Before he could discern the advantages of different kinds of film stock, director Anthony Henslee was more familiar with grazing livestock.
Raised in Palo Pinto, Texas, on his grandfather’s 3,000-acre cattle ranch, Henslee, who was born in Arlington, grew up working in the family business until the age of 16.
“We ran cattle and had horses,” said Henslee, 37. “We had all the farm-type stuff — chickens, hogs, big gardens, and hay.”
When the ranch was sold in 1987 during a tough stint in the cattle industry, the Henslee family, like a wind-blown tumbleweed, rolled over to Boerne to start a new life and business.
Still operating out of Boerne today, Henslee Television Productions serves its clients’ needs by generating TV commercials and other advertising elements. Despite this being the hub of the business for the last 20 years, the Henslee family always imagined something more.
“We’ve had it in the back of our minds ever since we started that we wanted to make movies,” Henslee said. “Until now, we got as close as we could by making TV commercials.”
Combining his self-taught skills as a production manager and his ranching past, Henslee recently finished his first feature-length film under his Cottonwood Entertainment moniker, a Western called Palo Pinto Gold. Set in 1935 in his old hometown, Gold tells the story of a Texas Ranger turned sheriff who is overcome with greed when he learns of an old miner’s good fortune.
“My family loved Westerns, so I grew up watching them,” Henslee said. “I grew up with John Wayne and then Clint Eastwood.”
Henslee admits there are similarities between ranching and filmmaking, but considers the latter the easier of the two.
“There is a definitely a hard-working ethic that you have to have in both,” Henslee said. “Neither is easy. It’s early mornings and late nights. It’s a lot of making do with what you have. You have to think on your feet and make changes fast.”
As a director, Henslee says he wants to build a reputation as a filmmaker who produces family-friendly features. Westerns, he believes, offer the perfect format.
“The thing about the Western that I like is that you’ve got your protagonist and your antagonist, the good and the bad,” Henslee said. “It’s black-and-white, there is no gray area. In that format you can have a lot of elements — action, drama, romance, and mystery — and you can do it in a way that you can keep it clean. There’s not a lot of films made this way anymore.”
Another unique aspect of Palo Pinto Gold, which was shot at Enchanted Springs Ranch, is the cast Henslee was fortunate enough to sign. This includes Roy Clark (TV’s Hee Haw), country musicians Mel Tillis and Robert Earl Keen, former Dallas Cowboy Jay Novacek, and the always candid Kinky
Friedman, who cameos as the Governor of Texas.
It was an ironic casting choice since Friedman ran as an independent candidate in 2006 and lost to incumbent Rick Perry. The office was a perfect cinematic fit, however, since Friedman considers himself a “graduate of the John Wayne School of Acting.”
“I was cast to play myself, so it was fairly painless,” Friedman said, adding that the role wasn’t a stretch because he would have easily won the governorship in the early 20th century. “People just had more common sense back then.”
Henslee said Friedman took only three days to accept his offer to be in the film. It’s a role the director refers to as an exciting “zinger” at the end of a project that evolved organically.
“I don’t ignore the fact that a lot of things fell into place for this movie,” Henslee said. “This is so rare. I greatly appreciate the way things turned out.” •