The Denim Trilogy - The Girls at the Painted Bird

Minneapolis, Minnesota | Film Short

Comedy, Western

Lisa Channer

1 Campaigns | Minnesota, United States

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This campaign raised $7,250 for production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

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The Denim Trilogy of Feminist Western shorts proposes a new frontier; one where cowboys hug it out, female business owners finish first, and outlaws aren't afraid to cry. We've completed two films in the trilogy, and with your support, will shoot the third "Girls at the Painted Bird" this summer.

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

Mission Statement

The Gold Rush was a violent turning point in our country's self-image. America solidified our love affair with guns, freedom and rugged masculinity. Our Denim Trilogy of films offers a new mythology of the American West: not as it was, but as it might have been. With women in charge.

The Story

"The Girls at the Painted Bird", is a 15 minute short that focuses on a group of “fallen women” in an Old West brothel. It follows the new girl Kitty as she learns the ropes from owner Pearl about their particular "house specialty"... providing discreet talk therapy to lonely miners.

Kitty soon discovers the true get rich quick scheme of the Gold Rush - charging men for emotional labor. "Girls at the Painted Bird" is part three of The Denim Trilogy

And just remember the truth. This is really our gold rush. We’re the miners. They’re the gold.”

– Pearl, Girls at the Painted Bird by Savannah Reich

So, why is it called The DENIM Trilogy? Read on!

Since 2018, Lisa and Savannah have been exploring the idea of denim. Blue jeans are the classic American costume, and the embodiment of the myths that our culture would like to believe about itself — the myths of success through hard work, the individual above all, a hardened brand of masculinity, and a classless society where anyone can wear a pair of Levi's.



Through our research, we encountered the birthplace of many of those myths: the California Gold Rush. This era was already a kind of myth, even as it was happening; magazine writers worked hard to advertise the adventure of going West to search for gold. Many of the miners were rich young men from New York and Philadelphia, who believed that a year or two on the frontier would make them into "real men." Boom towns out West soon functioned as masculinity-themed amusement parks, much like the imaginary theme park in HBO's "Westworld".



Many of the young men who came out West to seek their fortunes ended up finding very little gold. The ones who really made their fortunes were the owners of the brothels, hotels, and general stores who made money off the travelers. The owners of these businesses included women, free Black Americans, Jews like Levi Strauss, and immigrants from China, Russia, and other countries. It was a time of both boundless possibility and incredible violence, as Native communities were pushed out of their homelands to make room for the circus of Gold Rush boom towns, and Mexican war heroes became outlaws when California was annexed by the United States. 



As we studied the Gold Rush and the surreal beauty of classic Western films, we kept returning to one question: what if this cultural turning point had turned another way? What if all the promise of that moment had been true? What if instead of holding on to the violence, greed, and posturing in Gold Rush California, our culture had uplifted the sense of freedom and possibility for all that was equally present? What would have happened? Where would we be now? Our films are a way to explore those questions.


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The first film in the Denim series was "Men Among Men" written and directed by Savannah and produced with actor Jon Cole and Cinematographer Leif Huron. The micro-budget short filmed over the course of one long night around a fire in Northern Minnesota. The lighting was all from the fire, and we got by with a crew of two — the cinematographer and the sound recordist.



In "Men Among Men," a group of grizzled miners gather around a fire at the end of a long day. When a conflict about how to be a better feminist ally comes up, things begin to get tense, but everyone remembers that they are learning to talk about their feelings rather than react in anger. In a world without women, these miners have begun to share caretaking responsibility, be honest about their vulnerability, and treat each other with kindness and care. At the end of every nightly meeting, they have s'mores. 



The film premiered at the Twin Cities Film Festival in Minneapolis, where it was the winner of the Bill Murray Best Comedy Short, chosen by beloved actor Bill Murray. 


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The second film in the series was "Standoff." This was Lisa's first foray into directing film! With producer Matt Anderson, we pulled together a four person cast, an 18 person crew, and two horses to shoot the story of a Sheriff and an Outlaw who have a plan to meet at dawn and fight to the death. 



In "Standoff," Deputy Sheriff Jim Cooper arrives at the meeting spot at dawn. He's here to meet up with Soapy O'Toole, notorious outlaw. At first, it's a classic standoff. But when their bantering goes on too long, distractions arrive, and they ultimately spend the day together, having a nice picnic and letting their horses drink in the stream. At the end of the day, they're hardly even in the mood to kill each other anymore. 




We learned a lot from shooting Standoff, from how to handle horses on set to why you need a lighting team even when you're shooting outside in daylight! Our incredible cinematographer, Brennan Vance, took inspiration from the classic Spaghetti Western films of Sergio Leone, and gave the whole piece a pitch perfect look. The original film score by Dan Dukich was the cherry on top. 




Standoff premiered at the Minneapolis / St Paul International Film Festival, where it won the audience choice award in its genre as well as "Best of Festival" at the Geneva Downtown Film Festival in Geneva, NY in 2023. It's still circulating at film festivals, and we're hoping to continue sharing it with audiences for a while to come! 



