In interviews with cast and crew, independent journalist Josh Shepherd examines how the brand new Netflix Original film Blue Miracle— elevates the inspirational true story genre with relatable characters and a hot reggaetón soundtrack.
During this Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., many plan to enjoy big-budget Netflix original films like Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead and Amy Adams thriller The Woman in the Window. But the most popular streaming service also has a true-life family drama out today worldwide, one that has gone largely under the radar.
While the last faith-and-family outing on Netflix, campy musical A Week Away, had appeal limited mostly to families with kids at home, Blue Miracle tells an inspiring story in a way that will draw in multiple generations.
“The way you make a film compelling is it has to be coming from a real place inside of you,” said writer-director Julio Quintana in a press conference for the soundtrack. “Everybody has been saying that this film is refreshingly not heavy-handed. When you tell a story and explore its themes in a real way, you inevitably learn things and grow and truth kind of emerges.”
A protégé of screen legend Terrence Malick, Hispanic filmmaker Quintana (The Vessel) linked up with faith-film producer Darren Moorman (Same Kind of Different As Me) who had secured rights to a story seemingly too perfect to be true — about an orphan home in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
In fall 2014, after a devastating hurricane, jaded pro fisherman Captain Wade Malloy (Dennis Quaid) agrees to take a crew of inexperienced orphans out in the world’s largest offshore fishing competition. He planned to split the six-figure prize if they reel in a big one.
Viewers familiar with inspirational biopics can likely guess aspects of how it ends. But the journey there — with three-dimensional characters wrestling with big questions, eye-popping cinematography, and a street-party rap soundtrack — smartly invite in a broad potential audience, similar to past biopic hits like Soul Surfer and Remember the Titans.
Star Power and ‘Impossible Dreams’
When veteran Hollywood star Dennis Quaid (Traffic, Frequency, The Right Stuff) signed on, it raised the profile of Blue Miracle. He said the script from Quintana and co-writer Chris Dowling (Where Hope Grows) sold him on the feel-good, entertaining story.
“That’s the way I really choose all my films,” Quaid told me. “When I read a script, it’s the only chance I get to have a first-time experience of the story, like an audience member. This is the ultimate underdog story, it’s the impossible dream story — and it really happened.”
Certain elements were embellished, notably Quaid’s character — the real fisherman paired up with Casa Hogar was Ernie Cossio, a Mexican national who had won previous tournaments. But there’s no evidence to suggest it was by cheating.
In real life, soft-spoken orphanage director “Papa” Omar Venegas rarely expressed doubts; that differs from how he’s played by Latino star Jimmy Gonzales (Mayans M.C.), featured here in his first leading film role. And, to simplify the narrative, the movie sidesteps how Venegas was involved in a severe car accident just before the tournament.
Yet Quintana underlines that essential facts are true. In September 2014, Hurricane Odile demolished Baja California. “This storm severely damaged the orphanage. They didn’t know what they were going to do for money. Also, the storm caused organizers to change tournament rules that year so this team could get in.”
Like his character, Quaid has long been an avid fisherman. He found it easy to relate to the two-time-fishing tournament winner, thrust into helping a ragtag crew of orphans.
“All he cares about at the beginning is the money and winning and his own glory,” he said. “These kids end up teaching him about what’s really important.”
Creative Challenges, Juggling Children
Quintana made the most of their production budget. He and a small crew, including his wife and brother, visited Cabo San Lucas in October 2019 to capture the actual Bisbee’s Black & Blue Marlin Tournament where hundreds of vessels participate.
“We used drones to get aerial shots of the tournament, with all the boats taking off at the marina,” he said. “We got the big wide expanses of the rocks and that iconic stone arch. Then we took that footage and made sure to match it (to) our locations in the Caribbean.”
The primary film shoot occurred in the Dominican Republic, on the island of Hispaniola, in part due to an innovative 60,500 square-foot Horizon Water Tank designed for movie productions. It makes scenes set at sea much easier to capture on film.
Quaid speaks from his past experience. “It’s very difficult to shoot on boats,” he said. “There’s always some element knocking you off course. Shooting (Blue Miracle) in this huge tank, built right on the shore of the ocean, made things go smoothly — especially working with the kids.”
Over weeks, the director noted they spent perhaps a full day heading out into ocean waters. “Whenever we needed the boat to move a little bit, we went out there and got a couple shots,” said Quintana. “But it was just miserable and you couldn’t light anything properly.”
