top of page

Spotlight: An interview with Erin Mackellin ("the_fishbowl")

Erin Mackellin is the visionary writer and director behind "the_fishbowl," a compelling exploration of the intersection between social media and identity. In our conversation with Mackellin, we delve into her journey as a filmmaker, tracing her passion for storytelling from childhood inspirations to her current cinematic endeavors. Drawing from a diverse array of influences and experiences, Mackellin's creative vision shines through in her work, blending poignant narratives with visually striking imagery. Join us as we unravel the layers of Mackellin's artistic process and discover the driving force behind her captivating storytelling.

Before we chat about the_fishbowl, we'd love to learn a bit more about you! How did a Kodak Easyshare spark your interest in film and what makes you passionate about storytelling today?

I’ve always had a love for filmmaking from when I was younger. When I was maybe 6 or so, I had a digital camera where I filmed myself doing random stuff like Karate. I was really obsessed with the Spy Kids franchise; so I was really inspired to make my own little version of the film. I would film single takes that lasted 30 minutes of me pretending to be a spy, haha. I have to try and find the footage somewhere! I grew up loving to edit too.  Sometimes I try to think of those times where the filmmaking process was much more carefree and simple; I had a lot of energy and passion, so I try to use those memories as fuel which inspires me with my current work. 

Who are some of your favorite filmmakers, and what do you like about their work?

This is such a hard question, haha. I love so many filmmakers. 

I really love Wes Anderson. I absolutely adore his visual style, however I am mostly intrigued by his characters, ensemble casts and his stories. I first fell in love with his film, Moonrise Kingdom; it’s one of my comfort movies.                                                                                                                                      I’m a big fan of coming of age films, especially ones from the 80s, so there’s plenty of filmmakers from then I look up to; Steven Speilberg, John Hughes, Rob Reiner, Walter Murch, just to name a few. 

At the moment I’ve been really loving Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s work. The worlds they build are extraordinary, and they’re such beautiful storytellers. I really draw inspiration from their work. 

Where do you usually draw inspiration from?

As well as other filmmakers, I draw inspiration from everyday scenarios. Sometimes it’s the little things that don’t seem significant that can give me the lightbulb moment. Small, insignificant things are most magical to me. Even better when they seem too good to be true. I have a journal where I jot down random ideas and specific journals for each project that I write. Sometimes I listen to music whilst walking and get soundtrack ideas as well as the feel and mood for characters. 

Alongside your work as a writer and a director, you sometimes assist in the Art Department for film productions. Can you explain your role, and what are some of your takeaways from working on sets? 

I’ve been working in the Art Department for a few years now. I’ve worked as a Production designer, Set Dresser and Art Assistant on a variety of mediums. Whilst at film school, I noticed that there was little focus on the Art Direction in comparison to the other film elements. I have also had a love for props, costuming and sets; mostly during my later years in high school where I started making my own designs. Being in the Art Department has helped  me be a better writer and director.

As a Production Designer, I work with the Director and Director of Photography to bring the vision to life. There’s lots of planning in Pre-Production to determine style, tone, colour palettes, and prop sourcing. The thing with the Art Department is that in each project there is always something new to learn, as well as new challenges. It’s like “okay this is what we need to do, how are we going to achieve this?” I think it’s great that it allows me to be creative in a logical sense too. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I gain more and more experience after each project. 

How do you feel about the film industry in Melbourne, Australia, and do you see yourself moving to Los Angeles at some point? 

I love working in Melbourne, there’s a vast range of mediums to work on. I’m still slowly starting off as a professional filmmaker so it will take its time to get completely comfortable. Down the track I would love to do some more travelling overseas for work. I’m not sure where I’ll end up but that’s what excites me the most; all the possibilities.I would love to come back to LA to work in the industry. There’s so many cool locations too! 

Now let's dive into your creative journey with the_fishbowl. The film opens with a close-up of Finn posing for his cell phone camera. Thanks to clever camera movement, the viewers discover more details about the character, especially his obsessive occupation with photography, which includes lighting equipment that he probably takes everywhere.

Before we start talking about the story that is so relevant to the "Instagram generation", could you tell us about the process of building the character? What made you want to tell Finn's story?

The inspiration from that scene started when we were shooting a small music video in the same area. We saw this interesting building that looked quite European. So my friend took a photo of it and put it on his story with a ‘Paris’ location stamp. All of a sudden, he got messages from his friends being like, “omg so jealous!”. That’s the power of social media, haha. The opening shot took maybe 15 takes. We had to make it look seamless; from Finn breaking the fourth wall (the phone screen), to the revelation of ‘reality’. It took a while but we got there in the end. 

I wanted to share the story through the lens of an influencer, Finn, to compare his boisterous online life to his awkward real life nature. Sometimes we often compare ourselves to these online ‘celebrities’, when in reality they’re just everyday people.

If we have already praised the photography, then tell us about the process of working with the director of photography, Tristan McDougall.

Tristan and I have worked together on a few projects now, we work really well together. He listens to my vision as well as inputting his own ideas. It really helps when your DOP is as passionate about the story as you are. I knew there were certain shots that I really wanted as I wrote the script around them. Such as the opening shot, the connect four shot, shots through frames, the last shot to bookend with the opening shot. We both really wanted to keep it simple; having minimal shots. We shot 9:16 for the opening shot and the rest of the film 14:9. Tristan is a great cinematographer and I am excited to work with him again!

