An Interview With “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” Co-Producer Betsy Chasse

An Interview With “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” Co-Producer Betsy Chasse

In 2004, a little science film called “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” was a surprise hit that got everyday average people thinking about quantum physics. Recently the filmmakers, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente and William Arntz of Yelm, Washington-based Lord of the Wind Films, released a special “Down the Rabbit Hole Quantum” edition of the movie with six hours of additional interviews. It’s all part of their plan to take the fear factor out of science.

Maybe you find the words “quantum physics” a little intimidating or even downright scary. “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” opens a whole new world of scientific possibilities in words, analogies, and images that almost anyone can understand. The filmmakers explore the answers to the most asked questions about the universe: “What is it? Where do we fit in? And why do we do what we do?”

“Our goal was to make those words ‘quantum physics’ not so scary to people,” Chasse said during a telephone interview. “We wanted to take away the taboo of science and help people see what science says, what science means to them in their everyday lives, and how science and spirituality are related. We take away the big words and leave the audience with ideas.”

Part narrative feature, part documentary, the film presents theories about the uncertain realm of the quantum field hidden behind our normal waking reality, and explores how our minds affect this reality. The idea is revealed through three ways, which are woven throughout this 120-minute experimental film: A fictional story surrounding a woman disillusioned by life and love; interviews with actual scientists, doctors, and mystics; and an extensive assortment of elaborate visual effects.

Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin plays the protagonist, Amanda, an unhappy, divorced wedding photographer who finds herself in an Alice-in-Wonderland type of experience until suddenly her daily life unravels. She realizes limitless opportunities through the teachings of a 10-year-old boy (Robert Baily, Jr.) who explains quantum physics to her.

In the midst of her awakening, she begins questioning her fundamental premises of life. She begins to see that her view of men and how relationships should be is the result of her emotional state, rather than a reflection of reality. As she begins relaxing into the experience, she gains control over her fears and changes her perspective.

The documentary segments of the film provide commentary by world renowned experts discussing subjects including spirituality, consciousness, happiness, and sexuality. According to Chasse, these 14 experts serve as a modern-day Greek chorus that explains what the characters experience. The rest of the cast includes Barry Newman, Elaine Hendrix, and Armin Shimerman.

“We initially contacted the doctors, scientists, and mystics asking basic questions about quantum physics because we wanted a simple way to explain these ideas,” she said. “They were able to break things down into what they mean and what they mean to us.”

The featured physicists are William Tiller, Amit Goswami, John Hagelin, Fred Alan Wolf, and David Albert. Medical doctors Stuart Hameroff, Jeffrey Santinover, Andrew Newberg, Daniel Monti, and Joseph Dispenza appear in the film, along with molecular biologist Candace Pert. Rounding out the documentary cast: mystics and scholars Ramtha, Khempo Yurmed Tinly, and Miceal Ledwith.

Three different studios (in South Africa, Toronto, and Vancouver) worked on the 300 visual effects, which took more than a year to develop. The various styles and techniques include Computer Generated Image shots of the mysterious quantum world and the interior of the brain and composited shots of the sub atomic world interacting with the actors, in addition to small animated characters that demonstrate our emotional foibles. The animated segments allow the photographer’s viewfinder to break happiness down to the cell level, revealing that people are addicted to the chemicals of their emotions.

Famous leading actors, top experts, 300 special effects, a cast and crew of more than 250 people, and haunting music by Christopher Franke (former member of the musical group Tangerine Dream which composed scores for more than 30 feature films, including “Legend,” “Firestarter,” and “Risky Business”), come with a price, however. The project, which was based on Arntz’s original idea, took more than three years to complete on a budget of about $4 million.

Chasse and Arntz shared writing, directing, and producing responsibilities. Vicente, who co-directed and co-produced, also served as director of photography. “One of the benefits of having three directors is that collaboration takes on a whole new meaning and you really learn to listen,” Chasse said. “We had to approach this project with a detached perspective to accept new ideas wherever they came from.”

Many of these ideas didn’t come from traditional West Coast sources. “Hollywood told us that we couldn’t make the movie,” Chasse said. “People said we couldn’t get what we wanted with such a low budget and that there was no market for the subject matter. In the indie film world, you can take the risks to do what your heart tells you to do.”