogo works, no one who contributes is entitled to any profits. We just said, “You’re helping us make this movie. The more you help the bigger the movie will be. Every dollar will be on screen.” We thought we’d offer them T-shirts, hoodies and socks, and make a few hundred grand.

The day after your campaign launches, Indiegogo gives you a tracker, projecting how much you’ll make. We kept breaking that graph. Indiegogo kept messaging us, “Here’s your new graph.” None of them were accurate. We broke every one, including on the last day.

More than 30,000 people chipped in, more than $3-million.

Robbie: The weirdest part was, we ended up having to fulfill tens of thousands of orders for T-shirts. We had to become a store.

Jeff: When the campaign closed, we started getting the offers we’d dreamed of from studios and backers to finance the movie. That was trippy. But we were wary, because we wanted to make it in the spirit of the short, where people got paid the minimum but were there out of passion.

You ended up with a $10-million dollar budget, which included funding from Telefilm. You shot it in Canada, with local talent.

Stephen: I would like to point out that we paid Telefilm back.

We did premieres in Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, London, Sydney and Perth. We’d ask the audience, “Did anyone participate?” and a hundred people would raise their hands. It was incredible. Once or twice a month, still, people come up to me with their Code 8 hoodies or beanies and thank me.

Robbie: We’ve met people with Code 8 tattoos.

You listed almost all 30,000 contributors by name in Code 8′s end credits.

Stephen: They’re longer than the credits for Avengers: Endgame.

Jeff: Vertical Films did our Canadian theatrical release, and we set a record for them, even though we had no marketing budget.

Robbie: Then Netflix licenses it, and the night before it premieres, we get a call from their PR team. They said, “If you don’t see the movie on the home page or top 10 list, don’t worry, it doesn’t mean people aren’t watching it.” At the end of day one we were number two, and at the end of day two, we were the number one movie on Netflix. They phoned us and said, “We heavily underestimated this movie.” That was a cool call to get.

Jeff: Netflix gave us more money for Part II – I’m not saying how much – but they let us make it in the spirit of the first.

Robbie: We call it the most expensive student film ever made, because everyone was out there loving what they were doing. The nicest thing was, we didn’t have to ask fans for anything. We just asked them to watch the movie. And maybe when they’re leaving the house, they can put it on for their dogs and cats.

Did it give you more control over your careers?

Robbie: It’s awesome and a little scary to see the other side of a movie. There are fires being put out every day. It changed how I look at casting. Before, being told, “You’re great but not the guy” didn’t make sense to me. Now it does.

Stephen: I just want to go back to showing up and saying my lines. [All laugh.]

Would you ever try to repeat the experience?

Robbie: We won’t go back to the Indiegogo well. But Jeff and I worked with Wattpad to produce Float, which just came out, shot in Vancouver. With Code 8, we’re proud we made a Canadian film that’s super-commercial and has a global reach. I don’t think we have a ton of those. There’s so much talent here that ends up going to the U.S. Myself and Stephen included. We just want to keep making cool things with friends. It’s the best job in the world.

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