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Sean Chaffin

Nov 10, 2023

he blowups, the passion, the drama, and even tears mixed with victorious moments and plenty of table talk are all what poker embodies! Poker fans from the 2000s will recognise many of these scenarios regarding Mike “The Mouth” Matusow.

From massive wins on some of the game’s biggest stages to a stint in jail at one point, Matusow has seen a bit of everything in poker. Now, filmmakers are working to document his life in a new film fittingly titled Matusow.

The four-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner appears polarising to some poker fans. But few players bring as much passion to the tables as Matusow. The new film from Big F Productions hopes to shine a light on this aspect.

“A lot of people have this misconception of him that he's bad, good, or unapproachable, or a jerk,” director Frank Zarrillo says. “That couldn't be further than the truth. I spent a lot of time with Mike at casinos, doctor appointments, family and friend outings, restaurants, you name it. He's a generous guy that always tells the truth and is upfront with you.”

Making a Connection

The world of poker is no stranger to plenty of great documentaries.. The game is full of intriguing characters and stories. It may seem odd that Matusow has never been the focus of a documentary. 

Always forthcoming in interviews as well as in his 2012 autobiography Check-Raising the Devil, Matusow undoubtedly isn’t shy. While he isn’t much of a poker player, Zarrillo remembers watching plenty of the WSOP during the poker boom. He was fascinated by the larger-than-life characters and personalities. 

Zarrillo is originally from Toms River, New Jersey, and now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He believed Matusow could be the perfect subject for a full-length film.

Zarrillo has produced previous documentaries with his brother Danny, who serves as Big F's chief operating officer. The Big F production The Wrestler: A Q.T. Marshall Story earned several honours after being released in 2017.

Zarrillo also has another film coming to streaming sites soon. Rich Gaspari focuses on the life of the legendary bodybuilder who is now the CEO of Gaspari Nutrition. Zarrillo enjoys documenting people and stories from different industries. 

Poker seemed like a logical next step after making a connection with Matusow. A friend who played in his home game made an introduction, and the cameras were soon rolling.

In essence, Zarrillo followed Matusow everywhere he went. That may be a bit too intrusive for some players, but producers didn’t have difficultly convincing Matusow. 

“Mike is the best subject for a movie or documentary,” Zarrillo says. “He is the ultimate character personality. He holds nothing back, says what's on his mind, and doesn't care what people think about him. He's a good, loyal person overall, and most importantly, he gave me access to film his everyday life. I don't think any other player would allow me to do that.“I'm fortunate enough to tell his story the way I think it should be told without any fakeness or restrictions. So, with front-row access to his life and network, along with his name and reputation in the business, I think we will have a special end result in our product.”

Filming The Mouth

Documenting Matusow hasn’t been a fly-by-night operation. The Big F team filmed Matusow’s play at the WSOP over the last few years, including the final year at the Rio. They also followed him in the first at Bally’s (later renamed Horseshoe) and at the tables during the World Poker Tour’s 20th Anniversary.

“So, there's history in the doc along with Mike's story as well,” Zarrillo says. “But ultimately, the challenges weren't that difficult, Mike is easy to get along with despite what some people on the Internet may think.”

Following Matusow came with some challenges. The Big F crew had to secure permission to film at high-level events, flying all their equipment to Las Vegas. 

Following the film’s subject 24/7 and gathering hours and hours of footage to edit proved challenging. Meeting poker and documentary fans’ expectations is always in mind while putting the production together.

“It's not an easy gig, let me assure you, but I love the whole process,” Zarrillo says. “It takes time, effort, talent, and patience to make a feature film, especially at this level. “Because when you direct a story, and it involves the biggest names in the poker industry, you have to be confident in yourself and your abilities that it's going to come out better than everyone's expectations. So many people will be judging and critiquing your work, so we have to ensure that it's going to be the best poker documentary ever made.”

Coming Soon to a Screen Near You!

Few people have as much intensity at the poker table as Mike Matusow. A quick YouTube search will reveal plenty of emotional moments involving Matusow, who has more than $10 million in lifetime live tournament winnings.

Matusow may not be one of the game’s younger players, but he can still shine at the table. He scored runner-up and fifth-place finishes at this summer’s WSOP. 

His poker record includes two Main Event final table appearances, winning the 2005 WSOP Tournament of Champions for $1 million. He holds three WPT final table appearances, including a runner-up score, while being a regular on televised poker throughout the 2000s.

“He’s one of those guys that shouldn't be doing anything else but playing the game of poker,” Zarrillo says. “I've witnessed him spend all day and night either talking about poker or playing at the Bellagio, Rio, and Paris casinos. If he's not at the casinos, he would be home playing on his iPad.“Mike's one of those fixtures in the business. What I mean by that is when you think of the game you can't help but to mention his name. If you're a fan of the game, you would expect him to be there whether on the rail or sitting at a cash game.”

Along with the main star of the film, Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Shaun Deeb, and James Woods make appearances or are interviewed. Matusow is now in post-production, and producers are hoping for a release in early 2024.

The documentary covers many topics including where Matusow sees himself in the game.

How does he hope to be remembered?

“In the poker industry, I want to be remembered as one of the pioneers that built the World Series, built the World Poker Tour to what it was,” Matusow says in the trailer. “I believe in my heart, without me and Phil, and Daniel, and Ivey, and Moneymaker, poker wouldn’t be where it is today. Everybody in the poker world will always say Mike’s got a heart of gold, and Mike will do anything for anybody. People who don’t know me will say the opposite.”

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