Posted on 21st August 2023

Award-winning Salt Water Town addresses climate change on and off screen

Salt Water Town is a short film which explores toxic masculinity and rural poverty, set against a subtle but threatening backdrop of rising sea levels. The filmmaking team made careful budget decisions and creative choices, based on trying to be as responsible as they could to reduce the film's environmental impact. Find out how in this case study,

We sat down with the creative team, Sarah Palmer (Producer), Dan Thorburn (Writer/Director) and Jack Sheratt (Writer) behind award winning short film, Salt Water Town, to discuss the efforts taken by the production to reduce its environmental impact.

Supported by Film Hub North through the BFI NETWORK Short Film Fund, it tells the story of a father and son in dramatic conflict over the future of their failing caravan park in a coastal town. The film was shot during the COVID pandemic.

Reducing production impact

The short film format grants plenty of opportunity to reduce a production’s carbon footprint, as they’re usually made by a small crew and need to keep budget to a bare minimum. In many cases, the crew on a short is made up of people who already know each other. Salt Water Town had about 16 cast and crew in total, plus around 6 supporting artists.

Working with a small crew means greater control over what people do, which helps when considering environmental impact. The production achieved a lot on a small budget, for example, the crew often carpooled and lived at the location where the shoot took place. Although it was a happy accident that we could stay on site, it was in mind to find a location close to accommodation for environmental and logistical reasons.

Having a small crew all based at the shoot location also means Heads of Department are easily accessible at all times, ensuring they feed back to their crew about not being wasteful with materials they’re using.

The production couldn’t afford a generator, so when seeking alternatives, they went with LED sky panels and natural light. The production did need to use polys (polystyrene sheets), which were kept for re-use instead of being ripped up and binned.

Production design and circularity

Jennifer Muellenbach, Production Designer on Salt Water Town had to take a circular economy approach when creating the interior of the cottage, which began as a blank room.

She used charity shops and clearances to find materials, for example; she salvaged a carpet and a fireplace from an old house. As soon as the shoot was finished, Jennifer posted the items on Facebook Marketplace and people local to the shoot location came and collected them. By the end of the shoot, there was nothing going to landfill – it was either sold, given away or recycled!

“Jen did such an unbelievable job – it was just her as well, a department of one! It had to be timed really well to get everything sold or passed on before we wrapped and moved out.”

– Sarah Palmer, Producer

It was a bit mad - people turning up on set to buy second hand tables, then we could put that money back into the budget. It was a production design budget that got spent then recouped!

— Dan Thorburn, Writer/Director


All the catering was done in house and nobody external had to come to the production base or filming locations. Members of the crew were cooking in rotation throughout the shoot.

This hadn’t originally been the plan as the team had been offered catering (for free!) by production company View Shift but COVID meant the volunteer cooks couldn’t get to set. At the last minute, one meal a day was allocated to different crew members to cook (with mixed results).

“Our DIT (Dom Old) hated it! I wouldn’t have chosen to do that in other circumstances – not one I’m recommending. The alternative would have been to find a local person to come in or someone else to come with us, but in that situation – with COVID, with us sharing accommodation and with the location being pretty far from anywhere – there wasn’t really another affordable safe option. But it did contribute to lowering our impact.”

– Sarah Palmer, Producer

Some people might look at such a small budget and think that there's not enough to spend extra time or measures to do things that are beneficial to the environment. But you can use the low budget to your advantage to do these things. It really doesn't take a lot to have separate bins for recycling or arrange for people to share transport. You've got to look for opportunities, like selling materials back and reusing things. Looking at some big feature films now, the sets they build and the things they have custom-made, I really hope that they will go to the effort to donate, auction, or sell things off responsibly, because it can be a huge and often niche set of materials to end up with. It shouldn't be viewed as a budget burden. With short films, just out of necessity we often have to sell things on or re-use things.

— Sarah Palmer, Producer

How climate change was implemented into the story

When it came to the story itself, the team was keen to tell a story that spoke to environmental issues but wasn’t too on-the-nose. In Salt Water Town, the environmental issue of rising sea levels sits in the background, and its presence is always felt. The story at its core is a generational one about the clash between a father and son, and it’s the rising sea levels that spark the conflict in the story.

The rising sea levels make their presence felt in a variety of ways, in the edit and the sound design. Alex Gregson (Sound Designer) made sure that the sound of the ocean was always in the mix, looming and getting closer. At certain points of the story it gets louder, such as when the focus is on Owen Teale’s character Glenn (the father) who isn’t convinced the rising sea levels are actually a danger to the town, nor that climate change is happening. As the story progresses, Glenn starts to realise that humans can’t fight back against the ocean, and by extension, nature.

There's a scene on the beach where Glenn (Owen Teale) kicks the wall that's slipping into the sea, and it always feels really poignant to me. There he is, this big strong six-foot three bloke who's gone through life being able to solve any problem he's had and this is the one thing he can't solve - climate change

— Dan Thorburn, Writer/Director

The short creates drama from something that is inevitable. Jack Sherratt (Writer), found a news article a Welsh town called Fairbourne that was having issues due to the rising sea levels to the extent that sea defences can no longer be funded. As a result people’s homes and businesses have been destroyed without any recourse. Dan and Jack, from reading the article and having spent time in Wales on caravan sites as children, agreed that it was a really important story to tell – or at least an important element to sit within a story they wanted to tell.

“The development of the characters and story were based on conversations I’ve had with my own father and other people I know, and older people who can’t see or understand the situation because it’s not on their doorstep. So that kept us in check, without being preachy. I’ve been in activist groups where I was one of the only people from a working-class background. That wasn’t a problem, but I’d go back home and encounter issues of stereotyping – like “tofu-eating, woke people” – that don’t help in the real world. We’re all being affected, whoever we are. We’re very fortunate in the west, even as working-class, but in places like the global south they are already suffering from the effects of the climate crisis. Ultimately, we live in a very unequal world, and it is going to affect the poorest first. I wanted to get that across, even in regard of this country.”

-Jack Sherratt (Writer)

Find out more about Salt Water Town over at IMDB.

The film can be watched over at the View Shift Productions website.

This case study was undertaken with the support of the BFI, awarding funds from the National Lottery, as part of the Sustainable Screen Fund to support all BFI National Lottery awardees in building environmental understanding and action on positive environmental change. Find out more about our partnership with the BFI here.