In Finn's world, and to a large extent in our world as well, people are valued by the amount of followers they have. This is very noticeable in the way he presents himself, and also in the way other characters perceive him. We had to look you up on social media (we're not stalkers, we promise!), and we found out that you're pretty far removed from all this madness. What do you think about it? Haha! I am for sure not a social media influencer. However, this story also stemmed from my own experience with social media. More so I feel I connect with the character Zoey. Often I felt I had to have my photos match a certain colour palette or vibe. I over analyse things way too much in that world. Slowly I’m starting to care less about social media image; it’s hard though because that’s how everyone keeps up to date with you. 

It was actually super interesting when pitching the film how so many people connected to it, this also goes for the cast and crew. I think this social media dilemma is quite universal, so whilst creating the film it was cathartic and in the end I kinda learnt how silly it really is. We only get a glimpse of a person’s life, not the whole thing.  

Finn doesn't need to be told he's addicted to social media and the attention he gets there. He knows this without having to reach some sort of breaking point. During the writing of the script, was there a thought to include such scenes that led him to decide to go to rehab? Also, what obstacles and challenges did you face in the writing process? I think Finn has sort of 2 personas; the one he shares online and the real one where he feels he’s lost and needs validation.  However it’s more complicated when these 2 personas collide: are we really the same person as who we are online? We show that Finn sits in his dark room alone checking the stats of his latest post. He comes across an ad for a social media rehab, ‘Re App Rehabilitation.’ So we can imply from the algorithm that he has recently searched something along the lines of, ‘how to cure a phone addiction’. 

There were challenges writing this story as I initially had this as a feature film idea, or a very long short. I had scenes where the characters went hiking and did orienteering in the forest. But it got a bit too messy and complicated- for this short film at least. So I think the main challenge was condensing what I could. I have been told that I write a lot, especially long short films, so I definitely needed to simplify it. 

Zoey is the only one who can admit that everything is fake in their reality and that people who post how happy they are, are often the saddest ones. In fact, she puts a mirror in front of Finn’s face. What does Zoey represent, to you? Does she symbolize the sanity in the rehab center?

I feel Zoey has great empathy as she is an ‘observer’. She obviously wants to help Finn, or is intrigued by him at the least. However, towards the end of the film she subtly confronts him on who he is - fake. 

I had people ask me if she followed Finn on social media, which I will leave ambiguous. But I kinda like the idea that she confronts someone in person, who seems so big online. Like this is her time to be the bigger, wiser person. I definitely feel Zoey has learnt to let go of her social media issues and decides to leave the rehab. She’s met these influencers in real life and realises they’re just your everyday person. I feel that’s why she gravitates to Finn, she can understand his loneliness despite their different backgrounds. 

What was it like working with the actors, especially with Ryan Hance who plays the lead role of Finn, and Lucinda Keating who plays Zoey?

I absolutely adored working with Ryan. He really brought Finn to life and was so passionate about the project. He inputted his own ideas and was like “I feel we could try it this way, this feels more natural”. He was lovely to work with, without him the film wouldn’t be what it is. I’m really grateful for Ryan, I have learnt so much as a director from working with him. From the get-go, Lucinda was Zoey. In the audition she just really fitted the role and was exactly what I envisioned whilst writing. She was great to work with.

Some of the other actors were my film school friends; the actors who played Yung Servo and Jack. So it was a nice mix of having actors and non actors. My favourite day was when we shot both cafeteria scenes. It just has a nice energy to it, most of the cast and crew were there and we felt like one big family. It was a great shoot and I loved working with everyone. 

What were your highlights from working with composer Nick Rinaldi?  

I met Nick through a film school friend and reached out to him for help. Because of covid, I was really struggling to get the film done. I edited it myself, but I couldn’t get the music right.  I didn’t wanna use royalty free music, I wanted an original score/soundtrack. Nick was so great to work with. I sent him some references, because I’m terrible at describing music, haha; this is why you need a musician on board.  He got drafts done pretty quickly and I was amazed at what he came up with, especially our theme song, ‘11.2k’.  Nick and I have worked on a few projects together now and love collaborating with him. 

What are you most proud of, when it comes to your work? Alternatively, what would you like people to know about your work? 

I feel I’m still discovering my style. What I love with film is that you can try different concepts each time. I feel I want my stories to be relatable, I want people to go to them if they feel lonely and sad. When I was younger, I often looked to films and characters in times of need. Personally, I just love world building. It’s funny because I am such an introverted person, but I love building worlds with heaps of characters. They’re the sorts of films I watched growing up.

What's next for the_fishbowl, is it still in the festival circuit or do you have any distribution plans yet?

We have just finished the festival circuit, ending with a screening at Melbourne & Sydney Lift -off Film Festival. It is now available to watch online on Youtube and Vimeo. I will place the link below. 

What are you currently working on, and what is your dream project? 

I am currently Production Designing a couple of films, including a feature. It’s super fun and exciting to start the year like this. Outside of writing and directing, I freelance in the Art Department.

I am also writing my next short film, hopefully it can kick off later this year or whenever I feel ready. I have long term projects that I would love to make in long form (a feature and a mini series). I’m just taking my time and really enjoying creating. It’s nice to take my time with writing, and the puzzle pieces will fit when they do. 

Is there anything you'd like to add, or someone you wish to thank?

I would love to thank my cast and crew for bringing this film to life, my family for supporting and believing in me, and my film teachers for their support throughout my career. I would like to thank the Los Angeles Film Awards for interviewing me and selecting my film as the winner for, ‘Best Original Story’. It’s been a great opportunity to reflect on the film and myself as a filmmaker. 

Where can our readers follow more of your work?

You can find my work at my website: 

Watch the_fishbowl

In February 2023, the_fishbowl won Best Original Story at LAFA.


Recent Posts





Winners may order the official

LAFA statuette

bottom of page