"Bet, Raise, Fold: The Story of Online Poker” is a documentary delivering exactly what it promises – which is the past, present, and future of the multi-billion dollar global online poker industry.
The movie debuted here in Las Vegas at a special showing last month. If you missed the big premiere though, there is another opportunity to see this story, which follows the lives of three unique online poker players. On Tuesday, July 9th, there will be a public screening of the film in the illustrious Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio. The show starts at 7pm.
The WSOP sat down with Jay Rosenkrantz, a poker professional who served as Executive Producer on the movie, to talk about the film and what he sees on the horizon for online poker and online poker players:
WSOP: What's been the reaction so far to “Bet, Raise, Fold?”
Jay Rosenkrantz: I would say overwhelmingly positive. People are responding to it well, in a powerful way. I’ve heard a lot from poker players, both casual and professional who say it captured the spirit of the poker room and the emotional impact of Black Friday. It fills in the blanks, fills the gaps. The story makes more sense to them. Now, they can understand the pain of Black Friday a lot better. To me, that’s the ultimate compliment that we were able to do that. That was our goal.
WSOP: You have two sets of critics to satisfy – movie critics and the poker community. Which of these two are the toughest critics?
Rosenkrantz: We’ve only just started to hit the mainstream film community, so I’ve yet to see film critics' analysis of the film. But honestly, think the poker community may be tougher -- especially the TwoPlusTwo audience. A lot of the pro poker community ... there’s a lot of people ... I think a lot of the people wanted to see more Martin Bradstreet, the online genius. They wanted to see sizzle, more flash, more credit card roulette and ballers traveling the world, which would have been a slice of life sub-culture movie. We would have liked to include more of that as well, but when Black Friday happened, that became the more important story. It tied everything together and kind of reverberated back onto itself.
WSOP: Can you remember the first time, the first thought, the first connection you made as a filmmaker to poker?
Rosenkrantz: I would go all the way back to the movie “Rounders", which came out when I was 13-years-old. I saw “Rounders” and I fell in love with it. I thought it was the coolest movie ever made to the point that it got me infatuated with playing poker. I already had a love for movies and now I had a love for poker. They both propelled me towards film school and poker. After graduating from film school at Boston University in 2006, I landed right in the middle of the poker boom and started playing online. I played professionally. After that, I started teaching....I was immediately fascinated with the idea that screen names on the poker sites and the forums had real personalities of their own that were completely different than they were in real life. People are trading five-figure sums on the Internet without ever meeting. That’s what was so interesting. Then, [I saw] a movie called “Spellbound", which was about some kids who were preparing for the National Spelling Bee. We thought, "Hey, that would be an awesome idea to watch an online documentary about professional poker playing. Why hasn’t there been a documentary about this?" Maybe we should be the ones to make a documentary about it.
WSOP: But there have been other movies on poker, such as “All-In: The Poker Movie.”
Rosenkrantz: Other filmmakers weren't capturing what online poker was about. It was missing something. Too much about celebrities or characters you see on TV. No one else was being showcased. So, we raised the money and started looking for people .
WSOP: That must have been tough to do as a first-time filmmaker basically right out of college.
Rosenkrantz: The technology of making movies is getting much cheaper, so you don’t have to raise as much money as you used to. The traditional gatekeepers are falling away now....We’re kind of trailblazing this movie. We’re distributing this movie like a poker player would, by being real rebellious and doing it our own way.
WSOP: Let's talk about the casting of the three stars of the movie – Danielle, Tony, and Martin.
Rosenkrantz: We had a list of the kinds of characters we wanted to find – that we felt tied into the story. We like the idea of woman because there are a lot of women professionals playing. They are under-represented and there are so many misconceptions about them in poker. We also wanted to find a family man, and then maybe a small stakes player who was trying to go pro. We never found that though.
WSOP: Danielle Anderson certainly was a great discovery.
Rosenkrantz: Yes, she kind of fell into our lap. We didn’t have her on our radar at all – a 26-year-old mother from Minnesota. She posted something on 2+2 that captured out attention. We were like, "no way, this is a scam.” Her story checked out and we sent her a questionnaire. She lived in this small town and she was dealing with a lot of grief and frustration explaining what she did to friends. She was totally disconnected from the Internet and she learned on her own.
WSOP: How did the depressing topic of Black Friday figure into the film?
Rosenkrantz: We wanted to discover--how does a poker player respond to Black Friday? Our characters never give up. They still love the game. That’s how I feel right now even though there’s a lot of variables. How are you going to pin down this movie if players didn’t get paid off? We felt like the story of online poker was ending just as the new story was beginning. We felt like in spite of the pain and tragedy, the journey was worthwhile. We wanted people to feel that way and end up on an uplifting note. Who knows where online poker is going to be in 100 years? It’s a micro-version of why we play in general. We’re always going to gamble even in everyday things. We just don’t call it gambling.
WSOP: Your movie captures a moment in time and provides insight into why this topic is profoundly important to many people. Did you think about the legacy this film might have?
Rosenkrantz: Ryan Firpo [the film's director] and I both believe that stories are a powerful device can help to educate an audience in an emotional argument. When you see truth ... whether it’s the emotional response to Black Friday or injustices being done, you feel it in your heart....Poker is all about strategizing and making better decisions along the way. The movie was like that – a constant war between the insane variables coming our way.
WSOP: What's the craziest thing that happened while you were making “Bet, Raise, Fold?”
Rosenkrantz: Towards the end of the movie, we were editing in West Los Angeles. Ryan’s house became a crack den. The crazy neighbors started bringing in drugs just as the editing process started. [Fellow producer] Taylor [Caby] and I were thinking this was the ultimate wild card. Luckily the cops got involved and we got them evicted. So many things like that we had to deal with. Then, we had this motion graphics business that screwed us out of $25,000. That’s why we didn’t make it to the Sundance Film Festival in time, but the poker philosophy about dealing with bad beats as best you can helped us to finish it.
WSOP: How and where can people see the film?
: If you’re in Las Vegas on July 9th, come see it. In partnership with WSOP, at 7pm in the Penn and Teller 1500-seat theatre in the Rio were are showing the movie which is open to the public. I’ll be there with Danielle Anderson and Tony Dunst. The World Series is giving away 500 tickets. Otherwise it’s free to the public. If you’re not in Vegas, right now we’re available for purchase at betraisefoldmovie.com
. For $9.99, you can buy the whole movie – the actual theatrical cut. For $12.99, you can purchase a special edition with bonus tracks. BlueRay will be available in August. Also in early August, there will be 13 different language translations of the movie with subtitles. We're also in negotiation with video-on-demand platforms to be on iTunes, Netflix, possibly Showtime. We want to be everywhere they show movies. We’re also planning a theatrical tour of the U.S.
WSOP: What are your future plans as a filmmaker and as a poker player?
Rosenkrantz: I want to get better and better making stories. I feel I have a unique point of view as a storyteller with poker. To communicate the stories of poker and teach a lot of people -- not necessarily through poker itself. It could be different genres of stories that don’t involve poker at all. But I want to get better and better in other genres and wider campuses. My first inspiration was “Star Wars.” I thought it was the ultimate story. I thought it was the ultimate myth. That fantasy of science fiction that almost taught me a moral code that I live by. I’d love to one day have my own Star Wars....If online poker comes back, I’ll go back to play. I don’t think I’ll be a pro again. Being an opportunist I don’t want to close the door. But I’d like to be like having a beer on Sunday, play a tournament on Sunday and just relax and enjoy that.
Here is a look at the trailer for "Bet, Raise, Fold: The Story of Online Poker":