It’s Hard to Politicize a Robot: Ryan White on Good Night Oppy | Interviews


It’s not just machines. My favorite film growing up was “E.T.” And so, to get to make a documentary with Amblin was so incredible. And E.T. in the Basket is on our poster, which I keep pinching myself about. But I think it’s a tale of those times of human beings connecting with non-humans. Our film has a scientific message, too about climate change as well. 

I think it’s something when you strip the humans away. It’s hard to politicize a robot. So, no one’s arguing with the fact that these robots discovered that there has been some sort of insane climate change on our sister planet because they’re robots, they have a few tools that take measurements that prove that. 

I think it’s something similar in the feelings we have. I remember a tweet went viral in 2019, and that’s when Opportunity sent her last communication to Earth. “The battery is low and it’s getting dark.” They had millions of hits on Twitter. And so, there was something about this little robot on trouble in another planet that did something to people’s hearts. It’s very Wall-E-esque. That idea of her traveling alone and is she going to be okay. 

I hope people are connecting with these robots in the film because of the humans behind the robots. The robots are the humans. They created those robots. They drive those robots every day. It’s just these human beings can’t go to Mars safely so they send these robots as their avatars. So really, it’s two robots standing in for thousands of people that poured their hearts into them.

Were the robots really responding in such conversational ways? Because that, of course, helps to personalize it, too.

We used to have a whole scene detailing how those conversations happened and I was gutting when we finally had to cut the part that showed how it goes through binary code and travels through this wormhole up to space. The orbiters that I talked about, they used to be characters in our film because they’re often personified as the big sister in the sky looking down on the robots, and the messages go through them down. And we just realized you have to be sort of judicious in a feature. People don’t need to know every single technical detail on how these messages come. And so, we do it in sort of an instant messenger way, but it is all through binary code and then it’s translated by NASA. So, “my battery is low and it’s getting dark” they get that message in binary, then they translate it for us civilians.



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