Interview with Rick Beyer, Director of Salem Film Fest 2013′s opening film THE GHOST ARMY
Nearly seventy years ago, a group of artists and soldiers stood on the front lines of World War II with only their wits and talents as weapons. The men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were painters, advertisers, fashion designers, photographers, and soldiers who were called upon to become masters of deception as Allied forces prepared to invade Europe. By making an entire air base disappear invisible to fooling German forces into believing a group of 1000 men were nearly 30 times the size, the tight-knit group soon earned the nickname THE GHOST ARMY.
Rick Beyer, a local filmmaker and author, first learned about the men of the 23rd almost a decade ago. Since then, he has scoured books, spoken with surviving veterans, and examined numerous works of art based on the artist’s experiences in the 23rd, compiling information to bring their story to the big screen.
As Beyer prepares for THE GHOST ARMY’s world premiere as the opening film of Salem Film Fest 2013, we took a moment to find out more about his own experiences learning about this fantastic piece of history and making THE GHOST ARMY.
Salem Film Fest: How did you first learn about the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, aka The Ghost Army?
Rick Beyer: I first learned about The Ghost Army eight years ago when a mutual friend introduced me to Martha Gavin, a woman from Beverly whose uncle was in the unit. Martha was passionate in her belief that this little known story needed to be told in a documentary. Her enthusiasm was the spark that started the whole project.
SFF: What originally attracted you to their story?
RB: I have always loved quirky history stories, the strange, “can you believe it?” stuff. In fact, I’ve written an entire book series, The Greatest Stories Never Told, that focuses on just those types of stories. The idea that there were American soldiers in World War II going into battle with inflatable tanks and sound effects records was so bizarre, so contrary to every image from every war movie I’ve ever seen, that it immediately attracted my attention.
On top of that was the fact that many of the soldiers in the unit were artists, who used their spare time to paint and sketch what they saw on the battlefield. In fact, the first time I met Martha Gavin, at a Starbucks in Lexington, she was carrying an armload of three-ring binders filled with uncle’s wartime artworks. I was captivated with the way they presented such a unique and intimate perspective of the war. And that’s how I got hooked.
SFF: As both a best-selling writer and award-winning documentary filmmaker, you are comfortable telling interesting stories across multiple mediums. Did you know immediately that you wanted to make a film about The Ghost Army and, if so, why?
RB: It wasn’t exactly a Eureka! moment, it was more of a gradual thing. Several authors had written about the unit, but the story had never been told in film, and the more I learned, the more interested I became in telling it. After I met some of the soldiers, and saw what great storytellers they were, I felt even more strongly that there was the makings of a good film here. My commitment to the project has grown with time, to the point that it is now become a quest to make sure this story and these men are not forgotten.
View THE GHOST ARMY Trailer:
THE GHOST ARMY is the official opening film of Salem Film Fest 2013, premiering Thursday, March 7th at the Peabody Essex Museum. To learn more about the film and purchase tickets to its world premiere, visit their Schedule page.
by Brian Lepire