The life and grind of the modern-day tournament poker player will be on display when Dreamers, a documentary from Above The Felt, the marketing and talent agency that represents the players in the film, drops on Friday, April 14.
Filmed during the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas, the documentary takes an inside look as a number of experienced pros, including the likes of Darren Elias, Matt Berkey, Jamie Kerstetter, Landon Tice, Ethan Yau, Chris Moneymaker, and Jaman Burton. The camera follows them as they battle on the felt in a tournament where the top prize is millions of dollars, while at the same time embracing the community and camaraderie formed as they all chase the poker dream.
“It’s a film about the journey of a group of poker players playing a big tournament and everything involved with that, including the emotional highs and lows and the preparation,” said Elias, a four-time WPT Champion.
More than that, Elias says that the kinship that is often fostered in poker is also at the forefront of the film. Tom Wheaton, Above The Felt founder and Dreamers director, was “trying to show the team aspect” of poker and, despite the fact that players are trying to take each other’s money, there’s still a sense of community.
“I think the message as a whole is that the poker dream, the dream we all had, especially if you came around during the Moneymaker era, is still very, very much alive,” said veteran poker vlogger Jaman Burton, who is also featured in the doc. “And I think when you see the documentary in its entirety, you will see how that manifests itself in [each of us.]”
According to Burton, “when we went in, we didn’t have a documentary on our minds at all.” He said that perhaps the first iteration was to produce some high-level poker vlogs, but as the camera continued to capture the action and the featured pros sat down and opened up on camera about their experience both in the tournament as well as their individual history in the game, the idea of a full-blown documentary came to Wheaton.
While Elias says there is talk about strategy, hands, and the lives of its subject in the finished product, Dreamers is the kind of film that wants to appeal to an outside audience, one that may not have much (or any) exposure to poker.
“I think this is going to be well received by people outside of the community,” Elias said. “[Wheaton] and the producers, made it accessible to the average person. We’re explaining how tournaments work and not getting too in-depth with strategy, but more showing the journey of a poker tournament. I think it’s going to maybe be even more popular with the average person than a seasoned professional who might be like ‘I already know all this stuff.’”
Burton agrees, hoping that a viewing of Dreamers might elicit the same feelings that one of poker’s most popular movies did nearly 25 years ago.
“I think [people outside of poker] will take away a feeling very similar to what we all took away from Rounders where it’s like if you don’t know anything about poker and you watch this, you’re going to be intrigued by this game that you assumed was just like blackjack [and other forms of gaming],” Burton said. “And you are going to walk away knowing that it is a very different beast than any casino games. And I think you will stumble upon new personalities and you’ll probably really, really like a few of them.”
In total, Dreamers has contributions from 10 personalities, from established pros like Elias, Berkey, and Chris Moneymaker, to younger up-and-coming players including Landon Tice and Ethan ‘Rampage’ Yau. The film hopes to have captured not only that the poker dream is alive but, as Burton said, “there are many more ways to attack the dream” in 2023.
“Each of these people on the team is in different stages of their career, in different places in poker where we’re not talking about everyone who’s like a dominant poker player playing high rollers, things like that. Some of these guys on the team are content creators, commentators, $2/$5 regulars, struggling up-and-comers,” Elias said.
Ultimately, when Dreamers premieres, the goal is simply to be a snapshot into the lives of this collective of players showcasing not only what makes them chase the poker dream but also what they are made of as well.
“I would love for the average viewer to watch this and say, ‘Oh, he’s not counting cards, he’s not playing blackjack in the casino. He’s playing a tournament, a game of skill, against other players and battling wits to try to win money. It’s not any kind of seedy, degenerate gambling slot machine type thing’,” Elias said. “I think it’s trying to show that professional poker player is a real profession, a respectable profession. We are not crazy, degenerate gamblers and there is a differentiation between casino gambling and poker players and that we are playing a skill game.”