Driving Her Dreams to the Silver Screen

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June 11, 2015

From stockbroker to documentary filmmaker, it’s been a long journey for Washington, D.C., resident and St. Louis native Lisa Hughes. An artistic pursuit was always in Hughes’ heart, but it took years for it to beat strongly.


She’s now in the midst of a passion project: a feature-length documentary on the iconic Airstream trailer and its ardent fans.


There’s no single reason for the intense Airstream following, she explains, because the distinctively shaped aluminum trailers, which date back to the 1930s, represent different things to different people: adventure, independence, Americana.


The documentary will include Airstream enthusiasts,

events and history — “everything, it’s everything,” Hughes says.


Behind the Scenes

More than 10 years ago, after nearly a decade working as a stockbroker, Hughes felt the urge for a change.


So she enrolled in graduate school in film and video at American University in Washington, D.C.


During that time, she and her husband moved to Los Angeles, and she commuted cross-country for summer school classes. The couple later returned to the East Coast, where she finished her degree. In the years that followed, Hughes, her husband (an architect) and some of their friends pursued many ideas, including an architectural TV show and a film about architect Frank Gehry. Although the projects didn’t come to fruition, working on them got Hughes started in the film business.


She later worked on a documentary about Abbott Thayer, a turn-of-the-20th-century artist and naturalist — and the father of camouflage. The Thayer film aired on PBS.

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June 11, 2015

Hughes’ desire to do a project about modern architecture culminated when she joined director Eric Bricker on a documentary about architectural photographer Julius Shulman. “Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman,” released in 2008, was narrated by Dustin Hoffman and received several film festival awards.


Character Study

Hughes and Bricker, wanting to work together again, landed on Airstream as their subject because of its unique design and universal appeal.


“There is a whole younger, hipster set of people who are drawn to Airstream for many reasons,” Hughes says. “They may live in one in a remote location like Yosemite and homeschool their kids.”


Others use the Airstream in inventive ways, such as an accountant’s office, shoe boutique or recording studio. “There are all sorts of different end-users of Airstream. So we’re trying to capture all of that,” Hughes says.

Hughes says it’s important to understand Airstream’s history and the driving force behind it: Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream Inc.


“He had an interest in the outdoors, camping and design,” she says. “He created a really rudimentary version of an Airstream [in 1929], which went on to become the beautiful silver Airstream that we all identify with today.”


There is also a family connection to the project: One of those interviewed for the film is Peter Orthwein, Hughes’ cousin and the co-founder of Thor Industries, Airstream’s parent company.


Documentary production began in summer 2013 with a visit to Airstream’s headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio.


Hughes and Bricker hit the road to interview Airstream aficionados across the country — and to uncover the reasons for their obsession with the trailers. They interviewed a previous head of Airstream, Dicky Riegel, who started the rental company Airstream To Go. 

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June 11, 2015

They also traveled to Kate’s Lazy Desert Airstream Motel, which rents uniquely decorated kitschy trailers in Landers, California, and is owned by Kate Pierson of B-52s band fame. Choices include the Tiki, a trailer decked out in tiki-themed décor; the Hairstream, which boasts a B-52s theme; and the Lava, whose walls and ceilings are covered with orange lava lamp-like ovals. Hughes and Bricker also attended a vintage trailer show during Palm Springs’ Modernism Week. The filmmakers are also considering traveling to Europe to include Belrepayre Airstream Park campground in the French Pyrenees, or to Vienna, where there’s a hotel featuring a 1950s Airstream.


These unique places may be featured in Hughes’ documentary, a project she plans to finish by year’s end.

Film Credits

When asked about her unique goals, Hughes doesn’t hesitate: “The goal for us is to get the film finished and shown, and that’s a hurdle these days,” she says. “You have to finish the film, get a sales agent and then go to various film festivals, get accepted and hope a buyer emerges. Then your sales agent negotiates a decent deal and you get picked up by a distributor for national circulation.”


Distribution and fundraising are such huge challenges, Hughes says, that she decided against trying to raise money and instead worked with Scott Dolan, her U.S. Bank Wealth Management Advisor in St. Louis, to borrow it. “I chose to borrow the money — and they have been very supportive,” she says.


That’s allowed Hughes to pursue a lifelong dream. “I’ve always loved film, and I love visual things,” she explains. “I’m not particularly artistic in terms of painting, drawing, sculpting or anything like that. So the best way for me to be creative is through film.”


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