Filmmaker believes there's magic in his $7,000 video 'Mala Voodoo'

May 26, 1994|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff Writer

Lowry Brooks Jr. never went to film school, but he read books. He'd never acted, but he was pretty sure he knew what worked. He'd never designed a movie poster, but as an architect, he'd done plenty of drawing.

Basically, Mr. Brooks had never done anything that would qualify him to serve as the writer/director/producer/star/promoter of a movie -- except spend hundreds of nights in a darkened movie theater and dream.

The lifelong Baltimorean's first effort, "Mala Voodoo," is an ensemble comedy driven by a young woman's efforts to snare the man she loves and the party she throws to accomplish that end. It's being released to video stores today. And while it shows many of the limitations one would expect, given its makers' lack of experience and shoestring, $7,000 budget, the direct-to-video film has its charms -- not the least of which is its creator's enthusiasm and conviction that this is just his first step on the road to cinematic success.

"I was determined I was going to do everything in this thing, to show those Hollywood people," Mr. Brooks, 34, says from his Woodlawn apartment. "I think this movie, it's going to be a good party film."

Indeed, "Mala Voodoo," named for the main character and the magic she believes will win her heart's desire, will probably work best in a group, where laughter can be contagious. Some of the acting is stilted -- not surprising, since none of the stars had acted before -- the background music rarely relates to the action and a few well-placed sound effects would help immensely.

Funny lines

But the film has wit, more than a few genuinely funny lines (says one character, chided for being fat, "Nobody likes a bone but a dog") and everyone seems to be having a good time. Most of all Mr. Brooks, who plays Charles, the object of Mala's affections, a conceited "ladies' man" who's so blind to her intentions that he brings a date to the party.

The film was shot over three weekends last August inside an Owings Mills apartment.

Mr. Brooks, a graduate of Northwestern High School and Tuskegee University in Alabama, credits his wife, Janet, with convincing him to give moviemaking a try. "I really wanted to do it and she said, 'Go ahead, or you'll go the rest of your life wishing you had done it,' " Mr. Brooks says.

So he did it, abandoning his architecture career, at least temporarily. After reading up on the subject of filmmaking, Mr. Brooks began talking to area professionals. Many of them would refer him to other people, and pretty soon he had assembled a production crew of local talent.

When it came time to find actors, the director called a group of family and friends to what became a giant casting call. He got everyone together in a room, listened to them talk and watched them interact with each other, then tried to find the best fit between actor and role.

Handled the cast

"I was really impressed with Lowry," says Gregory Dorsey, who was cast as "Sponge," an incorrigible operator who's always trying to get money out of whoever's nearby. The actor especially lauded Mr. Brooks' handling of the novice cast. "He got things from people that we didn't know we had in us. If you had it in you, he was going to get it out of you."

So what's next for Mr. Brooks? He says he has one script being considered by executives at Fox and several others either written or on the way. But whatever his future in films brings, he says, it's going to happen right here in Charm City.

"I'd like to shoot everything here," Mr. Brooks says. "Baltimore has a lot of nice scenery shots that have not been explored by Hollywood."

Maybe, he says, it's time for Hollywood to move east. "What's going to happen when California falls in the sea?"

"Mala Voodoo" can be rented at C. Moore Video in Woodlawn, West Coast Video on Baltimore National Pike and Video Land on St. Paul Street.

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