Young filmmaker Sarah Hamilton makes a splash with her web series ‘LA Mermaids’
By Shanee Edwards | Photos by Maria Martin
Growing up in a sleepy town in Upstate New York, Sarah Hamilton spent snow days obsessing about her favorite Disney film, “The Little Mermaid,” and dreaming about a magical world very different than her own. TV shows like “H20” and Aquamarine,” also about mermaids, played over and over again in the Hamilton home, igniting her imagination about the mythical underwater creatures.
“I was always known as the mermaid girl,” recalls Hamilton. “That was just me.”
So it should come as no surprise that Hamilton, now a film major at Loyola Marymount University living in Playa Vista, has created a show of her own about mermaids. The first five episodes of “LA Mermaids” are currently streaming on YouTube, and Hamilton is casting her nets for a second season.
The show, says Hamilton, “is about the drama and secrets that get uncovered when a group of mermaids come to LA. It’s very fun and lighthearted, but it’s also about human nature and what it means to be human, living in LA, and having dreams and aspirations.”
Conceived by Hamilton and fellow student Joanie Spaulding, they worked together to write the first three episodes. But when Spaulding couldn’t pass up a chance to study in Europe, Hamilton decided to swim ahead without her. That means Hamilton re-wrote, starred in, directed and edited all five episodes on her own all while being a full-time student.
Though mermaids are just fin-tasy, there’s something about being stuck between two worlds that can really resonate. Ariel, the mermaid in the Disney film, is on a journey to find her place — questioning whether she belongs on land with her prince or under the sea with her fish family. Hamilton was surprised to discover just how much she could relate to that odyssey.
“I love the world I grew up in, being home with my family,” she says, “but it was so different from LA life. Since I’ve moved here, I realized I had my own Ariel moment. I have found the other world that I’ve been thinking about for so long. Ariel was always a part of two different worlds, and now that’s my actual lifestyle.”
Though Hamilton has spearheaded the project on a “low to no” budget basis, she’s very grateful to the people and companies that have supported her cinematic voyage. Mermaid Kat, a professional mermaid from Perth, Australia, makes and sells adult-sized mermaid tails.
“I reached out [to Mermaid Kat] and said, ‘I have a show coming up. Is there any way I could have a couple tails to use for the show?’ They responded, ‘Sounds great,’ so I got two tales from them,” says Hamilton.
She thanked both Mermaid Kat Shop and Mermaidful, a monthly subscription service that delivers a box of mermaid-related accouterments, in the show’s credits.
While Southern California is home to numerous mermaid schools (yes, that’s a thing), Hamilton decided to teach herself how to swim in the fabric fish tail in the pool at her apartment complex.
“It’s really fun to be able to swim around in a mermaid tail in the pool at weird hours and have people walk by and say, ‘No way, that’s so cool,’” she says.
But swimming with a mermaid tail is harder than it looks. The tail prevents you from kicking with your legs and changes your center of gravity.
“It’s a core workout that could be a gym in itself! You have to sustain the momentum, figure out the mindset. I find that when I swim normally, it’s mostly upper body movement and with the tail I’m using my lower body,” Hamilton explains.
Maybe we’ll see mermaid swimming classes at The Resort sometime soon?
For Hamilton, helming this project has allowed her to grow as a filmmaker and a person.
“The before, during and after versions of myself are completely different people,” she says as she reflects on the past year, taking inventory of all the knowledge she’s reeled in. “I’ve also learned what my style is creatively. Everyone’s always told me I have a style, but I’ve never seen it. Now I am starting to see that my creative style is very sweet and wholesome, with magical realism.”
Hamilton graduates from LMU this May, but her career as a writer, editor, director and producer hasn’t run its course.
“I hope a lot of people enjoy ‘LA Mermaids.’ Hopefully the audience grows to a point where I can have a second season,” she says. “I’d like to pitch it to different networks and distributors and see if it can grow into something even bigger than what it already is.”