With so many comic book movies available these days, it’s easy to become jaded about the genre as a whole. That’s not to knock the production, entertainment, and artistic value of modern superhero blockbusters, but as with any trend, things can become wearying if you’re given the same thing to consume day-in-and-day-out.
Should you be on the lookout for a breath of fresh super-heroic air, look no further than Jeff Chan’s Code 8. Inspired by the director’s 2016 short of the same name, the film takes place in a world where individuals with special abilities (they make up 4% of the population) are ostracized by “normal” society. It’s similar to Marvel’s X-Men, but the stakes are even more grounded, because no one is trying to save the planet.
“Code 8 is less a superhero movie (I do love superhero movies, though!) and more a heist thriller with a lot of character development and a slice of the fantastical,” said the movie’s production designer, Chris Crane. “It’s not about someone saving the world, or even their city. It’s more about people saving themselves, both powered and not. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of fun action sequences and people using their abilities and powers (for good and bad) but no one goes to space. It’s more about people and how they can better their situations, even when you have the ability to shoot electricity out of your body.”
Robbie Amell (A Series of Unfortunate Events) plays the movie’s main character, Connor Reed, a man with electric abilities who turns to a life of crime to pay for his mother’s mounting medical bills.
Reed, who makes his home in the fictional Lincoln City, joins a group of super-powered thieves led by Garrett. This character is portrayed by Robbie’s real-world cousin, Stephen Amell, who you may know as Oliver Queen from The CW’s Arrow.
“We did have a lot of fun and creative freedom when it came to world building this society,” continued Chris. “Because it’s a fictional city, we came up with our license plate system with Q R Code registration, the graffiti seen in the background of scenes to show the constant protest of the military-type state ‘Lincoln City’ is constantly under. And [there are] posters for both sides: the pro and anti-power/abilities movement that is just below the surface of the story’s main action.”
As Connor comprises his morals for some easy cash, he falls squarely into the sights of a militarized police force that keeps the meta-human population in line.
“We really tried to show the difference between the two sides of this world whenever we could,” explained Crane. “More orange and brown tones, more clutter, graffiti, and natural light and warmer light sources for those living in the not-so-nice parts of the city. More sleek concrete structures, blacks and silvers, LED light sources and harsher colors like red or green whenever we could for those in the ‘good’ part of society.”
While Chris wasn’t the production designer for the 2016 short film, he did have the advantage of referring back to it for inspiration. Original production designer Brandon Mendez (a vet of music videos for Eminem and Billie Eilish) didn’t come back for the feature film, but cinematographer Alex Disenhof (Captive State) did.
“I definitely used the mood and feel of the short when putting things together for the feature film, the story had so much more added to it: addiction issues, more extreme prejudice, more characters, locations, etc. I definitely wanted to honor the work done in the short film, but I had a lot more creative freedom when it came to all the new elements introduced in the feature,” Crane admitted.
For Chan, the project, which shot in Toronto, represented a precarious tightrope walk between grand sci-fi concepts and a more humbling, relatable narrative.
“Jeff wanted the film to be both advanced in tech, but also grounded in reality. He had the motto of ‘We’re 5 seconds in the future,’ meaning, this isn’t a sci-fi film about the future, but more a slightly more advanced society, that has ended up where it is because certain people were born with something other people were not,” Chris said.
Somewhat of a passion project for the cousins Amell, Code 8’s production was made possible by an Indiegogo campaign that brought in over $2 million.
“The [crowdfunding] nature of the film was quite fun and exciting,” finished Crane. “We had set visits from people who contributed, who were already fans of the film and what we were trying to achieve. A lot of films, you toss a lot of the graphics once the show wraps, but on this film, a lot of Indiegogo donors were happy to take them. We had a few junior producers who came on board because of Indiegogo, who were great to work with and get to know.”
Code 8 is now playing in theaters.
Sung Kang, Aaron Abrams, and Chad Donella co-star.