Home > Festivals > Q&A with Dan Thorburn, director of Salt Water Town

Q&A with Dan Thorburn, director of Salt Water Town

Sunday 21 November 2021, by Abla Kandalaft

Salt Water Town was part of the British and Yorkshire shorts selection at the Leeds International Film Festival. It stood out for its impressive cinematography, troubling plot and standout performances by Owen Teale and Tom Glynn-Carney.

Liam helps run a failing caravan park in a Welsh coastal town with his father Glenn, who clings to the belief that prosperity will soon return. When an insurance inspector reveals the land they own is worthless as a result of rising sea levels, Liam must convince his father to abandon his lifelong home.

What drove you to tell this story?

The initial idea was sparked by a news article that my co-writer Jack Sherratt read online about the rising sea levels across the Welsh coastline and how parts of the land will be unsalvageable within the coming years. We became transfixed by the thought of finding out that your property and your livelihood were suddenly worthless and what that would do to you, and more importantly, how differently it could affect two characters from different generations. We had also been exploring the ideas of toxic masculinity, with our last film ‘Trucker’s Atlas’ and were really keen to continue that work whilst also highlighting the issues of rural poverty that are still so rife throughout the whole of the UK.

How familiar are you with that part of the world?

It’s a part of the world that I spent a lot of time win as a child. My grandpa has a wee caravan in North Wales and we spent many weekends over there as a family. It’s a place that I look at with great fondness and I think lots of people from Manchester will share these thoughts, so to see these areas struggling now that flights across Europe are so cheap is really painful. I think the landscape of North Wales is especially interesting as it hold such a rich geographical history and really does make you feel as if you’re in another world. I think this comes across beautifully on screen.

Tell us more about the casting process.

We worked with a fantastic casting agent called Sydney Aldridge, but to be honest by the time Sydney had brought me her list I really had my heart set on these fantastic actors. Owen being from Wales himself had an immediate connection with the script and the character of Glenn. I think the way he took what we had on the page and ran with it is really what made his performance so sad and conflicting. Tom also jumped on board really quickly and was happy to work to perfect his Welch accent (which he did a fantastic job of). We suffered with a lack of in person prep and rehearsal due to Covid but I think working in such a remote location allowed the three of us so much time together to play with the characters and I believe that work really comes across on screen.

What were the biggest hurdles in getting the film made?

The location as gorgeous as it was was very unforgiving. We shot over four days of howling wind, rain and sleet and it really is a testament to the hard work that the crew put in that the film exists. We were so exposed on that cliff face that we really did just have to suck it up and power through and I can’t thank the crew enough for putting up with that weather.

What’s your background in filmmaking?

I initially trained in fine art at St Martins in London and wanted to be a painter. However whilst working there I realised that the stories I wanted to tell were more suited to a different medium. So I changed my practise to art film and then very quickly to narrative fiction. I moved back to Manchester and met an amazing group of people who all helped each other step up and create work until I first began working with the British Film Institute in 2019. We made our first short Trucker’s Atlas and then the follow up Salt Water town and through all this the same group of people have stuck together and helped each other along the way.

What’s been the festival journey of the film like? Are there standout moments? What’s been your favourite audience reaction or comment?

The reception has been crazy, I never dreamt we would get a festival run like this. It’s been so much fun travelling around the UK and meeting some other amazing film makers in both the north and the south. Everyone is so supportive and excited to see what comes next. The reception at Raindance from the other filmmakers I shared a Q&A with was incredible as their work was just so fantastic. I am also a big fan of sitting in the back of a cinema and watching an audience turn their heads 90 degrees when the sideways shot of the ocean appears in the 4th scene.

What’s next for the film?

We are just continuing the run, we have just heard back from our first European acceptance so we are just hoping our luck holds out and we can keep showing the film around the world.

What’s next for you as a director?

I have a few projects on the go at the minute. I am directing short in December called ‘The Painter & The Poet’ written by Lucy Heath and Tyler Conti, which I am very excited about. I am also working with Jack on developing Salt Water Town into a feature as part of the BFI’s early development fund, and I am working on a TV pilot as part of Screen Yorkshires FLEX programme. So I am set to have the first busy winter in a while.

Any film recommendations from this year you’d like to share with us?

I will always push northern film makers, so go and watch Liam Whites ‘Punch Drunk’, a very tense and well written, and be sure to find a way to watch Mat John’s ‘Inertia’ for something a little more emotionally taxing.

What best bits of advice would you give other filmmakers starting out?

My advice would just be to keep up momentum. It’s such a slow industry that it’s easy to just rest and wait for things to happen but you need to do the opposite. Keep pushing to make great work, keep hustling and always have something up your sleeve because you never know who you may find yourself sat in a pub next to.

Find out more about Dan’s work on his website.

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