He added: “The open ocean is no joke, especially with little kids. Once they start puking, the day is pretty much done.”
While the orphans overseen by “Papa Omar” are a central focus of Blue Miracle, themes of fatherhood crop up in other contexts as well. Writer-director Quintana, who noted he and his wife have three kids under age five, said it’s all very personal for him.
“Every day, I struggle with how to be a good father,” he said. “What level of career success or what opportunities do I set aside to make sure that I’m there for my kids and go to the soccer games? Even if people aren’t parents, I hope they can feel this is coming from a real place.”
A father of three adult children, Quaid affirms: “The most important part of being a parent is being there. This film speaks to how it matters that kids know you’re there for them.”
Without question, Blue Miracle will pull in parents and grandparents. Can it appeal to younger viewers as well?
‘This Music is Fire’
Quintana set out to undergird the film’s urban-based conflicts with current hip-hop and reggaetón, a blend of reggae and rap that has spread widely in recent years. He faced one problem.
“It’s very difficult to find anything in that space that’s not negative in terms of its messaging,” said Quintana. “I can’t put like 99 percent of reggaetón over my movie, it wouldn’t work. But what they’re doing at Reach Records is completely different.”
Founded in 2004 by Grammy Award-winning rap artist Lecrae, indie label Reach Records based in Atlanta has built a diverse roster enmeshed in emerging urban genres. They avoid explicit lyrics in favor of socially conscious messages that often reflect their Christian faith.
Label head Lecrae, who has sold tens of millions of albums, has wisely capitalized on his success; last year, he ended a four-year contract with Columbia Records and now releases tracks solely via Reach. Praised widely for community outreach work, Lecrae has generated controversy among some U.S. Christians for using his platform to highlight racial justice issues.
The Official Soundtrack to Blue Miracle, the @netflix film championing the power of faith and friendship is Out Now featuring the new "Fight For Me (Blue Miracle Version)" from @gawvi ft. @lecrae and @iamtommyroyale!! Watch and stream now at the LINK https://t.co/JknAuW1n7h pic.twitter.com/YyFnxvswmh
— Reach Records | 'DRY CLEAN ONLY' OUT NOW (@reachrecords) May 27, 2021
The team behind Blue Miracle contacted Reach about the soundtrack at just the right moment, according to producer-artist GAWVI (born Gabriel Alberto Azucena). “The stars kind of aligned,” said GAWVI. “When the movie had wrapped and they came to choosing music, we were just releasing Sin Vergüenza, our first Latin album that Reach artists collaborated on.”
The son of immigrants from Mexico, Georgia emcee Raul Garcia, a.k.a. WHATUPRG, integrates trap-oriented rhythms into his several soundtrack contributions alongside Puerto Rican urbano collaborator Tommy Royale.
“We’re connecting more to our roots, and just creating the most authentic music we can make,” said RG. “It used to be they couldn’t place Christian music like anywhere, and now it’s about to be premiered on a Netflix film. This music is fire, and it has a message of hope.”
The Next Sleeper Hit?
For Dennis Quaid, this film marks his latest in a long line of inspirational biopics. “I was attracted to playing this character because he’s a guy who’s really transformed,” Quaid said. “He’s humbled in this story, and that’s when I think that God works miracles.
The actor, who just released a Christian Gospel music album, has similar roles on deck. He co-stars in American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story coming later this year from Lionsgate, and will portray polarizing U.S. president Ronald Reagan in a Reagan biopic currently filming.
He praises Blue Miracle as a “positive cross-cultural story.” Discussing the film’s multicultural milieu, writer-director Julio Quintana alludes to front-page headlines from the U.S. southern border.
“The importance of a story like this is humanizing kids in those situations,” said Quintana. “Then the next time somebody hears about kids stuck at the U.S.-Mexico border or anything like that, they have a face and emotional connection. I think only positive things can come out of that.”
Bringing together a diversity of talents, Blue Miracle may end up as another wide-appeal Netflix sleeper hit like true-life war thriller The Outpost and recent period drama The Dig.
For rapper WHATUPRG, the extensive reach of the world’s biggest streamer is not lost on him. “It’s tight to see how far we’ve come. I mean, I just can’t wait to show my mom that we got to drop a movie on Netflix with our songs.”
Freelance journalist Josh M. Shepherd writes about culture, faith, and public policy issues. His work has been published by outlets including The Stream, What’s On Disney Plus, The Federalist, Christianity Today, Family Theater Productions, and Faithfully Magazine.