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'What the Bleep' Does Hollywood Know, Anyway?

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It aims to be the little movie that uses the powers of positive thinking and science to score big at box offices and surprise Hollywood.

If "What the Bleep Do We Know" achieves that goal, its independent filmmakers will be saying, "You see, we knew."

After debuting in one theater in Oregon this spring, "What the Bleep" will expand to 114 theaters this Friday, up from 88 last weekend when its box office tally climbed to $3.8 million from $3.3 million one week earlier.

If all goes according to plan, new distributors Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside Attractions will place it in more theaters each week if it continues attracting moviegoers.

Based on his experience, director and backer William Arntz thinks that's a no-brainer -- which says something about the film that tells people they can rewire their synapses to perceive a better world around them.

Arntz said, and theater owners agreed, that wherever the film has played it has opened to small crowds. But as people see it and talk about it, lines begin to form at box offices.

"After about five weeks, (theater owners) start going 'What the (bleep) is going on here,"' Arntz said.

So, he tells them.

Arntz, a corporate scientist dropout turned Buddhist turned software developer turned millionaire software developer turned film director, said he always wanted to make movies.

He even came to Hollywood in 1980, but found the experience daunting. After a spiritual quest and with money in his pocket, his thinking changed. He had the idea of putting together his four loves: science, spiritual thinking, movies and computers.

"It started off like a little, $125,000 documentary," Arntz said. "But I kept wanting bigger things ... it grew from $125,000 to a $5 million movie, much to my surprise."

ART, COMMERCE, SCIENCE, FICTION

"What the Bleep" melds quantum physics and metaphysical thinking with an old-fashioned movie story in which a photographer, Amanda (Marlee Matlin), learns to change her life by altering the way she thinks about herself and the world.

The new Amanda comes from a different understanding of the way energy, matter, molecules and atoms work around us.

"Most people think the outside world just happens. We're suggesting there's a big connection between what you think inside your mind and what's happening outside," Arntz said.

It's heady stuff for audiences more concerned with munching popcorn, so that's why the filmmakers added Amanda's story.

To explain the science, the fictional tale is interrupted by interviews with scientists such as John Hagelin who conducted research at the European Center for Particle Physics, and William Tiller, a Stanford University professor who spent nine years in the Westinghouse Research Laboratory.

Dr. Stuart Hameroff, associate director for the Center of Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, and Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, a psychiatrist and former president of the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York, cover the neurology.

Metaphysics is discussed by Dr. Miceal Ledwith of the Maynooth College in Ireland and the mystic, Ramtha.

PASSION FOR SPIRITUALITY

Arntz said he and fellow filmmakers Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente, tried to persuade major movie studios to distribute the film, but Hollywood's collective mind was closed.

So, in a nod to the best tradition of grass roots marketing not too far from Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," they contacted spiritual, philosophy and science groups. They put flyers in everything from yoga studios to health food stores.

The filmmakers persuaded their hometown theater to play "What the Bleep" and when tickets sold, a theater in Portland, Oregon came aboard. Then came theaters in Arizona, Washington and Los Angeles. Everywhere it has played, audiences line up.

While Hollywood didn't know what to think, Meyer Gottlieb, president of independent film distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films, liked what he saw at a Los Angeles screening.

"I met, literally, 300 people in the theater," Gottlieb said, "and these people told me that, in fact, the movie had an impact on their lives. Many had seen it two or three times."

Critical reviews are mixed, but they were generally mixed on "The Passion of the Christ," too, and that movie is this year's third top-grossing film with $370 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices, behind "Spider-Man 2" and "Shrek 2."

To be sure, all three of those box office hits had a different release schedule. They all opened "wide," as the industry puts it, in over 3,000 theaters.

"What the Bleep" started in one theater. But then, 2002 hit indie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which pulled in $241 million at domestic theaters, started small too.

Sometimes, spirituality, religion, science and a little fresh thinking do sell movie tickets. Tell it to the studio executives. Maybe they will rewire their brains, too.

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Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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