Erin Mackellin is a filmmaker based in Melbourne, Australia. As a child, filming on her Kodak Easyshare sparked a passion for film. This led to making short films on small pocket digital cameras and editing the footage together. In 2019, Erin graduated from Footscray City Films, earning her Advanced Diploma in Screen and Media. Throughout her studies, Erin has written, directed and edited several of her own short films.
Her short film The_Fishbowl won "Best Science and Technology Film" at the Cannes World Film Festival and Best Original Story at the Los Angeles Film Awards. The film was also nominated for Best Directing and Editing at the Busan New Wave Short Film Festival, and for Best Sound Design at the Korea International Short Film Festival.
Whilst building her portfolio as a Writer/Director, Erin also works in the Art Department. Erin worked as the Production Designer on the web series pilot Lucky Boy, which made the Official Selection at both the Melbourne and Sydney Lift-Off Film Festivals. She has worked as a Production Designer on several short films and music videos over the past 5 years, as well as assisting in the Art Department on both short and long form productions.
Her work primarily focuses on youth, nostalgia, drama and comedy, however, she is open to experimenting with other styles and genres.
Hello Erin, thank you for this beautiful short film. Would you say film is your form of expression of choice?
Hello! Thank you so much for interviewing me. Film has always been a way for me to explore and express myself. I feel the magic of cinema is recreating life using your imagination. Sometimes it’s hard for me to communicate an idea through words, so film is a space for me to illustrate what’s going on in my mind.
I fell in love with film when I was a child, so younger Erin would definitely be proud that I have created my own little film. I used to film lots when I was younger; just random things and edit the clips together on iMovie and Windows movie maker. There wasn’t much planning put into anything and I kinda just went with the flow. Throughout the years I’ve learnt more filmmaking skills and I’m going to continue learning, but I at least always want to keep the passion and simplicity of filmmaking from when I was younger. I believe it’s important to feel free when making art. For me, if I think way too hard about something or worry too much about what the audience will think then it sort of takes the joy out of it. So, slowly, I’m trying to get back into that childlike mindset I had, whilst writing and reflecting on topics that interest me.
Although filmmaking is cathartic and allows me to explore myself, there’s a chance the audience may not like the concept. You’re showing people your vulnerabilities, and something that seems important to you may seem insignificant to the audience so there’s a bit of a risk when writing about something personal.
Sometimes you can catch me in a daydream and I’m often thinking how this moment could work in a film. I’m heavily inspired by events that happen. You know, those kinda small, crazy magical moments that happen when you least expect it, something you would see in a movie. Sometimes my mind sees things through a film lens; motifs, metaphors etc. You can really write about anything and explore many possibilities; that is the magic of cinema!
Your story seems to question things without bringing definite answers. Do you agree with this statement?
The discourse surrounding technology, smartphones and social media is always changing. There’s the in real life vs online personas. It gets a little confusing as we are meshing the real world with online personas, which are supposedly reflective of our real world. How much of it is actually accurate though? A lot of it is a process of selection and omission.
Technology has made communication more efficient and it’s incredible how far it has come. It’s a massive part of our lives now, where we can’t exactly imagine our lives without it. We aren’t even aware of our habits. The_Fishbowl was a space for me to explore how these habits affect our daily lives. I don’t find social media or smartphones “bad”… this is an issue that isn’t necessarily going to resolve as it’s just a part of who we are now. However, I definitely feel we should be aware of our habits and how it can affect our mental health.
One of our characters relapses after going to rehab, and this displays how this issue is ongoing and it really is up to the individual to choose the “extent” this online universe has in our own personal lives. Can we actually go back to a time before phones? Can we even imagine it? I think it was quite confusing for our generation growing up during this big shift; adolescence is confusing enough, so adding this extra dimension to our lives definitely posed the question “what is youth supposed to be like?” I think it’s easy for people to say, “Oh don’t go on your phone, go and experience the wonders of life”. It’s easier said than done, especially growing up with this online culture.
It’s like this other dimension sort of meshed with our own, but it doesn’t physically exist (well… that is another debate for another time, haha). The whole dimension is within this small pocket device and it contains so much information. Personally, I just wanted to explore these characters, their idiosyncrasies, and illustrate some of the social media archetypes without trying to resolve anything. Hopefully people can relate to them in some way. The characters admitting themselves to the facility probably went there with the idea that they could live without their phones, that they were going to ’cure’ their addiction. I don’t even know the answer on what we are supposed to do, where we are supposed to go from here, but I think awareness on how these little devices are impacting us is important. That’s sort of the purpose of The_Fishbowl, to give a glimpse of what’s going on.
Have you heard of young people actually going to rehab because of their addiction to their phones, or to social media? If so, what can you tell us of what you know of their experience?
I personally do not know of anyone who has gone to rehab for such reasons. However, it is common for people who go to rehab to keep their phone use at a minimum. I did research when writing my drafts, and looked into technology free retreats as well.
I have watched several films where characters go to rehab and have no access to their phones, but that isn’t necessarily the reason why they are there in the first place. In real life, I only know of people who decide to go on little holidays away and choose to not use their phones (typically it doesn’t last very long). From my personal experience I have lasted over a week without social media. It felt really nice but I did actually have a bit of anxiety going back to the digital world and catching up to everything that was going on there. These days, I try to not take too long of a break from it as there’s more and more information on the internet and I am fearfuI that if don’t check my phone, I’m missing out on something. I think it’s like that for many people though. We aren’t always conscious that our little pocket devices contain so much power and information; scrolling first thing when we wake up, when we go to sleep, when we are with friends, eating at a restaurant, taking photos of literally everything we do and uploading them to our stories.
