A poker-playing entrepreneurial filmmaker who’s taking Austin by storm.
By Stephanie Finger, Photo by Elizabeth Shear
When Austin-based producer Jay Rosenkrantz greets you, he smiles wide. His hand grips yours in a high-five-hand-shake hybrid and you think, after talking, it’s the gestural equivalent of his character: genuine, passionate, colorful, vibrant—all words he uses to describe Austin’s film scene. It’s no wonder he moved here for movies not quite one year ago.
“Austin is the best,” he says. “There’s this genuine spirit of creativity and collaboration. And you have the Alamo Drafthouse, which is like a temple for movie fans. It oozes this feverish love for movies that’s contagious.”
Rosenkrantz, age 29, was ecstatic to show his own documentary, Bet Raise Fold: The Story of Online Poker, at Alamo last December.
“It was beyond cool to get that opportunity!” he says.
The story of online poker is one Rosenkrantz knows well. After all, he lived it. Following film school in Boston, he moved to New York City to write screenplays while playing and teaching online poker.
“I was starting to get pretty good, and I became immersed in the online poker world, which was in the middle of a multibillion-dollar boom,” Rosenkrantz says.
Rosenkrantz played high-stakes online poker professionally, alongside entrepreneurial and film pursuits, until Black Friday, when the U.S. Department of Justice shut down online poker in America. Just like that, Rosenkrantz’s profession evaporated.
“It wiped out many of my interests, took away my passion. My friends moved out of the country to keep playing online poker. It was traumatic for the online poker industry and devastating for the community of people who were a part of it,” he says.
It changed the course of his life, career and documentary, which was wrapping production at the time. Bet Raise Fold chronicles the meteoric rise and sudden crash of the online poker boom through the stories of three young online poker pros. It opens on Black Friday with Dannielle Moon-Andersen, one of three players the film follows. She’s staring empty-eyed at her computer screen, face bathed in its pixilated glow.
“It feels like a bad dream I’m going to wake up from,” she says. Her tone, usually measured, has a new timbre, a kind of panicked, guttural shake. “This wasn’t just a game. It was my livelihood.”
It’s a powerful movie moment, regardless of whether you’ve played poker. Behind the scenes and throughout the country, Rosenkrantz was steeped in a similar state of shock. Snapping out of it, he called Director Ryan Firpo.
“He was one step ahead of me. Our cameras were already rolling,” Rosenkrantz says.
Rattled as he was, Rosenkrantz threw himself in to rethinking the documentary’s narrative. “Suddenly we were at ground zero of the biggest event in poker’s history. Everyone’s lives were turned upside down.”
Bet Raise Fold became a story much bigger than its makers intended, and an escape from industry fallout with personal implications. Luckily, Rosenkrantz had a hefty history of writing, producing and entrepreneurship to fall back on. In 2008, he co-founded DeucesCracked, a video training site that produces daily video tutorials and teaches thousands of subscribers how to play and think about poker better.
Soon after, he produced and starred in the G4 TV series 2 Months $2 Million, and in 2010, he wrote and co-created The Micros, a YouTube animated poker comedy about the misadventures of three micro-stakes grinders seeking fame and fortune. Rosenkrantz credits the psychological and strategic dimensions of poker for his entrepreneurial acumen.
“Poker had a major influence on my analytical side. Playing poker at a young age, you learn to manage money, assess risk and navigate emotions during high-pressure situations,” he says. “If I wasn’t an entrepreneur before poker, then playing poker turned me in to one.”
He’s also eager to acknowledge his movie role models: George Lucas, Luke Skywalker, Buzz Lightyear and Mikey McDermott from the classic poker film Rounders.
“The entrepreneurship was probably just an offshoot of the question, ‘How do I be those dudes?’ ”
Though Rosenkrantz doesn’t play much poker these days, his fascination with poker stories persists.
“The story of online poker is great because it’s this big and epic American story. There’s political intrigue, huge money, alluring heroes and villains. It’s exciting and fun and tragic and hilarious, and you see the entire emotional spectrum on display,” he says.
He’s working on continuing the adventures of The Micros and promoting Bet Raise Fold, which is gearing up for an international Video on Demand release in eight languages. He’s also looking forward to getting the film on to subscription-based platforms like Netflix this year. But Rosenkrantz is diving in to other genres and mediums too.
“Scott, my younger brother, and I are working on two short films: a horror comedy we aim to submit to Fantastic Fest and a comic one for Forever Fest. I’m also writing a lot of fiction that I’ll eventually self-publish,” he says.
Keep an eye out for Rozenkrantz’s next projects (and his poodle, who he insists is “the real young man to watch”). If his past productivity is any indicator, the wait for new and interesting stories won’t be long. In the meantime, check out The Micros, DuecesCracked and Bet Raise Fold: the Story of Online Poker at watch.betraisefoldmovie.com.