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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Alumni Filmmaker Successfully Crowdfunds Film

Melvin Taylor II ’14 is no stranger to the career grind. From the daily rigors of sports practice at Knox to the persistent efforts of building connections in the film industry, hard work has always been an attribute he wears on his sleeve. As 2023 draws to a close, Taylor's debut film project Baldy has effortlessly surpassed its funding goal, showcasing the fruits of his labor.

As a Knox student, Taylor says he intentionally signed up for as many extracurricular opportunities as possible. He participated in various Prairie Fire teams, held positions on the Honor Board and Student Senate, was a member of A.B.L.E., wrote for The Knox Student, and immersed himself in numerous other pursuits. He emphasizes that overloading his schedule was a deliberate strategy to refine his interests.

“I feel like it all helped prepare me for a career. I wanted to experience the challenge of a difficult schedule and learn how to make it happen,” Taylor explained. 

Post-graduation and a teaching stint at the Galesburg school district, Taylor received a grant that allowed him to travel to New York. He gladly accepted the opportunity and soon landed an internship in the CBS research department. For Taylor, this was a chance to start making connections in the industry and meet people from all corners of the city.

Taylor would eventually return to Chicago and start an ad sales position but quickly realized this wasn’t aligned with his goals. Taking frequent flights to New York, he actively participated in events and established connections with marketing representatives, account executives, and anyone willing to listen. In a short span, Taylor received a job offer that prompted him to pack two duffle bags and relocate to New York without hesitation.

“I believed in myself. I told myself ‘I’m going to make this happen.’ And I just kept going,” Taylor said. 

Now permanently based in New York, Taylor embarked on the journey of learning the essentials of the media industry. He embraced every opportunity to expand his knowledge, ranging from audio to filming and acting. Taylor delved into roles such as a sports reporter and even contributed to podcast production. He admits that he stumbled along the way, but he kept working to improve. 

During the COVID-19 shutdown, Taylor recalled watching a Los Angeles Lakers game when he received a call from a friend who asked if he could help on her film set. Taylor readily agreed, showcasing his skills to the crew, and earning himself a role as assistant director in the movie On Our Way. This marked a significant stride forward, serving as a resume builder that opened many doors.

One of those doors led to Taylor receiving his first lead role in The Fruit It Bears, which debuted on BET Her. During it’s live television debut, Taylor’s family held a watch party. This moment epitomized the purpose behind all his hard work and served as a rare opportunity to slow down and savor his success. 

“Being able to just sit and watch it, soak it in, was a great moment,” Taylor recalled. “This is what the journey was for.” 

Taylor continued to reap the rewards of his hard work, winning multiple acting awards, including best actor, during the film's run. His appearance in The Fruit It Bears propelled his career forward, leading to opportunities such as starring in a Harry’s Razors commercial and featuring in a commercial for Amberjack shoes alongside New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While many opportunities were present, the realization of finally being in a leading role fueled Taylor's ambition to direct his own short film.

Baldy, born out of Taylor's personal experience with hair loss, revolves around a character portrayed by Taylor navigating this challenging phase of life. The film aims to shed light on the genuine impact of hair loss, including the moments of depression and reclusiveness that many men experience. Taylor will serve as the writer, executive producer, and lead actor for the film.

Taylor set aside a number of roles and production jobs for acting peers he has met along his journey. Recognizing the transformative power of a simple opportunity for those breaking into the industry, Taylor, now in a position to create films, aims to provide these opportunities to those in need.

“It’s validating, because I’ve seen how many people it takes for a production,” Taylor said. “Being able to supply that chance is a great feeling. This film will create a moment to supply many people with an opportunity to live off this career path.”

Reflecting on the path that led him to this moment, Taylor attributes his resilience to his time at Knox. He recognizes the moments of self-discovery that his time in Galesburg gave him, and is appreciative of the support around him during the most critical part of his development. 

“Knox helped shape me into who I am today,” Taylor said. “I learned to foster a community that supported me the entire way. I wouldn’t be where I am today without those experiences.” 

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Printed on Saturday, February 24, 2024