The poker documentary “Dreamers” was released just a couple weeks ago and has been a rousing success, already notching more than 70,000 views as of this article’s publication. It was produced by Above The Felt marketing and talent agency and features Chris Moneymaker, Darren Elias, Rampage, Jeff Platt, Jamie Kerstetter and Matt Berkey, among other professional poker players and industry personalities.
In this article we review the 90-minute documentary as well as speak to Above the Felt Founder and CEO Tom Wheaton and the film’s editor Alec Rome, who each shared some interesting behind-the-scenes details about the project.
Review of Dreamers
The documentary features a group of renowned poker players, commentators, and vloggers competing at the 2022 WPT World Championship Main Event in Las Vegas. The tournament attracted 2,960 entries — each of whom bought in for $10,400 — and distributed $29 million in prize money, almost doubling the guaranteed prize pool of $15 million.
Here’s a brief rundown of the documentary’s protagonists:
- Darren Elias: The only player with 4 titles on the World Poker Tour
- Chris Moneymaker: The winner of the 2003 WSOP Main Event
- Maria Konnikova: Author of the book The Biggest Bluff with earnings of $463K on the tournament circuit
- Ethan “Rampage” Yau: YouTube poker vlogger with over 234K subscribers
- Matt Berkey: 2022 Global Poker Award winner with $4.6M in live earnings
- Jamie Kerstetter: Winner of two Global Poker Awards and poker commentator
- Jeff Platt: Broadcaster, streamer and player with $621K in live earnings
- Landon Tice: Player who has won $650K on the live circuit
- Jaman Burton: YouTube poker vlogger with over 47K subscribers
- Tom Wheaton: Founder & CEO of Above The Felt and Faded Spade Playing Cards
Cameras follow the group as they play the tournament and all are interviewed individually. That way we get to know how they started out in poker and that’s one of the things I enjoyed the most while watching Dreamers. To be able to see what attracted them to the game and what factors led them to dedicate their lives to poker is very interesting.
Finally had the chance to sit and watch the @abovethefelt DREAMERS documentary.
So much of this resonated so hard with my own set of beliefs about the poker industry and so many of the amazing people within.
A no-brainer must-watch for anyone in poker.
More importantly, I will…
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) April 18, 2023
Other topics discussed by the protagonists include: how they deal with variance and tournament eliminations, women in poker, what they enjoy most about playing live, content creation and the future of poker.
I’m not going to tell you how the group fared in the WPT World Championship Main Event, as you’ll have to find out on your own by watching the documentary. But, I can tell you that two of them made deep runs in side events and one even managed to find the winner’s circle in a different event.
Time absolutely flew by as I was so caught up in the tournament action and interviews with the members of the group. I couldn’t believe how quickly the 1.5 hours passed! I really enjoyed watching Dreamers and having watched numerous poker documentaries I can confidently say that this one is one of the best I’ve seen.
You can watch it for yourself below, as it’s available for free on YouTube.
Interview with the documentary’s creators
After having watched Dreamers, I was eager to learn more about how it all came together, so I spoke with Tom Wheaton and editor Alec Rome to get more details.
How did the idea of making this documentary come up?
Tom: “We were originally aiming to produce a couple informal vlogs that highlighted the team’s run in the world championship and how we approach the game and life via interviews. It turned into something much deeper based on the output of the interviews, and the story that developed with two of the members of the group making deep runs in side events.”
Alec: “A few months back, Tom asked me if I had any interest in video editing. I’ve done plenty of video editing starting in high school, but never anything feature length like a documentary. There was all of this interview footage and B-roll from the Wynn Championship in December of all the Above the Felt roster, and particularly the great stories around Jamie Kerstetter and Rampage.
Tom and I both agreed that we could do something big to highlight all of these great people and poker personalities and communicate what we both know about the industry to someone who perhaps doesn’t know anything about poker. There are amazing, smart and personable people in this game who could expand the poker space into new avenues. We both knew we needed to do the story justice and that we could, and thus ‘Dreamers’ was born!”
Did you start to worry when team members began to be eliminated from the tournament or is this something you had a “Plan B” for?
Tom: “Yes, I thought it would turn into content about resilience and how we as poker players have to fight through failure to achieve success. That is still very much a part of the story through the eyes of each player, and how it’s the poker dream that keeps us all so passionate about the game regardless of the vast differences in our journeys. The progression of the poker story from the World Championship to the Ladies Championship to the High Roller was such an exciting content roller coaster.”
Alec: “Really I wasn’t worried about the fact that nobody did well in the World Championship. We knew we had those other stories to use and also, narratively, it helped us to show the struggles and to show how poker can go from smiles to shit in a day or less. The story has no substance if it’s all positive. There must be some challenge, villains, problems. I’m also personally interested in portraying reality as accurately as I can, and that’s the reality that multiple players talked about in the documentary. You barely cash 20 percent of the time in tournaments. Bankrolls can be busted. Cards are brutal. They don’t care about how hard you’ve worked or how long you’ve been doing it… but that’s what’s beautiful and that’s why we keep playing.”
Who is the target audience for your poker documentary?
