This summer, there’s been a new form of entertainment for poker fans to enjoy, namely the emergence of Daniel Negreanu‘s daily World Series of Poker vlog. I, for one, have been glued to my screen each day. The quality of each and every new video being released in clockwork fashion is off the charts. As one might suspect, the finished product we see published each day doesn’t just get generated automatically, at the push of a button. Daniel is ultra-focused on his poker play of course. He also records footage of himself, while a team of his closest confidantes joins in the fun, both as players as well as videographers. With all of that said, there’s one individual in particular that possesses the magical talents to put the entire production together. That person’s name is James Taylor; he prefers to be called JT.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve gotten to know James a bit better. Every so often I’d ask him a question or two about the work he’s doing this summer. Then, it dawned on me: tens of thousands of people are enjoying Daniel’s vlog on a daily basis. Surely they’d be interested in finding out a bit more about the work that goes into producing it from the maestro himself!
James was kind enough to grant me 20 minutes of his time, during which we covered a lot of ground and revealed some fascinating information about the video creation and editing process.
Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this exclusive behind-the-scenes interview with James Taylor.
ROBBIE: Robbie Strazynski here for CardplayerLifestyle.com at the World Series of Poker 2017, and I’m sitting here with a gentleman named James Taylor. We’ll call him JT. How’re you doing, JT?
JAMES: I’m doing very well.
ROBBIE: Well, James Taylor obviously is the career leader in all-time cashes at the World Series—no, OK, I’m confused. No, James, we’ll call him JT, he actually—let’s put it this way. Everyone out there is at this point at the World Series very familiar with a very new piece of content, a new type of media that’s been going out there: the Daniel Negreanu daily vlog. I personally have watched every single moment up until, I guess this is day 20 or 21 so far.
JAMES: It’s day 20—well, today is actually day 21. What we aired today was day 20, because we’re on a day delay.
[Editor’s note: I don’t have a speaking role or anything, but the fanboy in me jumped for joy when I saw that I appeared starting at the 11:30-min mark in the DAY 21 video, below]
ROBBIE: Right. Of course. Yeah, there’s always a delay because there’s got to be a lot of editing that’s done. So who is JT? JT is the producer, I believe—
JAMES: Executive producer.
ROBBIE: Right. And he and I have been talking a little bit over the last few hours, a couple days, and he was kind enough to sit here and give us a little bit of a behind-the-scenes look at how this operation is done. I mean, we see a beautiful, edited, fluid product that we consume anywhere I guess from 17 to 30 minutes each day.
JAMES: Yeah, I think we’ve had on the short side I think we’ve been towards 14.
JAMES: We disappointed a lot of people; they were very upset. They were like “No, we don’t want it to end, we don’t want it to end!”
ROBBIE: “We want more! We want more!”
JAMES: But, always leave them wanting more, is the cliché.
ROBBIE: For sure, yeah.
JAMES: And between 17 and 23-ish, and 14.
ROBBIE: And you guys are like, it really is every single day, a new piece of content. It’s pretty much a vlog, a diary.
JAMES: Yeah, and literally none of it, zero of it is planned. Nothing.
JAMES: Everything is completely like, in the moment, what is going to happen, and we don’t set anything up. It’s crazy because for me, I wear so many different hats, in the mix, just to keep my fingers in everything from filming what I can with the cleaner shots, camera-wise, to the edit, to the graphics and all the postproduction stuff, so it’s crazy. But like I was saying earlier to you, in the morning, so I’m up at 5 am and starting to edit.
ROBBIE: But you like go to sleep at 4 am.
JAMES: Dude, well. My head usually hits the pillow at around 2—1:30, 2 o’clock.
ROBBIE: Every day?
JAMES: Every day.
JAMES: Yeah. And so I never really know what’s in the Dropbox as far as cell phone footage goes.
ROBBIE: Right, because you have like seven different cameras or something. Daniel has a camera, and you’ve got one obviously.
