When word finally came down last week that KidPoker, the documentary about poker superstar Daniel Negreanu, had finally found mainstream distribution and is now available on NetFlix, Negrenau was obviously excited – but not nearly as excited – or relieved – as the film’s director, Francine Watson.
This time last year Watson, who also serves as the executive producer of the European Poker Tour broadcasts, was hunkered down in an editing bay, working on putting the finishing touches on the 90-minute long documentary. It wasn’t always going to be a 90-minute film though.
In mid-2014 Watson had heard that Negreanu was hosting his 40th birthday party in Las Vegas and thought it would make a good segment for an upcoming EPT broadcast. Ninety seconds. A couple of minutes long, max.
“He was having a party so it was like, ‘Oh, that would be fun. We’ll go to his party. We’ll shoot at his house, and we’ll talk to him, and whatever.’ Yeah, we did that. We went and shot the party and that was all terribly fun,” said Watson.
Along with turning 40 came eligibility for the Poker Hall of Fame, and given Negreanu’s career, he was a shoo-in and Watson knew she had to be there to document it. “We need to go, and we need to shoot him, obviously, going into the Hall of Fame. It’s a big deal.”
Throughout it all Negreanu, a naturally gifted talker, had given Watson and her team great footage – almost too much of it. Watson began to feel that it would all be wasted if she turned into just a two or three-minute clip for an EPT broadcast and wanted to find a different platform where she could tell even more of the story.
“Well what can we do? We can make it a 30-minute piece, for web, because we’ve done pieces on Liv Boeree before,” said Watson. “We’ll talk to Daniel in Barcelona and do an extended interview just so that we can make this 30 minute piece. Once we’d done the Barcelona interview we’re like, ‘You know, we’ve got way too much stuff’.”
Suddenly 30 minutes just wasn’t going to be enough time and Watson, who had never made a feature-length film before, felt maybe she had an opportunity to do something bigger, better and more important. She just didn’t want that opportunity to slip through her fingers when it was right in front of her.
“I think you sort of get one chance, you know? I’m not going to be able to talk to Daniel, and make a 30 minute piece, and then decide next year, ‘Oh, you know what, we should make an hour long documentary’,” said Watson. “It’s like, well, to not waste his time or whatever else, let’s just commit to it now and actually make a longer piece.”
Watson was still nervous about making something that long. Her role with EPT saw her making hour-long episodes, but a story this long was going to be challenge, but during one of many sit down interviews with Negreanu, Watson knew what she wanted the story to focus on.
“We just heard all about his family,” said Watson. “Once I started seeing (Negreanu’s) home movie footage, and also, he, bless him, did lose both his parents quite young. You just sort of think, ‘well actually this is something that drives the man’.”
While the home video footage shows a young Negreanu and the relationship he had with parents, Watson knew she had to get Negreanu’s brother Mike involved. She’d already begun piecing the footage together so she hired another producer to get to Toronto and spend some time with Mike and get his take on his younger brother’s success.
“Once you know that family is so important, I can’t really tell the story without hearing from Daniel’s only living member of his family, if you like. I think it was obvious that we had to go to Toronto,” said Watson. “Just hearing Daniel speak about (Mike), and then him speak about Daniel, like clearly they both adore each other. They are really, really different, but amazingly obviously just still hold all the same values, and two peas in a pod in that way.”
While Negreanu’s brother was a key component in telling the story, the star of it all was the six-time WSOP bracelet winner. Having worked with Negreanu for EPT broadcasts and other PokerStars projects over the years, Watson knew that he wasn’t going to hold back in interviews and would be more than comfortable speaking his mind.
“That’s just another thing that you sort of love about him, and just his passion. Everyone, I think, can relate to that, especially when you do what I do, you have to really love what you do,” said Watson. ” I have a lot of respect for him. It was like a story I wanted to tell, I suppose.”
Last July Watson felt like the editing process was nearly complete. The movie started and ended with Negreanu’s induction into the Poker Hall of Fame and told a story in between of everything Negreanu accomplished to get to that moment. That’s when things in Las Vegas began taking what could only be described as a dramatic turn.
“He absolutely almost wrecked it,” said Watson, half-jokingly referring to the improbable WSOP Main Event run that Negreanu was in the midst of last July. “Everyone who knew I was making (the film) was texting me and Tweeting me like, ‘What are you going to do? What are you going to do?’ I was so torn, because I love Daniel and I want to see Daniel make the final table, obviously.”
Of course, with the end-point of the film so intrinsically tied to the beginning, a November Nine appearance by Negreanu would have meant some drastic action from Watson and her team and it was clearly causing her some stress.
“We wouldn’t have really been able to cover him making the final table, which was an issue in itself, but at the same time I was like, I could live with that. You couldn’t release it if he’d have won it, and then, release it. We couldn’t have done that,” said Watson. “There was talk of, ‘oh well, you roll credits at the end, we put, “During the filming Daniel made his,” you know, whatever, final ten’. We could’ve done that. I didn’t like any of the solutions, honestly. None of them were good for me.”
Negreanu eventually famously busted out in 11th place, saving Watson from having to rework the film.
“Fortunately, well, not fortunately for Daniel, but fortunately for me, the old poker gods smiled down and it didn’t become an issue,” joked Watson, who was now able to focus on putting the finishing touches on the film. Four months later it made its debut as part of the Toronto International Film Festival, in Negreanu’s hometown.
Of course, with people now being able to see Watson’s final product came scrutiny and feedback. Watson heard it all and found most of it to be positive – even from those who maybe came to the screening that night in Toronto with a different mindset.
“There was some big YouTuber guy who was not a huge kind of poker guy, and he came up to me at the end and just said, ‘I was kind of dreading coming, kind of had to come under obligation’,” said Watson. “He just said he absolutely thoroughly enjoyed it, and just thought it was great storytelling, and just really was moved by it. That was great.”
While Negreanu’s fans and other poker enthusiasts around the world are going to find something in the film they like, that’s not the audience Watson had in mind while making it. Carrying on one of the strongest themes from the documentary itself, Watson wanted to make something those closest to her would enjoy.
“I wanted very much when I was making it, I wanted my mom to enjoy it. I set out to make a film that my mom and dad would watch, because I’ve worked in poker a really long time and they don’t particularly watch what I do,” said Watson. “I wanted to make something that I think would transcend just the poker community, which I hope that it will.”