Florida International University
R. Malcolm Jones spent his career directing music videos for the likes of Trina, R. Kelly, Fat Joe and Avril Lavigne. Now he’s crossing over to feature films with The Magic City Movie, a tale of hope and survival set in Liberty City that he wrote.
The movie tells the story of Amiya Castle (Amiya Thomas), a troubled pre-teen who feels abandoned by her mother when she’s left to spend the summer with relatives.
Through Amiya, emerge stories of the ’hood: her infatuation with the neighborhood thug; sisters Nia (Lashalle Jackson) and Tiana (Latrice Jackson) – sisters in real life – and their struggle to survive without turning to welfare; and a young girl’s effort to keep her addict mother alive.
“It’s timeless and timely at the same time with all the problems going on now in the country,” Jones, 35, says. “There is something to be said about how children are raised. Children are the future.”
Born in Jamaica, Jones moved to Fort Lauderdale at age 12 and still calls that city home.
At 19, he was on the way to attend film school at the University of Miami on an academic scholarship when he learned he'd soon be the father of twins.
He managed to juggle both and graduated with a bachelor’s in communication and film, earning a prestigious Eastman Kodak Award along the way for his black-and-white film Shattered.
Film was always his passion but the need to support a family led Jones to music videos. He has directed 140 videos for some of music’s biggest names and his work is a staple on BET and MTV which gave him several Video Music Awards.
But he felt the need for a change.
“You get to the point that it feels like it’s time to move to the next level,” said Jones. “You feel like you are not being challenged enough anymore.”
He co-wrote The Magic City Movie and believes so much in the project that he’s funding it on his own.
“Movies about children, stories about children, they’re always going to make the passion inside of me fire up,” he says.
The transition from music videos to a feature-length film has been relatively smooth.
“My music videos have always been narrative, so the transition has not been too difficult,” he says. “The technical part has not been a challenge.”
But there have been other challenges.
Music videos require only a few 12- to 14-hour days to shoot; now he puts in equally long hours but they continue day after day, often under the hot Miami sun and without the luxury to which he’s accustomed.
“It’s grueling,” Jones says. “We also don’t have the same amenities like in music videos.”
Filming began last spring and continued in the summer, the schedule set to coincide with his child actors’ breaks from school.
He hopes to complete shooting by the end of October and is negotiating for theatrical release next summer.
He hopes the film will give his cast something more than momentary fame.
“My dream,” he says, “is that these kids can use this in the future as a calling card to get into the industry.”