JAMES: Yeah, we have several other people and they have cameras, the manager has cameras, Daniel’s assistant, Patty Landis, has a camera. So we’re never sure, but all the footage, all of it, ends up in the Dropbox overnight, so at 2, 3, 4 in the morning.
ROBBIE: I guess that’s the cutting room as we know it.
JAMES: Sure, sure. And so I never really know what I’m going to upload in the morning, and certainly going to have to build the show out of, looking at the content, and just scrubbing through it and dropping it in. Luckily, knock on wood, it’s evolved every day into a really cool, fun piece.
ROBBIE: You have tens of thousands of people, and I’m one of them, who are really just like, we’ve subscribed and we are waiting for the next one each day and we’re just sort of following it, and it’s free. It’s awesome, right? Everyone loves it, it’s free. Well, how did the idea for this originate? This is the first year anything like this has been done, and you guys are on the floor filming, which also hasn’t really been done before.
JAMES: Well, yeah. So a couple of things. So, the concept came about in the last four or five months here with regard to the—
ROBBIE: Oh, recently?
JAMES: Well, the social media, you know, the whole new platform here is just so broad and it’s so captivating, because it’s real.
ROBBIE: Sure. Of course.
JAMES: It’s in the moment, so that’s what’s cool about it. So Brian, from poker royalty—
ROBBIE: That’s Daniel’s agent.
JAMES: Right. He’s Daniel’s agent for 20 years, a great guy. I’ve done a ton of work for these guys, with a lot of the familiar clients we see in the poker world. And they contacted me a few months ago and said, “Hey, we’ve got this idea, what do you think?” And so we kind of collaborated and brainstormed on it. And Daniel is so creative, just, from top to bottom, he’s talented in like every way. I’m not just saying that; he really, really is. So he had a ton of input and we came up with the general concept, and truth be told, full transparency—you never know, that first week, you had the idea, you had the concept—
ROBBIE: So you didn’t know if it was going to go all the way through? Interesting.
JAMES: Who knows? Who knows?
ROBBIE: The reception has been fantastic, which is good.
JAMES: It’s been wonderful. We’re very fortunate to be here.
ROBBIE: Wow. So how did you get involved? Have you produced poker footage before?
JAMES: Yeah, yeah, so I’ve done a lot of, I have my own media production company here in Las Vegas.
ROBBIE: What’s it called?
JAMES: James Taylor Commercial Media.
ROBBIE: James Taylor Commercial Media. Hear that, people?
JAMES: Oh, thank you.
ROBBIE: Gotta get that plug in.
JAMES: Love it.
JAMES: And I’d done work with Brian and the guys there in the past, so understanding what it takes really behind the scenes to put something together like this, it’s a vast undertaking. It’s huge.
ROBBIE: Of course. So you say “a vast undertaking”; do you have an entire staff with you or are you controlling this by yourself?
JAMES: So part of this was that I put off on my other folks, inside my company, all the workload and official stuff that I’m doing, so that I can focus 100% on this.
ROBBIE: Poker takes precedence, always.
JAMES: And I’ve been, I mean I’ve played poker for 20 years—
ROBBIE: Oh, cool. So this is not like a new thing to you.
JAMES: No, I’ve been a fan, and I’ve been a player for a long time. So I have fully engaged here as well, and I feel the passion behind all of it.
ROBBIE: So when you were in talks, you’ve been a fan for 20 years, you must have known who Daniel was, obviously.
JAMES: Of course, yeah. I’ve played against him before.
JAMES: Yeah, I’ve been fortunate enough to play against him and a lot of the other guys. I’m sure they have absolutely zero memory of it.
ROBBIE: What, they don’t remember the day they beat James Taylor out of a pot?
JAMES: Yeah, it’s so funny because fans will come up all the time to him and “Oh, do you remember that time back in dadada-dadada-da?” And dude, so, seriously? Half the time, it’s a coin-flip. He might remember you; he really does! His memory is ridiculous.