Sometimes this information is super overbearing and at times I feel I’m not really ‘living’, kinda stuck in a bubble; swimming in the fishbowl. I personally feel there’s just so many apps, it can become so addictive. Posting what you had for dinner, and over analyzing who saw your story, “OMG I wonder what they were thinking when they saw it”, however there is a high chance they probably skimmed over it and moved on with their life. We also have this thing with “seen” messages, where we can’t leave people on “seen” or else they think of the worst possible scenario. Although I don’t personally know anyone who has had to go to rehab for such addictions, I do know that this digital world has been a cause of anxiety and depression in young people.
It may seem dramatic, however, I know many people my age who have developed anxiety from their phone use as well as withdrawals. Social media are great for communicating, gaining inspiration and of course, MEMES! It’s kind of a paradox though, you can be so connected to the people there and share common interests, yet feel so lonely.
The story, we find out, takes place in 2019. Why did you choose that year in particular?
I wrote The_Fishbowl in 2019. It all happened then. When I first pitched the idea, it was going to be set a few years into the future, probably around 2021. However, I wanted to stick to the time that I knew. I knew that this film could be relatable in a few years, though modern culture is always rapidly changing; trends, the language we use, fashion, music, etc. So I definitely felt it was important that this film was an accurate reflection of the context that I was writing in (2019). If it was set a little in the future there would be the risk that characters would say or do things that would be considered outdated. I think it was an important decision, as one of the main focuses on the film is “staying relevant in society”.
What have you learned in the process of making The_Fishbowl that you would share with first-time filmmakers?
This film took a couple of years to make. It was a long process, mostly due to the pandemic which made it extra challenging. I definitely had a lot of trouble staying motivated. As the editor, I was looking at the edit for long periods of time and without getting feedback in person, I didn’t know where to go from there. I was too embarrassed to share the edits with my peers. I think it is important to remember that a draft is a draft, not the final cut. I was expecting to make the first draft the final cut, as a consequence I was procrastinating and not getting anything done. I learnt that it is okay to make mistakes, things take time, and I’m glad I didn’t rush it in the end. If you’re not getting anywhere, take a break and come back later, or get someone with fresh eyes to have a look at the project.
The same could be applied to the scriptwriting and pre-production process too. I felt I was trying to write a feature for my first draft and had all of these crazy ideas. I think it’s important to start small and work your way up as you go. As for the production process, I was very nervous directing, since typically I was always assisting on my peers' films. This time they were assisting me, so I was a bit overwhelmed that we were making my film. Remember your crew are there to help you in their own departments and if you’re a little nervous, remind yourself why you’re making the film.
We in other parts of the world, have had a strong feeling that lockdown measures in Australia were particularly drastic. How do you think those have impacted your generation, whether in terms of mental health, or other (relationships, all types; use of Social Media…)?
Without a doubt the lockdowns were drastic. It was definitely a change that we had to adapt to. I can only speak from my own experiences as it was different for each individual.
Of course, there was an increase in social media use and having to use our online personas more frequently in order to keep in contact with our friends and family. I feel that, since we were in lockdown for quite a while, we had to get really creative with how we interacted. My friends and I would stream movies online and watch together sharing screens. There were even events/concerts I attended virtually as they were streamed online. Although this didn’t live up to the hype of an actual event, I think it’s pretty awesome that people were creative enough to come up with such adaptable ideas, with such little resources. Personally during lockdown, I felt I was able to slow down and be more creative with my writing. I did struggle with my editing, however my friends were able to help me via screen sharing and video calls.
During lockdown/the pandemic, I know many people from my generation had to convert to online learning. Whilst it made things more efficient, it isn’t for everyone. Not everyone wants to learn through a screen, they need real life interaction. It was preferable for some students, however. We were reliant on our phones during the pandemic and there are many electronic tools we still use currently. Online learning still exists, many people work from home, nowadays you go to a restaurant and scan a QR code to order your meal. Even with medical appointments; you can chat with your Doctor via video call and they are able to send you an electronic prescription. Once again, this isn’t for everyone but it is great that there are options.
I feel technology is one of those discourses where there are so many pros and cons to situations, so it’s really difficult to know what is “right” and “wrong”, what’s “normal” and what isn’t. It’s really different for everyone. Some things may work for you but not for others. I think having a variety of options is vital. For example, some people may prefer the QR code thing especially if they get anxious ordering at restaurants, others love that interaction when going out. Not everyone can do everything online. There needs to be a balance between ‘in real life’ and the ‘virtual world’.
Technology is advancing quickly, it’s always changing.This massive virtual shift is complicated. Does anyone actually know what is ‘normal’? I think there’s a lot of confusion because this is all very new to us.
What will your next film be about?
I’m in the process of writing a couple of different things at the moment. I’ve been writing a mini series as well as a feature film. These are very long term projects, however. I hate forcing ideas so I’m going to take all the time I need. I kinda always think in long form, but I definitely want to make some more short films!
I don’t want to give spoilers, but let's just say I’ve been very interested in and reading a lot about the cosmos and the notion of multiple universes. I do like reflecting on the world yet also want to explore things that aren’t necessarily deemed “possible” in this universe. I think that’s the fun of filmmaking; going on adventures and exploring the “what if’s”.
Short statement describing your vision of the post-covid cinema, do you think there will be notable changes?
I think without a doubt the pandemic has had a massive impact on the film industry and arts in general. I believe we will see more experiences and stories reflective from such a drastic period through film. I believe there are many new ideas to ponder on.
The pandemic has also changed the reception context of watching films. More and more people are viewing films from the convenience of their own home or wherever they want.
From my own personal experience from making The_Fishbowl, the pandemic definitely extended the post production process. I didn’t think I would ever complete the film. However, it allowed me to slow down and not rush.