Luton influence for new award-winning short film shining the light on bullying

Director Paul attended Lealands High School

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 11:58 am

A first-time director says his award-winning new film on cyber bullying has been influenced by his time growing up in Luton.

Paul James Houghton, who went to Lealands High School when he lived in Luton, has been overwhelmed by the response his film - From Under the Bridge: When Bullies Become Trolls -has received since making its long-awaited debut in America.

The director, who moved to America in 1992 and now lives and works in California, grew up in Luton and wanted part of his school life included in the film, which is based on the true story of Megan Meier, who took her own life in 2006, three weeks prior to her 14th birthday after a severe cyberbullying attack.

Paul at the 'Dances With Films' event at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, where 'From Under The Bridge: When Bullies Become Trolls' made its World Premiere

The 47-year-old began to develop the short film when his other projects were stopped at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the country went into lockdown.

He said: "As an advocate for the elimination of hatred in the world, and passionate about bullying-awareness and preventing bullying in general, I decided to make the film when COVID hit and we found ourselves with time on our hands.

"I also have two young daughters - London, eight and Hayley, three - who added to the inspiration.

"During filming, I also became close with Megan’s mother, Tina Meier, who founded the anti-bullying and mental health foundation ‘MeganMeierFoundation.org’ after the loss of her daughter.

Paul as Artful Dodger performing in Oliver at Lealands High School

"I visited her in St Louis during post production, and we have become very close. She has asked me to collaborate on her auto-biography, and I am working on that with her now. She is also an inspiration behind the film.

"I wrote the first draft in 2008 after reading the true story of Megan Meier. When COVID hit us all in 2020, I looked back into my script collection and decided to make the film.

"Although there were certainly hurdles to overcome with the pandemic, it was a fabulous experience.

"We received over 2,000 applications to be in or part of the film. And our entire cast is spectacular. Members of the cast, including Piper Reese, Luc Clopton and Sara Wolfkind, have received awards for their performances in the film. I am also working with Chris Cimperman on a new project, who plays a key role in both the story and the associated messaging.

The film poster, which won an award for best poster

"I have to give credit to Connie Jo Sechrist, the producer and our executive producers, especially Lucas A. Ferrara, a top New York Lawyer, who donated a large sum of money to help finance the film."

The film has already won 'Best Short Film' at the Dances with Films festival in LA, where his short movie made its world premiere.

Paul has submitted the film to Luton's Bute Street festival, and a number of other British festivals including Leeds, Manchester and Raindance.

He said: "The film is really getting noticed, and the message is incredibly relevant, powerful and needed. We have just started the film run and to win Best Film at the screening was great.

"Never forgetting my roots, I worked with our Costume Designer, Lorraine Ely, who also lives here in California, and who also lived on my street in Luton.

"A sheer coincidence, but a fabulous one. She definitely helped ensure the vision reflected our British high school roots.

"The attire for the students in the film, including the tie colours and design, is directly based on my high school – Lealands High School.

"I graduated from there in 1990, before going on to Luton Sixth Form College."

Paul plans to go onto direct more films, after making his directorial debut with From Under the Bridge: When Bullies Become Trolls

He added: "The response has been incredible. It is moving everyone who sees it and we are receiving awards, festival selections and outstanding feedback.

"Bullying and cyber bullying continue to rise, while seriously affecting, damaging and destroying lives.

"Bullying has become possible from anywhere in the world, with far more anonymity than ever, while the absence of accountability and responsibility soars. We must all recognise this massive problem and 'be the change'.

"We have got the Awareness Film Festival at the end of October, which attends to a range of global social issues, including mental health, youth and violence.

"That is a really important one for me, because that's what it's all about, raising awareness of mental health and the problems that come with bullying.

"It's important to remember that this film is based on a true story, Megan's story.

"Her mum, Tina, is now a friend of mine, and she has endorsed the film, and we support her foundation.

"Bullying - in all forms - and the impact it has on people, is a really important issue and I hope this film highlights that."