JAMES: But anyway, yeah. I’ve played enough tournaments in a losing fashion where I’ve been fortunate enough to sit at a lot of tables with a lot of the greats. And I never make an impact myself, so—
ROBBIE: But now you’re making a different kind of impact.
JAMES: It’s cool. I have to admit, early on, this is the first time I haven’t played for a handful of events, at least, and I had mixed emotions about it but I was so excited about it, the project and the potential of it, you know?
ROBBIE: Oh, of course.
JAMES: It was such a cool idea, and full transparency, we had no idea if it was going to work or not. So it was a challenge, and I was really happy to take it on.
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) June 9, 2017
ROBBIE: Fantastic. So what is the type of thing that you enjoy most? So you start your day at 5, and do you go and start filming or how does it work, your schedule?
JAMES: So I drop off and upload all the footage in the morning early.
ROBBIE: From the previous day.
JAMES: Yes, from the previous day. And then I work on the graphics and all the skins. People may or may not realize that there’s a lot of time that goes into just updating the bottom scroll and what the news is on the bottom.
ROBBIE: I see, like there was a little thing in there of like you needling one of his opponents in there.
JAMES: There’s all sorts of little things in there.
ROBBIE: The sports-style who’s winning the NBA championship, that sort of thing?
JAMES: Yeah, yeah.
ROBBIE: That’s you?
JAMES: Yeah, we do all that.
JAMES: So we have to update the bottom scroll. We update the side. He’s like one of the only players that has enough…
ROBBIE: Influence? Magnetism?
JAMES: He’s exposing his full, all his buy-ins, his running totals. It’s just like, here’s what I’m putting in, here’s my net profit and losses, and it’s a cool tracking system, good, bad, or indifferent. So yeah, it’s awesome. And I think that’s fun, but it also takes a lot of time. We have to update the Player of the Year standings and the graphics and the state of the $25k fantasy in the graphics every day, the points race. So we do that in the morning, I update all that and then I start dropping the clips in the timeline and building out how the show is going to evolve.
ROBBIE: Right. So approximately how long are you in the lab editing, each day in the morning?
JAMES: So, really, 5:30 I have a cup of coffee and I’m going. Between 5 and 5:30 I am about as worthless as you can imagine. I’ll run into walls and fall down, I just have zero brainpower.
ROBBIE: Got it.
JAMES: By 5:30 I’m going, and I am rendering and uploading by—hopefully, knock on wood—1 pm every day.
ROBBIE: So that’s like, seven and a half hours of putting together the previous day’s footage.
JAMES: Yeah. Of making everything into a complete package, into a broadcast.
ROBBIE: What happens at 1 o’clock? You have to take a little break for lunch or a second coffee or something.
JAMES: We launch that, make sure everything gets up, and then I edit a quick 15- to 20-second social media promo, which is a little commercial spot that goes out.
ROBBIE: And it’s so smart, it’s all over Facebook and Twitter, sure.
JAMES: So we put that out, that takes about 20 minutes and typically I just grab a little section that’s captivating, a little teaser, and put that up.
ROBBIE: And let’s pause for one second, because let’s just again remind everybody. So you’ve got seven and half hours to produce a 14- to 30-minute clip, and 20 minutes to produce a 15- to 30-second clip. That’s pretty incredible, and we should certainly appreciate the amount of work that goes into that, really. Kudos to you, sir.
JAMES: Thank you. It’s day 21.
ROBBIE: Yeah. So you’ve got, what—it’s day 21, you’ve got 63 hours of sleep in three weeks?
JAMES: It’s pretty brutal.
JAMES: My wife is questioning everything about me.
ROBBIE: Oh, so you’re married and you have a family?
JAMES: I have kids, yeah, a family man. I have two baby girls, twin girls, three and a half years old.
ROBBIE: And you live here in Las Vegas?
JAMES: In Las Vegas, yeah.
