By Rosemary Leger – Managing Editor
The sun shines on the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A collection of creators, scientists, and pilots are running back and forth flying, and crashing, a glider aircraft. It is the year 2003, and this team is shooting “The Wright Challenge,” a documentary about the Wright brothers. One of these men, Richard Beyer, is having his best day at work.
Beyer’s resume is certainly something to appreciate. You’ll find things like “film documentarian,” “broadcast journalist,” “college professor,” and even “wedding extraordinaire.” At Lasell, Beyer teaches Video Production and Broadcast Journalism courses.
His industry experience proves invaluable to his students, who appreciate his knowledge and genuine wit. The title of “professor” is a small and recent acquisition to Beyer’s career of exploration, and desire for truth.
For the past 20 years Beyer has been a documentary filmmaker. Prior to that, he co-owned and creatively directed an ad agency. He has worked in journalism through radio and television, which has led him down a path he had never expected, but entirely enjoys.
While enrolled at Dartmouth College in the 1970s, Beyer worked at the college’s radio station. His grades fell as he spent more time in the station, telling stories and creating, than he did in his classes. It was there that he fell in love with the craft of journalism.
“I loved the rush,” said Beyer. “I love covering stories and knowing things before other people know them, and trying to find a way to tell the story that makes it interesting and beating the opposition.”
Beyer always found immense happiness in writing, editing, and shooting videos. He was also passionate about history, but disregarded it as something he could integrate into his work. That was, until his relationship began with the History Channel, through a project called “Timelab 2000,” a series of videos telling the tales of history by highlighting its quirks and humor.
“I didn’t really have a lot of direction before that. Which might sound weird, if you think about,” said Beyer, on his late, but rewarding venture. “I was 41 in 1997 when I started working with this. And I had done a lot of good stuff, but that was when I started feeling like okay, this is the career, this is what I should be doing and I’m going to try to grab this as much as I can.”
Since then, Beyer has produced a number of films for History Channel, National Geographic, and PBS. He has written books, including, “The Greatest Stories Never Told,” a series of pop history books.
His current, and greatest project is called “The Ghost Army,” and began 11 years ago. The documentary, and now book, details a World War II military unit who used inflatable tanks and falsified sound effects to fool the Germans on the battlefield. The hoax was executed 21 different times during the war, but amazingly, was never widely publicized. “It’s an amazing story of deception,” said Beyer, who raised $300,000 to make the film, which was broadcast nationally on PBS three years ago. Today, it is available in 22 other countries, and on Netflix. “The Ghost Army” is currently being optioned by the producers behind American Sniper, and, yes, Bradley Cooper is paying attention too.
This September, Beyer will be leading a tour throughout Europe, tracing the path of the actual Ghost Army unit. This route passes through England, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany. “[It has been] by far the most rewarding project I’ve ever done, the most amazing in a lot of ways, and it’s just grown and grown and grown,” said Beyer.
Beyer’s success can be attributed to his sense of individuality and passion for the projects that he chooses. Blending history with humor and creativity with honesty has built the career that he can be proud of.
As exciting as his days prove to be, Beyer finds his most peace in the daybreak hours rowing on the Charles River. It is most centering for him, to focus solely on the wildlife, the shores, and on rowing well.
Beyer is happy where he is now, but doesn’t expect the momentum to stop. He hopes to continue teaching at Lasell, as he enjoys the personal process of learning to instruct others in a way that is best for them. “The Ghost Army” has taken a life of its own, and Beyer will continue to work it down the path of its greatest success. There are more books, documentaries, and contributions for him to create, and he looks forward to the adventure.
Beyer recalls what he once said to a colleague who admitted he simply “wasn’t into” history. “Given that history is everything that ever happened, to every soul that ever walked the planet, every triumph and tragedy, and sorrow and joy, and inspiration, of all kind of all humanity, what part of that are you not into?”
“That’s the kind of history that I’m interested in, the kind of history that turns your expectations upside down,” said Beyer. “Sometimes, it’s just finding what you’re looking for. That rush of discovery is just fabulous.”