I used this expression in a recent newsletter and it made sense to me when I wrote it. But, I think there's a lot to figure out about this expression. Not just what was I thinking, but what are some of the possible meanings of this quest for filmmakers, especially small, self-funded filmmakers. This is my first attempt to unpack that expression.
As folks who know me and my work are aware, I am primarily interested in stories of human connection. How we find self-worth, how we find love, how we lose them - these are topics that interest me greatly. While I have had a gun in one film (okay, that was a docudrama) I've never done films about crime / criminals, space ships, zombies or insanely rich crazy businessmen. There are great films (and bad ones) about all of those subjects. I've helped to create a zombie film and it was a great and fun effort (as DP). But, at the end of the day, it's ordinary people, making their way through the trials and rewards of everyday life that I find the most satisfying.
So going "deeper" to me means primarily exploring the kinds of feelings and actions that make up our lives at this level. Going deeper means finding a way to enable performances that are rich in the realism of their conflict and nuance.
Okay, so what is "wider" and is that a bad thing?
In this context, I guess wider means encompassing a larger scope of possible "things" or life but therefore not necessarily revealing as much about the meaning and interior of these things. I'm not convinced, as I write, that it's the best or only way of thinking about these things, but here's my thoughts.
Wider - for the average indie wannabe filmmaker at my level - [that's the lowest level, btw] often means trying to tell stories about things that you don't really know. I could write a story about being in prison and trying to make it as an ex-convict. I've actually worked with ex-convicts but I've never been in prison and my idea of what that's really like has been formed primarily by other movies, e.g. not real experience. I can imagine some things about it, but it's not based on personal experience.
Am I saying that you can only write based on personal experience? That you shouldn't write a story about climbing Mt. Everest or running from the Mob? Well, yes, in the sense that most of us have no real idea what is involved, what matters, what's important in those worlds. But, of course, you can create a story about climbing a mountain without being a mountain climber yourself. It may or may not be realistic but it can be a clever construct, full of twists and turns that will entertain folks. That's kind of what I mean by "wider." But if the film is going to feel personal, going to resonate with an audience deeply (there's that word again) I believe you have to find a way to connect to the issues personally. So, even in the mountain climbing story, it's possible to connect genuinely and deeply with surviving in a hostile place, struggling to maintain your focus, overcoming physical exhaustion. Reinforced with some careful research, you can write this story with personal energy.
Of course Hollywood, when things really work unusually well, manage to marry a massive amount of research and resources with personal insights – that can produce a film like Gravity. But that's just not a realistic option for me or filmmakers at my level of resources.
In other words, to the extent that I can connect with something personal, even a bit metaphorically, I can go deeper into the story. To the extent that I am only trying to reel in elements I find cool or popular but have no real connection to, I'm going wider. And going wide of the mark of personal filmmaking. And personal films are the only films I can make that will have unique value.