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