Robert Rodriguezâs new film We Can Be Heroes is a family affair
Hollywood director Robert Rodriguez with the young cast.
Photos courtesy of Netflix

Robert Rodriguez’s new film We Can Be Heroes is a family affair

Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2021 - 12:00am

Latino filmmaker Robert Rodriguez proudly shared with The STAR and select press that his latest film for families, We Can Be Heroes, was created with the help of his own family.

The man behind the kiddie-oriented actioners (Spy Kids, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl) served as the writer, director, producer, editor and cinematographer of the film now streaming on Netflix. But also worth-noting is that his four children — Racer Max, Rebel, Rogue and Rhiannon — played key roles in bringing to life this story about a group of superhero kids stepping in to save their parents and the world from “invading” aliens.

His son Racer Max, who actually came up with the Sharkboy and Lavagirl characters when he was seven years old, is a producer on the film. He also has a cameo in the film as the helicopter pilot. Rebel, who played the younger Sharkboy in the original film, was responsible for We Can Be Heroes’ orchestral score.

Rogue, the family’s computer programmer, did the film’s alien spaceship set designs when he was only 15. Rhiannon, on the other hand, inspired many of the female characters’ interests and characteristics.

Pedro Pascal, one of the grown-up actors, of his superhero-action fi lm now streaming on Netfl ix.

The director, recognized as a Hollywood trailblazer for such “adult” action blockbuster films as El Mariachi, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, From Dusk Till Dawn, Frank Miller’s Sin City, etc., etc., talked about how much he loved working on set with children and his own children.

Apart from his successful, out-of-Hollywood production house, Troublemaker Studios (based in Texas), Robert together with his sons Racer and Rebel formed Double R Productions, a development and production company with capabilities to produce media projects across film, TV, gaming and interactive platforms. We Can Be Heroes is one of its projects, in partnership with the streaming giant.

In a recent virtual interview, the filmmaker told us that directing the 11 kids in We Can Be Heroes — led by Yaya Gosselin as Missy Moreno, the whip-smart daughter of superhero/swordsman Marcus Moreno, played by Pedro Pascal — brought back fond memories of his childhood, having been raised in a large Mexican-American family. He also spoke about wanting to make more films that empower children, saying that the reason his previous kid-friendly films became a hit was because they came from the creative minds of children.

Photos show Robert goofi ng around with his young actors, and giving instructions to Lavagirl and Sharkboy and their child Guppy on the set of We Can Be Heroes.

Here are more excerpts from the interview:

On how We Can Be Heroes came to be:

“Netflix came to me and said, ‘We love your family films like Spy Kids and Shark Boy, they do really well in our (streaming) service, kids watch them over and over again.’ It’s very rare. No one does these live-action kids. So, I was like, wow, really, I love making those movies. Because parents would maybe take their kids to see it at the theater maybe once or twice — but then the kids will see it 100 times at home — no one really knew how successful those movies were. So, it didn’t really help our box-office that they only saw it like once or twice in the theater. It didn’t make business sense to make a lot of them later, even though I loved making them.

“But for Netflix, kids don’t have to be driven to the theater. They can just click the button and watch as many times as they want. And Netflix can keep track of the metrics. So I just thought, I’d love to do another one and actually came up with the idea in the room, while they’re asking me to do one. I thought ‘we can be heroes, the kids can be superheroes.’

“So, I went home and worked on it with my kids. I was so excited. I said, ‘Guess what? Someone actually wants another movie, like a Spy Kids-type of thing. And now that you’re old enough, (let’s do it).’ We’re all working together anyway. That’s why the company is called Double R Productions. All their names have double Rs in them like mine. ‘Let’s do the movie together, we’ll come up with what superpowers would kids have.’ We came up with 16 (at first). I had to cut out some of them, so there’s only 11.”

“My daughter’s nickname is Missy so we named Missy Moreno (the lead character) after her... She alone inspired four of the characters. And that’s our father-daughter relationship is like — Pedro Pascal and Missy — and I wanted to have a record of that relationship. Because I thought, sure, there are other fathers and daughters (like that), or inspire fathers and daughters with this relationship. And people have really called that as a highlight.