Savannah, Matt and Lisa on the set of "Standoff" 


As we've learned more about film, we have learned that doing things correctly and treating your collaborators well is both crucial and expensive. We're seeking investors to help us pay for costumes, locations, actors, craft services and more. It's very important to us to find the money that we need to make sure all our collaborators feel respected, safe, and well-compensated.

We'd love for you to be a part of this adventure! We're looking for partners at all levels, from friends who can contribute a few dollars towards our dream, to supporters that may want to come in at a higher level for an Associate Producer credit. We even have a few background roles available for any supporters who have always wanted to dress up in an Old West costume and hang out on set! We're dedicated to continuing our "DIY film school" education and exploring the hilarious and weird dynamics of this genre, and we'd love for you to get involved! 

Girls at the Painted Bird is going to be a blast to make and we welcome your support and investment. Thank you!






Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

Craft Services

Costs $600

This will help feed our cast and crew over three day shoot

Costume Designer and Wardrobe

Costs $1,000

Our brilliant actors need period costumes to sell this film. A good designer will make it happen


Costs $4,900

This allows us to pay our brilliant 5 person cast. What is a film without the actors?!

Old West Saloon interior location

Costs $1,500

This helps us pay location fees for our Old Westie saloon location

About This Team

Lisa Channer and Savannah Reich are lifelong theater makers who first became fascinated with making films in 2019. We joke that this series of films is our "DIY Film School" where we teach ourselves by doing- with each film we understand more about the particular needs of film as a medium. We have learned from our amazing collaborators, from the experienced friends who have been kind enough to give us mentorship, and most of all from figuring it out as we go along! As Matt Anderson, our producer on 2021's "Standoff", told us as we stood in the pouring rain on the second day of our two-day outdoor shoot, while actors, the 15 person crew, 6 PAs and 2 horses waited for the rain to stop so we could finish the last scene before sundown,  "It just always works out somehow". So far, it always has. 

Lisa is a director, writer, actor and producer of Theatre and Film.  She is co-artistic director of Theatre Novi Most, based in Minneapolis with a mission to build bridges across artistic and cultural boundaries between the United States and the states of the former USSR. She was co-founder of Sleeveless Theatre a feminist theatre company from 1989-1997. Venues her work has been seen: New York (Public Theatre, 92nd street Y, Classical Stage, WOW Cafe, Wax Factory), Chicago (Organic Lab Theatre), New England (Yale Rep, Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival), Amsterdam (IT’s Festival), Belfast (Old Museum Arts Centre), California (Z Space) Russia (Bodyword Festival, Osobniak Theatre etc), Minneapolis (Illusion Theater, Playwrights’ Center, Open Eye Figure Theatre, Red Eye Theater, Park Square, etc). She is a recipient of Fox Foundation and Fulbright awards. Lisa holds an MFA in Directing from Yale School of Drama and is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota, Department of Theatre Arts and Dance where she is also Head BA Performance Program. Films: Standoff and Girls of the Painted Bird, two films by Savannah Reich and Lisa Channer (released 2022/23) Other writing work includes RANT, a play about an eccentric father which Channer performed with six robots in Minneapolis at Red Eye Theatre and San Francisco at the Z Space. (website under construction)

Savannah is a playwright and theater maker currently living in Philadelphia. Her small theater company, Eternal Cult, was centered on the punk-rock ideals of making theater cheap, wild, and accessible, and touring it around the country in a beat up van. In 2015, she graduated with an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University, where she studied playwriting and screenwriting. Her first feature length script was the winner of the Sloan Student Grand Jury prize, a competition amongst the top 6 screenwriting programs in the country. As a result of this win, she received $30,000 in prize money and industry mentorship for a year, and attended the Tribeca Film Festival as a Sloan Honoree. Men Among Men, which was her first film short, was selected by actor Bill Murray as the first place Comedy Short in the Twin Cities Film Festival in 2020. She was a 2020/21 McKnight Fellow at the Playwrights Center, and currently teaches playwriting and screenwriting at the University of the Arts.

Savannah and Lisa began working together in 2018, when Lisa asked Savannah to act as devising playwright on Denim, her play about blue jeans and the mythology of the American West. We did a deep dive into the cultural idea of denim, which included travelling to California to explore the Levi's archive in San Francisco. We premiered a workshop production at the University of Minnesota, where we worked with 25 student actors, 4 dramaturgs, several university librarians, a composer, a full band, and the entire design faculty of the Theater Department. Since then, we haven't stopped scheming about new ways to talk about blue jeans, perfomances of masculinity, the cultural turning point of the Gold Rush, and sense of possibility that infuses the Western genre. Making films is a new adventure that we're on together, and with each new film we make, we find that we aren't finished yet!

Laura Fries is an accomplished producer with over 15 years of experience in TV and film. As a Korean adoptee, she is passionate about giving a voice to underrepresented communities. Prior to establishing her career as a producer, Laura worked as an actor and stunt performer. A graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Laura is a proud member of the DGA, Television Academy, SAG | AFTRA, and AEA. As a Stowe Producers Lab alumni and Sidewalk Narrative Lab fellow, she has demonstrated her dedication to refining her skills and pushing creative boundaries. She hopes to use her unique voice and determined spirit to make an even greater impact in the industry by bringing more BIPOC stories to the big screen in the future.

Current Team