ROBBIE: So do you, I guess, you just sort of told them you’re not going to get to see them too much now, but then you’re going to decompress when it’s all over?
JAMES: We’re actually, yeah, we’re looking forward to going on a cruise next month.
ROBBIE: Oh, that’s so lovely.
JAMES: So we’ve got that kind of driving us. But we have a great nanny who comes in for the girls, who I like a lot. And so we’re set and everything’s good, we’re excited. My wife is actually also unsuspectingly captivated by watching the show.
ROBBIE: You can’t tear your eyes away!
JAMES: She’s not a poker person. She knows who Daniel was, you know, she’s familiar, but she’s by no means as intrigued by poker or watches anything on television. But she came to me, and fully said, “I can’t believe I’m going to tell you this, but I love it.”
ROBBIE: That’s awesome.
JAMES: Like, “I can’t stop watching.” Which is, yeah, it’s cool.
ROBBIE: Yeah, that’s—not that that was the goal that you set out to do, but that’s pretty darn incredible because you’re bringing new people into the game and they develop a new appreciation. Maybe they’re not going to go ahead and start playing the One Drop or anything like that, but hey, maybe we’ll go for 50 bucks and start playing in a home game. That’s very, very cool.
JAMES: It’s fun.
ROBBIE: OK, so you got your clip. Let’s go back to the day. So that’s 20 minutes, and then you’re on-site here at the Rio?
JAMES: So then I’ll take an hour and decompress a little bit until about 2:30. we’ll usually send and catch up with Daniel. Now he’s just getting up and getting into his day.
ROBBIE: When he films his stuff in the Tesla.
JAMES: So he and I generally touch base, I touch base with Christian, his right-hand man, Christian Sanchez.
ROBBIE: Yeah, he does like the golf handicapper, and personal trainer.
JAMES: He’s a golf pro and coach, he’s a trainer, he’s a buddy, just a good dude. But he has since 2006 been Daniel’s right-hand guy. Totally takes care of anything and everything.
ROBBIE: And he also shoots some of the footage, right?
JAMES: Yeah, he shoots some too. So he and I touch base. He handles a lot of the social media stuff as well. And then Brian and I, so we huddle up in that window and then by 5 o’clock I get my butt down here, and now I’m sitting here at 9 o’clock talking to you, and we’re filming, and yeah.
ROBBIE: But these days could also go, I guess they bagged and tagged at 1, 1:30 in the morning. You’re here all the way until the end?
JAMES: No, I try to get out of here—
JAMES: I try to get out of here, and Daniel—so, the part of the thing that we weren’t sure if it would work or not was the tremendous amount of cell phone footage that we use from Daniel himself. Well, I had my reservations in the beginning, but the truth of the matter is—
ROBBIE: Because of the quality of the film?
JAMES: Yeah, it’s grainy, the audio is horrible. You know, the audio in the morning is a nightmare. It’s just a complete nightmare. But we make it work, and we get through it. But it works well, because it’s complementary to the good, nice HD or 4k footage that we have.
ROBBIE: You’ve got that and it’s sort of like the Blair Witch style of filming.
JAMES: It’s a nice blend, it’s a nice mix. It works. And he’s here to bag and tag and he typically films all his own bag and tag stuff, and his end of day close in the trailer. So he wraps up the day, and he puts his head down, like he sent me an email this morning at 3:55 am.
ROBBIE: Now it’s end of his day.
JAMES: That was the end of his day.
ROBBIE: Wow. Well, he does also get to wake up at noon-ish, or something like that he. He does get a good night’s sleep.
JAMES: He does, but I’m actually willing to bet that he expends like double what I put out a day in his energy level.
ROBBIE: Wow, that’s unbelievable.
JAMES: For what he has to go through, so probably.
ROBBIE: You’re obviously filming tons and tons of material, and just as someone who has watched the final product, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes of his stuff that he’s putting out there. His life at home with his girlfriend Marissa, and I can only imagine, it’s eye-opening and it’s very surprising how he sort of lets us in and sort of pulls back the shades and lets us in. You must probably see even more than that. So how do you know what is and isn’t OK to put into the final product?
