When Ryan White started working on “Good Night Oppy,” he knew that he was entering a new world with the use of visual effects. “I was nervous about entering a world of filmmaking that I had never done before but what I learned very quickly is that they love information and facts. Those visual effects you see are completely rooted in the photography of the robots,” he tells Gold Derby during our recent Meet the Experts: Film Documentary panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). Because of the amount of time that it would take to create the effects, the layout of exactly what those scenes would be had to be determined very early on. “Six months ago, sitting in a movie theater as we’re getting the final renders in was one of the best filmmaking experiences I’ve ever had, just watching that come alive in front of our eyes.”
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“Good Night Oppy,” which will be available to stream on Amazon Prime on Wednesday, November 23, centers on the two Mars rovers that were sent to the red planet in 2003 and would explore the planet for over a decade. The two rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, roamed around the surface of Mars trying to determine if the planet ever had water on its surface that could sustain life. The film recently was the big winner at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards where it won five awards including Best Documentary Feature and Best Director for White.
Getting Angela Bassett to voice the Rover diaries in the film was something that blew White’s mind. He remembers being, “the little gay boy in Georgia growing up that saw ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It,’ four or five times in the theater.” He was convinced that Bassett would turn down the offer but was very pleasantly surprised when she said yes the very next day. The experience of recording her was also a joy for White and he gives a lot of credit to sound designer Mark Mangini for the way he made Bassett’s voice sound. “There were microphones all around Angela while she was reading those diaries, so if you see the film in the theater, she’s coming from everywhere.”
White has also had several opportunities to see the effect the film has had with audiences and he recalled one instance that happened recently in San Francisco. “I walked in with my producing partner and people were talking as we walked in. I was like, this is an awful screening. Then a bright shot came on and I was able to look at the audience and it was all public school students they had brought for an educational screening.” The reaction that he saw from these students is unlike anything he had seen or could have hoped for. “When Opportunity discovers water, they were standing up and screaming and high-fiving each other. Normally that would be horrifying but we had tears rolling down because the idea is so rare as a documentary filmmaker.”
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