A young reporter and his niece discover a beautiful and enchanting creature they believe to be a real mermaid, in the 1930s period tale The Little Mermaid, a live-action film inspired by the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, co-directed by Chris Bouchard and Blake Harris, co-produced by Conglomerate Media, Kingsway Productions (II) and MVP Studios.
Book-ended in the present day, The Little Mermaid gave DP Neil Oseman the opportunity to use Cooke S4/i lenses to their fullest, capturing the look he loves from the fantasy/adventure films of the 1980s and 1990s for The Little Mermaid’s 1930s look.
Outfitted with ARRI Alexa Plus and Alexa Studio digital cameras, Oseman’s lens package consisted of seven lenses in the Cooke S4/i range: 18, 25, 32, 40, 50, 75 and 100mm lenses, with the 32mm seeing the most use.
“Cookes are my ‘go to’ glass for period work. They give you that classy look, and I’ve always been a fan of the 32mm,” said Oseman. “They’re a great length, give nice wide shots with a little perspective compression and good close-ups. Digital can be a bit harsh, so I paired the Cookes with Soft FX filters to take some of the edge off the digital, which gave me a great creaminess to the skin tones. And the way the focus falls off is much more subtle, more filmic.”
In pre-production, a lot of discussion focused on an ocean shore scene: should a set be built, do it green screen, or shoot it for real?
“We decided to shoot the ocean scene for real, with the camera in a splash bag, where the four main characters are in the water at sunrise, going through a five page scene with very emotional dialogue,” explained Oseman. “We shot this scene like a play. For two days, we went from beginning to end, getting five full takes. What made this scene so beautiful was the sun flaring the lens between the characters in frame.”
Oseman also shot some complex and challenging scenes in the circus where the mermaid is exhibited in a freak show. “I had 18K HMIs for big exterior lights with steel blue gels, tungsten as practical lights with Moroccan frost gel and strings of 40 watt bulbs. This gave me a sort of sepia look between the HMIs and the tungstens, with great warmth and colour to the image.”