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PokerNews Goes to the Runner Runner Premiere

Ben Affleck & Justin TImberlake

When most people think of a big Hollywood movie premiere, they think stretch limos, klieg lights and decked-out stars — George Clooney or Ryan Gosling or Ann Hathaway or whoever’s the big thing of the moment — making their way along the red carpet before crowds of bedazzled fans hoping for a glimpse of them as they wave, flash dazzling smiles and gab it up for the TV cameras before disappearing into a darkened palace where their celluloid image will be projected onto a giant screen for an audience of VIPs, flacks, studio execs and members of the press — everyone but the actual people they hope will eventually pay the massive production bills.

My more jaded colleagues have made it clear to me that these premieres are mostly dog and pony shows, depending upon whether the movie in question is a dog or a pony, and that the rule of thumb is the bigger the budget, the more lavish the premiere. I say it’s easy to be cynical about these events — unless you’ve never been to one or you’re a bit starstruck. Charges to which (raising hand) I am guilty on both counts.

The point is, when an invite to the world premiere of Runner Runner landed on the PokerNews desk, I was all over it. Not only would I get a chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, I would even be able to justify it to my boss by saying it was in the line of duty, as the movie’s plot centered around the high-stakes world of online poker. As if that weren’t enough, Runner Runner had been penned by the same duo responsible for the cult-classic Rounders, which many considered to be the first real spark of the poker boom.

Never mind that during a pre-premiere phone-in I did with the writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien it was impressed upon me that Runner Runner was not — I repeat not — a sequel to Rounders, or even a poker movie, but rather was a thriller set against the backdrop of the exotic world of online gambling. And never mind that the premiere was taking place not in the heart of Hollywood, California, but rather in Planet Hollywood, the hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip — it was a premiere, and there were going to be stars and flashbulbs and TV cameras. I was excited!

Sarah Grant and myself at the premiere
Sarah Grant and myself at the premiere

On the appointed day, well before the festivities started, I picked up my tickets and met the rest of the PokerNews team, which consisted of on-air personality Sarah Grant and cameraman Adam Brown, in the mezzanine of Planet Hollywood. The red carpet had been unrolled and there was already a crowd milling and a buzz of energy in the air.

Escorted by the P.R. guy, Josh Weinstock, the three of us were led past media teams from Good Morning America, NBC News and Entertainment Tonight to a place on the red carpet that can best be described as less than prime. Weinstock, I suspected, had only been asked to reach out to us in the first place because the studio was hoping that we might help quell the negative reaction in the poker community prompted by the Runner Runner trailer, which many in the poker industry felt played into unwanted stereotypes of greed and corruption in the online gaming world. “Be nice to them,” I imagined one of the producers saying to him, “but keep it in perspective. No need to go overboard.”

So there we were in red-carpet Siberia, though in all fairness we did have position on a few outlets that were even lower down on the totem pole. “I know it’s near the end,” Weinstock said almost apologetically, “but sometimes that’s a good thing because by the time the actors get here they’re almost done. Sometimes they’re more relaxed and willing to joke around a bit.” Even a first-timer like me knew what he really meant: “After answering the same questions over and over, the stars will probably be so punchy by the time they reach you they won’t know what they’re saying or even care.”

It got worse. A while later we were informed that Affleck might be a no-show and that when Timberlake reached us we would only be permitted to ask him one question and it “must relate to the film.”

One question? Really? Sarah, Adam and I racked our brains for the perfect innocuous-seeming poker question that wouldn’t unsettle Timberlake’s handlers unduly (we were a poker news organization, after all) while still fulfilling the “must relate to the film” dictum. We finally decided we’d ask him what sort of preparation he’d done for his role as an online poker player. Pleased with our plan, we settled in for what turned out to be a long wait. As I was learning, things rarely start on time at a movie premiere.

An hour later, on my way back to the red carpet from a bathroom break*, I heard an announcement over the P.A., followed by a roar from the now sizable crowd of fans. Hurrying to our station, I found Sarah already in the midst of an interview with Meatloaf, the musician turned actor turned B-list reality star (Celebrity Apprentice anyone?). I whipped out my notebook as Carrot Top and several more B-listers stopped to talk to us (I was learning that a journalist on the red carpet is somewhat akin to a prospector panning for gold, competing with his fellow prospectors, seeing a lot of fool’s gold and not very valuable flecks of the shiny stuff in his pan while looking for that ever elusive nugget, the Affleck, the Timberlake).

*For more on the bathroom break, which was actually mostly a mission to track down the stars, check out my recent PokerNews blog.

And then there they were, first Affleck (he had showed!), then Timberlake, ignoring our pleas as they were hastily escorted past us without stopping or even offering an apology. One by one, the other headliners — Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie — did the same. Maybe they were behind schedule, maybe we were too unimportant in the scheme of things for them to worry about. It was the red-carpet equivalent of being dealt out even though we were sitting right there at the table.

Oh well, we did get to chat with the screenwriters again, and the director, Brad Furman, and a couple of the actors that played bit parts, which you can check out in the latest installment of PokerNews’ Sin City Series:

And of course we did get to go to the movie, which was preceded by a few words from Furman, who then introduced Timberlake, Affleck and the other members of the cast to a round of rousing applause. After the lights dimmed, I’m pretty sure most of the actors slipped out and went back to the glamorous existence of which I am not a part. But what the hey, I didn’t mind, I was watching them on a movie screen twenty times bigger than life.

Per studio instructions, I’m not allowed to reveal any details about the film itself until after it’s October 4th release, but rest assured that I will tell you what I thought in an upcoming review. All I can say for now is “Hooray for Hollywood!”

*Lead photo courtesy of

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