Tom: “We made an intentional effort to make it interesting for those outside of the industry or who were passionate about poker during the boom era compared to today. The response from those outside of our community has been phenomenal, although I think there are things we could have done differently to make it resonate even more with an outside of poker audience. In our industry, the audience is anyone who is chasing their own version of the poker dream whether recreational, professional or otherwise.”
Alec: “Ideally we wanted both poker professionals and those who are avid poker fans/members of the industry to love this documentary and feel that it represented the best of who we are. But when I was editing this, I really had the novice or the outsider who barely knows how to play poker in mind at all times. How best can we keep an outsider interested? How do we introduce the roster to people who didn’t know their names before? How do we get them invested in the story and intrigued to keep watching? We knew that the avid poker community member was more likely to stick around, and we still wanted to serve them in telling this story, but this was about bringing new players into the game and outside eyes on an industry that may not have been watching before.”
I can’t believe we have ~40,000 views & so many positive responses to “Dreamers: A New-Age Poker Documentary” in just 72 hours.
— Tom Wheaton (@TomWheaton_) April 18, 2023
One of the topics discussed in Dreamers is the low percentage of women in poker tournaments. Do you think this could change in the future?
Tom: “I do think we’ll continue to see a steady increase in the percentage of women tournament entrants at all levels. There are many passionate and talented women executive leaders driving business decisions for major industry companies today, and I think that is helping market the game the right ways to grow gender demographics in that direction. I also think that organizations like the WPA are doing tremendous work to help break down the barriers of entry for women interested in the game. For Above the Felt, I trust Jamie, Maria, Samantha and Farah to tell me how we can help support this growth through our work!”
Alec: “It can change if we actually make an effort. One thing that Jamie Kerstetter so perfectly talks about in the documentary is about the thought that we have already marketed enough to women and they just won’t make the jump into poker. Jamie and I both agree that such an assumption is completely false. It isn’t enough to just have women in the spotlight in the poker world; it’s about both treating them as equals and actually considering what women want and what would bring women who are hesitant to play tournaments into the player pool.
Above the Felt has brought on fantastic ambassadors of the game like Jamie, Maria Konnikova, Sam Abernathy and now just recently Farah Galfond. They have the immense respect of their peers as well as reach and presence outside the poker community and I am very excited to use my skills to help them reach whatever goals they have for women in poker become closer to reality. We would all be better off if women felt more safe at the poker table and felt compelled to interact in the community more.”
Dreamers has already been viewed by 70,000 people, were you expecting that response? Do you have plans to do another one?
Tom: “I would have been happy if we reached 10,000 viewers this month let alone 70,000 in under two weeks! To me, it wasn’t about content metrics. It was more about a few of us novices at this production game creating meaningful content for our Above the Felt team, the poker community, and those who might be interested outside of our industry. It was important to me that our roster felt proud to be a part of it more than anything. To reach these types of viewership and engagement figures as a brand new YouTube channel that didn’t have any content two weeks ago is a great feeling. It’s a testament to the production team behind the scenes, and the quality of people who starred in it on the Above the Felt roster. The poker community really showed up for us during the premiere and that helped carry momentum across many viewer types and communities. I’m really proud of the entire project and Dreamers II is in planning now. We’re also distributing this documentary to a variety of VODs this summer.”
Alec: “I wish I could say I was expecting that response from people, but I always tend to temper my own expectations. When you make something, you have to be okay and still pleased with the final product even if nobody sees it. If you’re not happy with the journey and the destination, why did you do it? Tom and I both are proud of what’s been accomplished with this documentary and to have tens of thousands of views in a week and having nearly 600 peak concurrent viewers during the premiere was beyond expectations. We absolutely plan on doing another Dreamers and I’m excited to be a part of the process again. We’re looking to improve upon the first one and deliver even more. I particularly want to improve upon some of the things we did in Dreamers and make it even more of a film that will be respected as simply a documentary about poker, and not just a poker documentary.”
You end off Dreamers with a really nice and fitting quote about dreaming. What are your poker dreams?
Tom: “My poker dream is to be a WPT World Champion. Will I ever achieve it? I don’t know. My poker tournament volume is low because my family and businesses are the main priority… and tournament variance is obviously really high. There is something I do know, though. I’ll have a lot of damn fun building the poker dream for the rest of my career, and chasing the poker dream for rest of my life.”
Alec: “I may at one time used to have dreams about playing and winning some tournaments here and there, but I’ve come to accept and actually prefer the fact that I may never do that. I’ve carved out my own part of the poker community and I really don’t need the grind that comes with being a regular player. My bigger goals are to see this community grow and evolve; to include new players, reach new milestones and to overall shift the conversation. I’m glad we could impact people so positively with this documentary and I would like to continue to highlight the great stories poker can bring out. Lots of people have carved paths as a player and I would have no impact on the world if I just grinded tournaments or cash. But I can have an impact as a community builder and storyteller. I take inspiration from the likes of Mike Sexton and many other builders of the game. I would love to create a more accepting, diverse and inspired community through what I do. If I can’t do any of that, I’m happy with playing some mixed games with friends and being the best human I can be.”
We’d like to thank Tom and Alec for answering our questions and we sincerely hope that Above the Felt continues to make more excellent poker documentaries, like Dreamers. That’ll do a lot of good for our industry!