One night in February of 2017, Wylie Overstreet wheeled his telescope out in the street of a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles to observe the Moon. Within a couple of hours, more than 20 people had walked up to him to take a look. A young couple was so amazed by what they saw through the telescope — it was “one of the most incredible experiences we’ve had in memory,” they said — that they told Overstreet he’d just made their night.
“I was like, well, I had no intention,” Overstreet tells The Verge. “This is crazy! If people react like this we should be doing this more often.”
“A sense of wonder that there’s something much bigger than ourselves”
So Overstreet, who is a filmmaker, decided to take his telescope out again and again — and made a short movie about it with his film partner Alex Gorosh. The video, titled A New View of the Moon, has been viewed over 200,000 times on YouTube, and has been written about by several media outlets. It captures the awed reactions of passersby looking at the Moon and its craters. For some, it’s the first time — and they can’t believe their eyes. Their “Oh my God,” “No way,” and “What?!” are a moving reminder of how often we forget to look up.
It “pulls us out of a certain daily rhythm and a daily routine and fills us with a sense of wonder that there’s something much bigger than ourselves that we just forgot about,” Overstreet says.
Overstreet got his first telescope as a present a few years ago, but fell so hard for the hobby that he soon decided to upgrade to a more powerful one — a Skywatcher 12-inch collapsible Dobsonian reflector, the one shown in the video. Overall, he and Gorosh spent 10 nights, over the span of a year, filming strangers as they walk up to the telescope and look up at the Moon. Their three-minute video will probably make you tear up. (At least, that’s how I reacted to it.) The Verge spoke with Overstreet about his favorite reactions, the goal of the video, and what he learned from it.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Why has the video been shared so much, you think?
Alex and I made a very specific point of trying to show the widest of humanity we could. I love Los Angeles for its diversity, so we really didn’t have to try really hard. We wanted to show that everybody — no matter who they are, where they come from, what they look like, how rich or poor they are — the universe imparts the same reaction. I think there’s something deeply human that is touched when you see the universe up close in a way you never have.
“It changes your perspective of things here on Earth.”
What’s the goal of the video?
To show people that there is something bigger than the things that concern us down here on Earth. When you see something like the Moon up close, you can get a sense of that grandeur. It’s important to keep that in mind because it changes your perspective of things here on Earth — our problems, our differences, our strife. It’s all cast in a different light and I think that’s the point. There’s something bigger than all of that, and I think it’s in the best interest of humanity to remember that.
What was your favorite reaction?
That’s hard. A lot of these reactions did not make it in the cut because they didn’t necessarily play well on camera, but in person they were wonderful. It’s people who literally could not believe their eyes. They thought we were trying to fake them out. They actually went around and looked down the telescope to see if we had some fake Moon inside that was some practical joke. That happened more than once. I would say at least half a dozen times, from a variety of different people, different walks of life, race, and ages. That was the most fun.
What have you learned from this experience?
I think the greatest takeaway was that that central human sense of wonder and curiosity exist. It’s there. People would walk over from across the street, or park their car, and follow that curiosity and then express that wonder when they finally saw the Moon. It was incredibly heartwarming to see this idea of, “Does everybody react to the universe in the same way and if so, what does that say about humanity, who we are?” What we learned was that the idea that we are all the same was validated.