There was a time when I use to play friendly games of Texas hold em' with my friend, director Matt Gallagher and an assortment of his buddies. There would always be a large vat of chili, Matt's specialty, enough cold beers for the night, and several bowls of quick snacks. These were quiet, sometimes chatty games that could run you, on a bad night, a loss of 20 maybe 40 dollars. The biggest risk would be if you dropped a chip and Walter, Matt and Cornelia's loveable but sluggish beagle, would promptly chew it up and attempt to digest it.
Matt and Cornelia had a lovely baby girl. Cornelia, herself a film producer and maker, was now a full time parent. The recession hit and work for gun-for-hire directors grew slim even for accomplished filmmaker's like Matt. The friendly Friday night poker games stopped and life, as they say, took over.
"I was an out-of-work filmmaker," says Gallagher, "A friend of mine introduced me to the underground scene and I started to make money at it - enough for the mortgage and diapers." That was a pretty seductive start for Matt who continued on eventually discovering that there were hundreds of 'grinders' in Toronto with the same plan. From there sprung up the idea of the documentary.
It would be several months before Matt presented the idea of bringing cameras into the game. Grinders, as one might imagine, are suspicious of any one new. These late night illegal games have been busted before by undercover police. But with the unprecedented trust and confidence of the players Matt was able to make his documentary.
Grinders chronicles the life of several hard-core players, and Matt's own experience as a gambler and a new parent. "I'm married to the producer of Grinders and so I was fortunate to have a very understanding partner," says Matt, "The world of illegal poker is mostly nocturnal so being away was a requirement of the job. Unfortunately, our new born baby was also living a nocturnal existence - It was a very difficult period for us."
Several months would pass before Matt would broach the idea that there was a documentary in all of this. Grinders can be suspicious of new players having known their late night illegal games busted by undercover police before. Yet Matt was able to gain the unprecedented trust and confidence of the players and in time Matt had his film.
Grinders is Matt's most personal and dramatic film to date - which is saying a lot since one of his films, Tyler's Barrel, chronicles one young man's ambition to ride the falls in a homemade barrel.
You can watch Grinders now on TVO's Doc Studio.
There is also a new Doc Studio app to add to your mobile devices.