JAMES: Interesting, interesting question. And I struggled with that in the beginning, and here was his answer to me. I said, you know, I want to make sure I always, always have your back, and he said no. He said, 100%, everything is at my discretion. Everything is full game. Show it all.
ROBBIE: Wow. That’s a lot of trust.
JAMES: Dude, it is! But I’ve got to tell you something that I would find hard to believe if I was 40,000 feet outside the situation. This guy is who you see. Through and through. It’s him right to the core. And there’s no front, there’s no—it’s him. It’s amazing. So that’s why he’s able to say, do it. It’s at your discretion. Shoot it all, use whatever you want.
ROBBIE: Wow, that’s unbelievable. So no worries that he’s going to, like, there’s nothing that he could possibly be ashamed of, no skeletons, no nothing like that.
JAMES: Nope. And it’s like, if he is, if he messes up, he has messed up. He has said “I screwed up, I apologize.” And he has stepped up and stuff. And he’s OK with that. I think if we start to edit, and we start to discriminate footage because, well, this isn’t in the right light or whatever, it devalues the show. It devalues his vlog. Like, here I am, good, bad, and indifferent, this is me. Some people are going to hate me, some people are going to love me, and some people will be in the middle of the road, but I am who I am.
ROBBIE: That’s right.
JAMES: And that’s what I respect about him. He’s really good.
ROBBIE: Wow. That’s a really incredible thing. Because I mean you’re going to have this day after day after day, eventually, you know he hopes he’s going to be winning the Main Event come July 22nd or whatever it may be, so then the project ends. Would you say that you have any sort of goals that you’re trying to reach, in terms of numbers or targets or make this an ongoing thing, or only during the World Series, or how do you see this moving forward after the World Series?
JAMES: Yeah, that’s interesting. I think that the goal in the beginning, the objective was to put something out there that was real, that we thought would be captivating and would engage people, would engage fans and others.
ROBBIE: Well, you accomplished that.
JAMES: Right! So that was really the only objective.
ROBBIE: That’s easy.
JAMES: Now at the midway point—we’re almost at the midway point—my objective is to get through the rest of the thirty days or whatever we’ve got. But I think that in the future there’s a lot of good opportunities with this, maybe ongoing throughout the year, who knows. We’ll see what people like, and probably how they react to that.
ROBBIE: Obviously. And you know, being successful. Because it could be just that he’s busting out of event after event and we are fortunate because he is just right in the thick of the Player of the Year race, and you’re getting some incredible opportunities to film him, like Federer at the top of his game, or something like that. So it’s pretty incredible.
Waiting up to watch @RealKidPoker ‘s vlogs everynight makes me feel like I’m still in Vegas.
— Mike (@ThaOriginalMike) June 15, 2017
JAMES: Right now, as we speak, you and I just walked away from filming this.
ROBBIE: Yes we did.
JAMES: And if I am not mistaken, he was second in chips with 20 left.
ROBBIE: This is in the $10k Limit Hold’em, sure. And there was like 20 players left, something like that, at the time?
JAMES: Right, right. The bubble was at 18.
JAMES: So I’m going to go ahead and say—
ROBBIE: Uh-huh. We’re calling it.
JAMES: This’ll be his 98th cash, career, which is amazing. I’m going to go ahead and say, tomorrow, he’s going to restart at 2 o’clock, with who knows what’s left.
ROBBIE: You know his intention already.
JAMES: I’m going to say 14. I do know the intention already. But he’s just so positive, it’s amazing, I thought, in the beginning, in our production meetings way back, so two months ago. So part of the concern that I had was, I don’t want to take away from your focus.
JAMES: So what we want to do—
ROBBIE: He seems to be able to multitask incredibly well.
