All In: The Poker Movie is a fascinating look at the international poker boom that began in New York and quickly spread to casinos and online.
The clever documentary examines the unfathomable political takedown of the poker industry and its effects. It features interviews with Matt Damon (who starred in the poker film Rounders), professional poker player Chris Moneymaker, and many others.
All In: The Poker Movie will be available via video on demand beginning Tuesday. The International Business Times had the chance to speak with the film's director, Douglas Tirola, about his reason for making the movie and how it has been received in the gambling world.
One of the best aspects of the film is the fascinating interview subjects who offer tremendous insight into the world of poker. How did you go about approaching the likes of Matt Damon and Doris Kearns Goodwin to participate in the film? Matt Damon is someone we felt we absolutely had to have in the film. He is the star of the film Rounders, which is one of the reasons poker has had a renaissance, and also he plays poker in his social life. I have seen him interviewed a number of times, and he is a smart and retrospective person who obviously thinks about the world. I also happen to be a fan. Probably not surprisingly, my wife is an even bigger fan.
One of the times we were filming at the World Series of Poker, we were hanging out in a VIP lounge at the Rio where a BBQ place from New York was serving celebrities and high-profile poker players. We saw Matt, and one of my producers went over to ask him for an interview, and he very politely asked if we could try him later. I thought this was our one chance to get an interview with him, because he was right here in front of us with no handlers. So we called Johnny Marinacci and Michael Scelza, who knew Matt from working on Rounders as poker consultants and asked them what to do. They said to walk over to Matt and hand him the phone. My producer, Danielle Rosen, did just that. Matt walked around with her phone for a few moments, then came back, handed her the phone, and said, Can we get this done in 15 minutes? We ended up interviewing him for 30 minutes, and, as we hoped for, he answered questions that had nothing to do with Rounders. His insights in the film are great, and I would hope when he sees the film, he is proud of the way he comes off.
I really like the idea of having people in documentaries that you might not expect. Doris Kearns Goodwin was one of the first people I put on my wish list to interview for the film. We approached her to talk about presidents and poker. I wrote her a letter telling her how much I admired her work and appearances on TV, and why I wanted her in the film. She agreed to the interview, and my strategy was similar to that with Matt, which was to also ask her about topics that she might not have thought she was an expert in, but I believed she would have great insights. There is a saying in filmmaking, When you cast your film, you cast your fate. I think both of these cast members, as I refer to them, are amazing in the film. Doris ended up contributing to many of the discussions and stories in our film, and her insights into culture through the lens of poker are engaging and entertaining.
What has been your take on the film's reception within the poker community so far? Surely you've had some very interesting feedback. Luckily, the response has been nothing short of awesome. What I have noticed at screenings is that people in the poker community seem to feel they are watching their own story. Many of them remember watching Rounders and seeing the hole camera for the first time on TV, and also they played online. They also seem to be anxious to see the players Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson, who are both considered at the center of the Full Tilt Poker scandal where the federal government has accused this online site of being a Ponzi scheme. I think the poker community is looking for answers and insights and therefore is interested to see how these players, who were so revered, come off in our film.
What was your main goal when you set out to write and direct this project -- and why? I wanted to make an engaging and entertaining movie. I wanted to make a film that would be something both moviegoers and poker players would like, and specifically for the poker audience, we wanted them to feel that we got their story right. Though the film focuses on a number of peoples' individual stories, it really is the story of poker, and that story belongs to everyone who plays. I also wanted to explore some themes and ideas that have nothing to do with poker. Personal freedom, the pursuit and changing of the American Dream, the relationship between business and the government, and the exploration and celebration of risk. All throughout the film, we see people taking risks, but not just within the game of poker. We see people take risks in their personal lives and their careers. The story of poker was a way to talk about a lot of ideas.
What are some of your favorite films that focus on poker/the world of gambling? Though very different films, I love Rounders and The Cincinnati Kid -- and though not poker movies I think the poker scenes in The Sting and David Mamet's House of Games represent the aura and mythology of poker in a very romantic and fun way. I recommend to anyone, whether they like poker or not, to watch these. On one of those weekends where you don't feel like leaving the couch, get these films and have a poker-film marathon. I also love the poker in a much-forgotten Robert Altman film called California Split that stars Elliott Gould and George Segal. There have been many films that take place in the world of poker, and this genre is known as poker films. I feel very humbled that in the reviews that talk about this poker film genre that All In: The Poker Movie has been thought of in the tradition of these great films.