Lights! Camera! Cutting!

January 7th, 2022 by Sophia Skeith

The poster for The Cut’s Premiere.

Charlie Israel believed cutting had an important story to tell. So six years ago, he decided to put a film team together and make a documentary. Israel originally intended the documentary to be a promotional video but it quickly grew into much more after speaking with the father of cutting, Buster Welch. Israel, the film’s Executive Producer and visionary, then knew the right direction for the film would be to tell the story through Buster.

“Horses and cattle explain everything I know,” Buster said.

They gave Buster an understanding of humanity. “He used it as an [example] of how to live your life,” said Israel.

Called The Cut, the film begins back in time when cutting horses were the most important stock horse in a cowboy outfit. The head cowboy would sort out sick, injured or underweight cows before they went to market. Eventually, barbed wire fences were erected and there was less need for the horse with cow sense. In 1898 the first advertised cutting competition was held in Haskell, TX at the Cowboy Reunion event.

In the 1940s Buster came into the picture. Buster came up with the idea to hold a futurity class to allow horses to compete with their age level. The first Futurity took place in Sweetwater, TX in 1962.

Famed actor Robert Duvall makes a guest appearance in the documentary along with veteran cutting horse trainers and Futurity Champions Lindy Burch and Gary Bellenfant.

“Buster’s charisma and intelligence are so evident, and evident to very successful people… Buster and Robert Duvall are not just acquaintances, they are close personal friends. Buster attracted those kinds of people because of his authenticity, intelligence and sense of humor,” Israel said.

Executive Producer, Charlie Israel

Fourth highest money earner in cutting, trainer Austin Shepard, and his son Cade, who have a close affiliation with Buster were also featured.

The film is not just about the sport of cutting; it’s about how to treat horses, people and animals with the stewardship, and integrity that old time cowboys admired and lived by. Buster tells this story through the horse, said Israel. Buster didn’t consider the cutting horse as just a show animal but a link to a vanished past.

According to Buster and author Tom McGuane, the Futurity should be a celebration of ranching culture, not just a horse show. It is this spirit Israel was looking to capture in the film.

McGuane has written about his good friend Buster in his book Some Horses, and has cut for many years. The film crew consisted of three other people including Producer Bob Welch, Patrick Sheehan, Director of Cinematography and Jared Shull, Editor. Israel said it was an expensive project that took on some debt but he had supporters, many of whom were NCHA members.

Israel initially hired a production company but soon realized it was not the right fit. Buster suggested Bob Welch, his great nephew.

Welch rode cutting horses as a youth and then pursued a journalism career. He wrote for magazines for 15 years and then became a freelancer. He worked for the production company that produces the NFR and did some short films.

“[Buster] had a lot of influence on me and our whole family,” he said.

Buster Welch in front of the camera during filming of The Cut.

Welch wanted to be able to pay Buster back for the way he helped his career. Welch, Buster and Israel first met at Buster’s ranch in the fall of 2017. Welch said the united goal was to produce a great film that was more than a sports documentary, and that celebrated the history of cutting.

During the making of the film, the NCHA Foundation allowed him to dig through their archives. The National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, TX had been given old footage over the years that Welch was able to use. Interestingly, there was a man who visited different ranches in the 1940s and took film footage.

The Cogdells from Tulia, TX owned footage they allowed him to use as well. Buster’s daughter Ruth Anne Welch Williams had many film reels of Buster working horses. Welch said people heard about the project and would give him footage to look over. Louis Noto who owned Backfence Videos had the only copy of the 1973 Futurity final that was featured prominently in the film.

Israel said Buster suggested a selection of books for him to read. One of the books was called Trail Drivers of Texas, a compilation of stories from cattle drives. It was put together by the Saunders Family in 1919. In the book, there is a story of two cowboys talking about cutting horses. And how some horses would work cattle without a bridle and they described the earliest form of cutting. That story dates back to 1880.

Welch said they were about done with the movie in 2018 but Buster couldn’t make the Futurity. In 2019, the NCHA Foundation unveiled the Buster Welch statue and Buster returned for the tribute. That year Gary Bellenfant won the Futurity so they decided to include that as part of the story.

A scene from the documentary. Preparing to work the herd like old time cowboys.

“When Gary won, we tried to fit his story into the existing narrative. It took us some time to figure out that it just wasn’t going to work. Then it took more time to rebuild the new narrative with Gary’s win as the climax,” Welch said.

It then took two more years to re-edit.

“We couldn’t have scripted it. It was great to see it unfold the way it did,” Welch added.

In the run up to the documentary’s premier at the 2021 Futurity in Fort Worth, Welch and Israel decided to get Yellowstone creator, Taylor Sheridan’s input on the almost finished film.

“Taylor Sheridan has really helped us with the structure and storytelling. He received it about six weeks before the Futurity and the premiere and suggested some changes that we made. The final edit and technical aspects were completed two weeks before the premiere,” Israel said.

Julia Buswold, NCHA Foundation Director, suggested the Isis theater at the Fort Worth Stockyards be the venue for the premiere where it was shown throughout the day during the Futurity.

“The premiere could not have been better. I am completely satisfied with the feedback I’ve received,” Israel said.

Israel said they are hoping Netflix or another streaming service will feature the film. Israel was hesitant to give a specific date but he said it’s not unrealistic to expect it to be available at some point in 2022.

Photos courtesy of Bob Welch

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