A Frankenmuth, Mich., filmmaker who visited the Worcester Public Library a few years ago and saw a statue of Major Taylor is now making a film about Mr. Taylor’s life.
I had never heard of Frankenmuth, or Major Taylor. But after a May 30 interview with Rodney Merten, the filmmaker, I have learned more about both, as well as more about Mr. Merten.
Frankenmuth, about 100 miles north of Detroit, describes itself as “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.” Mr. Merten was born there and earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and a master’s degree in adult education from Michigan State University.
Mr. Merten, a self-described “rambling man,” spent much of his career going “from job to job every couple of years — mostly in education or social services, with stops in Alabama and Florida — and riding my motorcycle about 5,000 miles a year to see America.”
He settled down a bit after his son, Ryan, was born in 1983. He spent 15 years as a family therapist and social worker and taught anger management at Saginaw County Jail.
A few years ago, he got the desire to make movies. Through his CinemaStar Productions, Mr. Merten said, he “comes up with the idea, writes the script, shoots, edits and distributes the film.”
A song about a Christmas truce in World War I inspired his first script in 2007.
Mr. Merten wrote other scripts that he described as “day afters.” One was a sequel for the movie, “The Music Man,” describing what happened to Harold Hill after the con man fell into local librarian Marian’s arms. Another told the story of “It’s A Wonderful Life” character George Bailey, and what he did the day after he got the $25,000 to save the Building and Loan.
One day Mr. Merten was visiting Ryan, who had moved to Worcester to be with his wife, a Clark University graduate. Mr. Merten walked to the Worcester Public Library, but it was closed. Mr. Merten then walked around the back of the library and saw a statue of Major Taylor. After reading the information on the statue’s plaque, Mr. Merten thought to himself, “Taylor deserves to be known.”
Major Taylor was the 1899 world cycling champion and adopted Worcester as his hometown. In May 2008, Worcester dedicated its first monument to an African-American — a statue called “Worcester Whirlwind” created by Antonio Tobias Mendez. The dedication ceremony five years ago featured three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and three-time Olympic medalist Edwin Moses.
As Mr. Merten explained, “We started the movie — “The Major and the Private” — with a flashback from Chicago, where Mr. Taylor died penniless.”
He plans to shoot some of the movie in Worcester, perhaps with a scene at the house in which Mr. Taylor lived.
“POX,” the movie about World War I’s 1914 Christmas truce, is slated for a 2014 release to coincide with its 100-year anniversary. Mr. Merten is seeking investors for the self-financed movie. “We self-financed the $70,000 it cost to produce the movie. It’s being edited now and should be ready by August. I’m going to Europe in September to raise interest in the movie, and hope to release it by Christmas 2014.”
He’s also seeking investors for “The Major and the Private.”
Thanks to tax code Section 181, he said, an individual in the 35 percent tax bracket who invests $10,000 in the film would get back $3,500 from Massachusetts and $3,500 from Michigan.
Credits Peter Cohan WALL & MAIN
– After debuting his new movie “Torn” at Bay City’s State Theatre, filmmaker Danzell Calhoun is bringing it home.
The tale of a young African American man finding out there’s more to life than what he sees happening around him plays at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at Saginaw 12, 3250 Kabobel. Admission costs $10.
“I fell into a lot of traps when I was growing up,” Calhoun said when he held auditions at the Operation Reach offices in downtown Saginaw in 2011. “I’ve had my incidents of ignorance … I want to prevent others from going through what I did to get here.”
The next stop on its journey, Calhoun said, is a theater run in Canada, with final details still in the works.
“The whole thing has been surreal; the State Theatre was close to packed,” he said of the Dec. 1 premiere in Bay City. “It was an event.”
His own harshest critic, Calhoun said he saw a few things he could have done better, and he’ll soon prove it in upcoming projects now in production.
“But I liked what I saw. It’s a good story with a strong message. It turned out well.”
TORN, written, directed and produced by Saginaw native Danzell Calhoun is a film that explores the gritty side of life through the eyes of Meshach Johnson, a young man who is forced to find his identity while wandering the perilous streets of a withering city. TORN between the dead end life he has always known and the abundant life God has promised him, Johnson’s endless struggle to find his “true self” takes him on a path that could very well bring about his demise.
This film was filmed entirely on location in Saginaw, Bay City, and Port Austin , MI.