The 5th grader with stars in her eyes

Seal Beach resident London Houghton's debut film tells the story of children dealing with divorce.

The 5th grader with stars in her eyes
5th grader London Houghton and her father, filmmaker Paul James, film Breaking Plans at McGaugh Elementary School. Photo by Sarah Anarna.

London Houghton has memories of being very young and being on a movie set, looking over her filmmaker father’s shoulder, into a lens, watching him make things in a camera.

“I was on one of his sets in England with him,” London recalled in an interview. “And I think I was, like six, at the time when he was shooting From Under the Bridge. And I just thought, it was really inspiring and cool how you could make this story on a piece of paper come to life,” said the bright-eyed fifth grader who attends J.H. McGaugh Elementary School in Seal Beach.

London is the eldest daughter of Paul James, the founder of Dreamotion Studios in Seal Beach, and Caitlin Houghton, M.D., a surgeon, also of Seal Beach.

“When she was on set with us in London, she just hung out there all day,” said James. "London was literally there by the monitor all day when we did a police station scene in England. She was just like, hanging out with the script supervisors, the crew, always asking questions,” he said.

James, originally from England, made a name for himself in scriptwriting, grabbing Hollywood’s attention when he sold his first screenplay in 2006. Today he's a Creative Producer at Warner Bros. and the owner of Dreamotion Studios.

James has worked with several major studios on projects, completing the award-winning short film From Under the Bridge in 2021.

London has literally walked in her father’s footsteps and she is already preparing to step into her own, with stars in her eyes and a determination to make her own movie magic.

According to James, “[London] came to me with a stack of papers one day with a story on it. She said it had a story on it and she wanted to make a movie,” he shrugs as he remembers the moment.

“You know, of course, I was both incredibly surprised and proud of course. I mean it’s perfect. It’s just, it’s her. It’s in her already. It’s like, you know, there’s a chip off the old block, as they say,” said James.

James said he showed his daughter how to use a scriptwriting software program on the computer and told her, “If you finish it, we will make the movie.”

She did.

Breaking Plans taps into London's personal story

London's short film, Breaking Plans, deals with the emotions of children affected by divorce.

“Well, my parents got divorced and I wanted to show how I felt about that, but I didn’t want to write it in a journal and so I thought that maybe writing a story would be fun,” said London.

“And then it is also based on like, friendships that I’ve had and my family. When I was writing the story, I thought that it would be fun to make it into a movie and create that story on a screen,” she said.

A poster for London's film Breaking Plans.

Although London’s screenplay is based on how she and her sister Hayley, 5, dealt with the divorce of their parents, she changed the character to an older brother for the film. It just works better, said London, who envisioned and wrote the entire 15-minute film. She also stars in Breaking Plans and plays the role of "Emma."

Without giving the plot completely away, London’s film points out how she and her friends got suspicious of a family member when a school assignment goes awry, thus the title Breaking Plans. But in the end we find out that the character had missed the assignment to counsel her brother about their parents’ divorce.

“I don’t really have a brother,” London sheepishly acknowledged. 

“It ends with me apologizing to my friend for mistaking her and I like misread her actions, and I thought one thing was another,” said London. “I’ve told people what I did wrong, and it ends with a lot of people saying I’m sorry and hugging each other,” she added.

“I want to let people know that, just like friendships, divorce can be hard but everyone kind of goes through it together and, like, we’re all in it together and they’re not alone,” the young filmmaker said.

To make the film, funding would have to come from somewhere to tell London's story about family amid divorce, “and the importance of friends.”

Her dad introduced her to the Seed & Spark website, a place where filmmakers raise funding for films.

London made her own YouTube appeal for the site, filled out an application and created such a compelling offering for support that even Emily Best, the founder of Seed & Spark, contributed. London raised her entire budget, nearly $6,500.

London's fundraising appeal on Seed & Spark for her film Breaking Plans.

For London, making the film is just another of life’s lessons.

“I learned that it takes a lot more work than I thought it would, and there’s a lot more responsibility and it’s fun. A lot of great things can happen because the interviews and the campaign made a lot of money which is really cool,” said London.

“And like, everyone’s like supporting me, and it makes me feel really good how they’re all supporting me,” the young filmmaker said.

Baylee Corona, who started at Dreamotion as a Chapman University intern, is one of the producers of London’s film, along with Ella Greenwood and Maya Bartley O’Dea. Greenwood and O’Dea have formed Broken Flames production company.

Working with her producers, London said she finalized the script, began casting the other parts and began scouting shooting locations around Seal Beach.

Paul James and his daughter London Houghton during the filming of Breaking Plans at McKenna's Tea Cottage in Seal Beach. Photo by Sarah Anarna.

For instance, McKenna’s Tea Cottage on Main Street became an ice cream shop. Producers also worked with officials at London's school where they managed to work things out so London could shoot school scenes in her classroom.

“One of my best friends is in the movie, and she goes to my school. And, my friends, they were very supportive,” said London. “And they thought it was really cool how I was actually making this movie and we told them about it. Some of them were actually extras in the school scene. And that was really cool,” she added.

According to London’s dad, who has himself shot movies around Seal Beach, the entire community stepped in to help London make the film.

Seal Beach City Council Member Joe Kalmick and Seal Beach City Manager Jill R. Ingram were a huge help in making this film happen, alongside the principal of McGaugh Elementary, Wendy Wood, and Megan Alexander of McKenna’s Tea Cottage.

“The whole community has pulled together to make this happen,” said James. “This is a very supportive community, We have great supporters of creative arts in this town,” he added.

James said his daughter’s film is now in post-production, meaning the film has been shot and all of the scenes are now being edited and should be complete and prepared for release in 2024.

“I really do think it’s a powerful story,” her father said, “I think having stories that are focused on kids is a really good thing.”

While it’s just another day in fifth grade for London, she is likely beginning to  dream of what’s in the stars for her future. She's already planning to enter Breaking Plans into student film festivals and other student competitions around the world.

For now, at a very early age, her film has a message for us all.

“Even though life is hard, everyone works together to get through it. You’re not alone because we have other people to let us know it’s okay,” said London.

Yes, she is in the fifth grade.

That's a wrap.

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