JAMES: It drives him more! I think it makes him focus even more, if you can believe it. I can’t; I don’t understand how it could possibly, but I think it does. For some reason, it raises his level, maybe? I don’t know.
ROBBIE: And I guess it’s sort of effusive, I guess, what’s the world? I’m losing it. Infectious. Because when he raises his level, you raise yours, and that’s sort of a thing.
JAMES: Yeah, that’s funny to hear, and sometimes when I think I’ve hit the wall on a given day, and I think about that, I think about all that he’s still pushing out so I’ve really got to raise my efforts.
ROBBIE: It’s a really contagious type of energy. Well he did have a head start—he made it all the way to the final two against Abe Mosseri, didn’t manage to clinch it. But I’m wondering if basically, every level of tournament from Level 1 or whenever he late regs or whatever it is all the way to the end. What sort of preparation do you take when, he may win a bracelet, so does your modus operandi change when that may happen? Do you like, watch him jump into the air and say “Hey, I won my seventh”?
JAMES: So we mentioned a little bit about how we’ve been granted the media credentials here to shoot on the floor. And Harrah’s and the media team here, and Seth Palansky, have been really kind and very cooperative with us, however—
ROBBIE: Did they just get that that’s what the fans want?
JAMES: Yeah, however, they have some guidelines and boundaries that we have to operate within. They have a contract with ESPN and Poker Central and PokerGo. So there are certain things that we can and can’t shoot, and we’re allowed a certain amount of time on the floor a day, and so we kind of have to fall within those kinds of guidelines and make it work.
Love the vlogs!! Gives us all a chance to see what the ultimate wsop grinder does! Looks like hard work and determination! Your the ?!
— David Knipp (@dvdnipp) June 15, 2017
JAMES: I suspect that this is even going to get a little bit more challenging come the Main Event.
ROBBIE: Of course. Makes sense.
JAMES: Yeah. Because right now we really have lots of freedom with regards as to ESPN isn’t filming yet. PokerGo is streaming and is doing a great job, I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the PokerGo footage.
ROBBIE: Well, we have to use the promo code DANIEL to sign up for PokerGo! Gotta get those plugs in there!
JAMES: Yeah, you get 10 dollars off on an annual subscription!
ROBBIE: That’s it!
JAMES: But they’ve done a really great job, so I’ve watched when Daniel was in, right before the High Roller at Aria, and PokerGo did that stream, and I watched and became an immediate fan and, as a person behind the scenes understanding what it takes to put on that kind of broadcast in that detail and how well they’ve done, it’s amazing.
ROBBIE: So that was kind of your field study prior to the summer-long project.
JAMES: Yeah, well, to a degree. So we had some freedoms here with regard to there’s not a ton of video footage and camera people on the floor now, but that’ll change come the Main Event.
ROBBIE: I think it’s wonderful because in so many years prior, yes, OK, ESPN does the Main Event, but a lot of fans are even unaware that it’s going on for six weeks. Or we see the live updates online, but man, wouldn’t it be awesome if we, you know, not all of us can travel to Las Vegas. I mean, myself, I traveled from seventeen hundred miles away from Israel, and people want to come from Australia, from England, from all sorts of places in the United States. You can’t always do that. So you’re basically giving us a window into exactly what’s happening, and I think that’s also part of the addictive quality of it, like it makes us feel like we’re right there. And well, yeah, this is JT, the maestro, the conductor, the one who is putting it all together and compiling these wonderful pieces of media content for us to consume, and I hope that everyone here at Cardplayer Lifestyle has enjoyed this sort of a behind-the-scenes look into what goes into all of the amazing effort and energy that goes into producing these daily Daniel Negreanu blogs. So any last words for our listeners?
JAMES: I appreciate it; I appreciate the exposure. I like the fans, and we hope that you’re putting it on.
ROBBIE: That’s very kind, and we thank you so much for your time, James.
JAMES: Thanks, buddy.
ROBBIE: Likewise, thank you.