Interview: Jay Rosenkrantz
This week, Jay Rosenkrantz, producer of the newly-released poker documentary Bet Raise Fold
, spoke with us about his career in poker and film-production. Bet Raise Fold is the definitive story of online poker and available for immediate download.
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Hi Jay, thanks for speaking with us! First, can you give a brief background of how you got involved in poker and some of the key elements that led to the decision to begin production on Bet Raise Fold?
I've been obsessed with poker since I watched Rounders when I was 12 or 13. Ten years later and I graduated college, where I studied film, right into the middle of the online poker boom. I began playing and teaching professionally, and producing different forms of poker content. A few of us had the idea that we might produce a feature length documentary about online poker. Something that could communicate this crazy roller coaster ride of a story everyone involved in online poker seemed to be in on. We made short films called From Busto to Robusto as practice, and then in 2010 decided it was time to go for it, it was time to try to make the full documentary. I always found the world of poker a fascinating place, full of interesting characters, and my own experiences in online poker only heightened that fascination. Over time, it became a story that wouldn't let go until we told it.
Bet Raise Fold focuses predominantly on the lives of three online poker players, Tony Dunst, Danielle Moon-Andersen, and Martin Bradstreet. What factors went into deciding to build the film around those particular three individuals?
We had strong ideas about what would make good characters: we thought a woman was essential, to challenge an audience's expectations and introduce them to an underrepresented side of the people who play the game; we wanted a responsible professional who supported a family through online poker, in order to dispel misconceptions that poker pros are degenerate gamblers; we knew that the poker sites were peddling the dream of fame and fortune to their customers, so we wanted someone young and flashy who bought into that fantasy; and we liked the concept of a poker genius, to show the ways the game had evolved far beyond what was being depicted in poker books or on television.
We canvassed the poker world and eventually found our three: Danielle "dmoongirl" Moon-Anderson, a 26-year old mother and high stakes poker pro, seeking sponsorship to provide a more stable future for her family; Tony "bond18" Dunst, a young, Las Vegas personality who grew up watching the World Poker Tour on television and now found himself its newest host; and Martin "AlexeiMartov" Bradstreet, an Australian poker genius who had been playing the highest stakes games online for years. They seemed to be the kinds of characters that possessed all the elements we thought we needed, the types of interesting personalities that even people outside of the poker world might be able to relate to. Before we knew it we were headed into production.
Can you share a little about the division of responsibility between yourself, Ryan Firpo, Taylor Caby and others in the production of Bet Raise Fold?
Ryan is the filmmaker. He conducted all the interviews, flew to every location, shot all the footage, did all the editing, and a lot of the producing. He is a beast. More than anyone, Bet Raise Fold is his film.
I am the producer. Everything Ryan didn't or couldn't do, I did. Supervising pre-production, production, post-production and distribution, everything from booking flights, making phone calls and filling out paperwork to leading story discussions, writing story treatments, watching countless scenes and edits and helping Ryan develop the sequences.
Taylor is the lead Executive Producer. He weighed in on many cuts of the film, but his real role is closer to an entrepreneurial strategist. He and I conduct Bet Raise Fold's business strategy, from raising funds from investors to negotiating business deals and developing marketing strategies. We will frequently discuss our options and decisions, decide on a course of action, and go with it. I have a lot of entrepreneurial experience, but more often than not we go with Taylor's gut. He is another beast.
What is something you learned from making Bet Raise Fold?
That a life spent making movies might have many similarities to a life spent playing poker: tons of ups and downs, sick bad beats and thrilling victories.
For you, what were the hardest aspects of bringing the Bet Raise Fold project to its current position?
Definitely Black Friday. We were making a documentary about poker where the story did not account for Black Friday. After April 15 2011, the story is Black Friday! Figuring out how to deal with how to incorporate Black Friday into the narrative took us a long time and a lot of effort.
A related poker documentary called All In: The Poker Story came out a few years ago. How much was that film regarded as competition and how much did it factor into the creative decision making behind Bet Raise Fold?
I saw ALL IN when it first debuted in New York City, and I was very nervous that they may have beaten us to the punch. I was relieved to see that their story did not focus on online poker. After that, it was out of our minds. We were doing our own thing, we had our own footage, we had enough to concern ourselves with figuring out how to tell our story. I did speak to Doug Tirola (the filmmaker) about his experiences just before we released Bet Raise Fold. He was very helpful and gave me some great advice about distribution.
There's a lot to be proud of regarding the accomplishment of having made this film. Are there one or two things in particular about the film that stand out as what you are most proud of having accomplished?
Haha, I'm just proud we got it done. To take an idea, and then through many years of hard work, ups and downs, turn it into a movie that people are paying for and enjoying? That's awesome to me. I'm very proud I was part of this project and that we didn't give up. I look forward to more challenging projects in the future, where I can look back at this one as inspiration.
Finally, what ambitions do you have for the future with the Bet Raise Fold project? And what about for film-making in general?
We're focused on continuing to get the film in front of as large an audience as possible. We're working on getting onto VOD platforms so more people can see it, we're working on putting together a US theatrical tour. We're producing the Special Edition, the DVD and the blu-ray. The future for Bet Raise Fold will be focused on doing everything we can to keep sharing the story with audiences who may enjoy it.
As for filmmaking in general, I'm looking forward to the next story, whatever it is. As this winds down I'd like to spend a lot of time writing and developing my own ideas. When I have something that grabs me, poker or non-poker, that's what I'll be working on.