“I thought it’d be a family making a family movie for other families. It’s my favorite type of movie to make because I’m from a family of 10 kids, I have five kids of my own. Family’s always been super important to me. Even though I have the duality of being a family guy and the night guy making movies like Machete and Sin City, I prefer, which I’ve invested in most of my time, just being a father, being a sibling, being a family man.”

On how to direct children:

“In the movies I did, sometimes it’d be as many as four kids at a time, but not 11. But I’m from a family of 10. So that just gave me flashbacks to growing up, being surrounded by all my siblings. So, part of it is you want to give them confidence right away, because they’re coming in with so many of the characters, they’re all going to wonder if they’re good enough. So you want to ignite their creativity, their self-confidence. We would do drawing sessions right away, because I know there’s a bunch of kids that can draw, and there’s a bunch who can’t draw or don’t draw. So by making them all draw together, they see that they’re actually more talented than they thought. And it gives them confidence and all the other things they thought they couldn’t do. I mean, right off the bat, for the first day together, they’re already different people. And that just keeps growing throughout the movie.

“They built creative trust with you, they see themselves accomplishing greater things. And that mimics the story in the movie. They keep getting better and better as they go, and so to their characters in the real world. So, it’s very cool to see real life and the movie life existing together. And I just saw that even with my own kids. The story is that our kids will be better than us. We just have to mentor them properly, and then they’re going to take over the world and be better.

“I mean, I told my son who had done some music for me and some of my short films and low-budget films, but never an orchestral score, I want you to write the score with me on this one. And he wrote the whole score! The music that he wrote was so elevated and so complicated, I couldn’t even compete with him.

“So, I was surprised to see that my own theme for my movie was happening real time in front of my eyes, in the movie even more powerfully than I even knew. And I love for people to hear this message... You always hear, ‘Oh, the kids don’t struggle like the parents do, so (they’re not) going to get as far,’ and that becomes your reality because you think that and they think that. You can actually change the narrative on that through a movie. That’s what I think is so powerful about movie-making, storytelling.”

On making films with his children:

“Originally, I didn’t want to push them into the movie business. They weren’t into it. But then as we started doing other smaller projects together, I realized that it’s not about making movies. You’re not really teaching them movie-making, you’re teaching them about life, like a movie project is a very microcosm of how life works. That is really relevant no matter what they end up doing when they’re older. So now, I’ve told them, I’m going to make you all work on a movie together. And it happened to be We Can Be Heroes, and they just wanted to work on it. And they just ignited their creativity. It also taught them problem-solving...

“They now know the process of life. You come up with a project, whatever your goal is, you write it out, you make a nice plan to get your siblings together, come up with your plan, you go to execute it, you watch it all fall apart and nothing works like you thought it was gonna. That’s when you have to get creative and turn, you know, these lemons into lemonade. That’s when you really see it turn into something amazing because you use your creativity. And that’s life — wash, rinse, repeat.

“That’s the rest of your life... Hardly anything is going to go according to plan. Who planned for this COVID thing? Who planned for your car battery to die? Nothing ever goes according to plan. That’s when you have to get creative. And I realized movie-making teaches you that in such a profound way, in a very strong way. How to beat life and life in art should be very similar. Like some people don’t want to even create art because they think they’re not ready. But life isn’t like that. You’re never ready for life. Life throws you curveballs right and left, why should art be any different? You just have to jump in and you become ready as you do it.

“And they learn that now on the movies. And I teach other people that on my other movies, on my adult films. I tell people the stories about how we made this film and it inspires them. It inspires them on the set of The Mandalorian (of which he is a director), inspires them on other things I work. And when you share it, it’s now real for them, too, because they pass it on to their kids. And it becomes a philosophy of life through art. I mean, it makes sense that you would learn more about living life by making more art. And if you do it with your family, you get that much more inspiration.”

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