Ed Birch of Salt Street Productions: “It’s important to show people what you can do within the city’s boundaries”
From wakeboarding in hidden rivers beneath city streets to hurtling down the charred remnants of Sheffield Ski Village, Salt Street Productions are a film company specialising in unexpected locations, talented athletes, and the will to turn imagination into reality.
Their selection of exhilarating short films often filmed in the Steel City has exceeded well over 10 million views, received a whole host of awards, and resulted in their own Channel 4 programme – Britain’s Abandoned Playgrounds. With another series recently launched, this time with BBC Sport, Ellie Nodder spoke to the company’s director Ed Birch.
After studying photography at university, what saw you move into adventure film production?
Halfway through university, I set up my production company and the videos started getting a lot more attention than my photography. I started to enjoy it more, and for my last piece at university I did a film instead of a photograph and had no idea what mark I was going to get. I had no idea if I was even allowed to do film and whether I’d have failed my whole degree because I’d done this. But in the end it got a good mark; I came away with a first-class degree and Salt Street sort of grew out of that.
Is there a consistent message behind what you like to achieve with the films?
I do these things because I think people will enjoy them. My aim is to get mainly kids or young adults out and seeing their environment differently, to get that kid to look at the street outside of his home and think, ‘You know what? I could skateboard down that and have a really good time,’ rather than seeing it in the traditional way of only having to walk on the pavement. I want them to experience the world in a more exciting and interesting way. What I do is look at a location and starting thinking about how it can be interpreted differently, what will excite an 11 or 18 year old who doesn’t know what to do with their summer? Yeah, it can be on an abandoned island and off the coast of Edinburgh but it will still spark an interest in what they can achieve within their own playground or around their house. That’s the aim: just to inspire kids to get out, to try something new and a bit different.
How do you seek out the locations?
I’m constantly looking and searching for interesting locations and I’m always thinking about how I can use sports differently. I just sort of come up with ideas and see how realistic they are, whether they’re too dangerous or if the camera equipment is invented that will make it possible to do! Then they go on the list of potentials in the future – I’ve got a big list of ideas!
A lot of Salt Street’s videos are based in a specifically urban location, giving it a different angle to the majority of adventure sport films. Is this important to you?
If you go on Instagram you’ll see hundreds of photographs of people in places like the Peak District, often getting lovely views with their backs to the sunset, which is great and beautiful and they’re obviously outside. But half of 16-25 year olds all live within city centres and urban environments, so I think it’s important to show people what you can do within the city’s boundaries: find adventure, nature, exciting experiences that you can discover. It’s not all about climbing the tallest mountain – I’m not interested in that, I’m more interested in what the everyday urban kid could be inspired to do.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
We’re always making sporting films, and we go to incredible locations to make it as exciting as possible, so there’s always more viral content to come from us. In terms of what we’re doing in Sheffield at the moment, we’re working on Low Line 2, our wakeboarding film. We’ve been asked by The One Show to remake it so we’re filming down there again on Tuesday. We’ve got a BBC Sports series going out at the moment about sports vs sports, things like motocross vs drone. We’ll have more sporting content aimed at the 16-25 year old bracket, and more Outdoor City content. We want to promote the city, get more people from the local area and the UK to recognise Sheffield as the incredible place that it is, and also encourage the people abroad from Europe to come here and experience it and spend their money here.