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John McAllister Interview

John McAllister is the producer of the bridge documentary Double Dummy, being shown at the Summer NABC in Toronto on Sunday, July 23rd. Bridge Winners tracked him down for an interview about the film and his take on the state of bridge.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, where do you live, what do you do for work?

I grew up and continue to live in Charlottesville, VA. Before I began producing Double Dummy, I did investor relations for a hedge fund here. I left that job in March of 2012 intending to do something more involved with bridge. Depending on the day and my state of mind, I either call myself a filmmaker or semi-retired. I do a little fund raising for another hedge fund, but that is very much a part-time gig.

 

How did you get into bridge? Who taught you, how did you catch the bug?

We used to play cards a lot as a family and my favorite game was hearts. My grandfather died my freshman year of college and I returned home for the funeral. That night, my aunt Kathleen, my parents, and I sat down to play hearts. As I was explaining the house rules, she remarked, “This is stupid, we should be playing bridge.”

She was right, and that was the last time I played hearts for about 20 years!

 

What do you like most about the game?

I just feel at home when I am sitting down at the table to play. All feels right in the world. I love the social aspects of the game, the need for partnership, and the exercise in logic and problem solving that each hand presents.

 

How did this movie come about and what motivated you to make it?

Memphis in the spring of 2012 was my first NABC. At that tournament, Greg Humphreys, my partner for the IMP Pairs, invited me to a brainstorming session on how to get more young people interested in learning bridge. During the meeting it occurred to me that I could play a role in getting more young people involved. Plus, I sensed that if I merely played bridge I might get incredibly frustrated by the talent gap between me and an expert player.

 

Tell us a little bit about the film. What it's about, who it's about, etc.

The primary through line is following the USA1 U-21 team in the 2012 World Youth Team Championships. Tom Carmichael is the NPC and the team includes Adam Kaplan -Zach Brescoll, Adam and Zach Grossack and Richard and Andrew Jeng. In addition to covering them in the tournament, we go to all of the team members' hometowns, except Brescoll's.

 

Why did junior bridge strike you as a good subject for a documentary?

One of the statistics I learned at the brainstorming session was that the average age of ACBL members was 67 and going up by two years each year. They also said that 95% of ACBL members were over the age of 55. I thought that showing young people playing the game was a great way to attract more young people.

Greg also happened to be sharing a room with Adam Kaplan in Memphis. I knew Adam from Bridge Winners where he had been posting a lot at the time. I was fascinated by his knowledge of the game and how much better he understood aspects of the game than Greg did. Plus, he was this 16-year-old kid that seemed far older. He intrigued me and I thought he might make an interesting jumping-off point for showcasing junior players.

 

How did you choose the title?

We worked with a production company based in Richmond, VA to help coordinate all of the filming. Somebody came up with the working title of Lost in the Shuffle. One night before going to sleep I was meditating and the idea of using Double Dummy struck me. It worked perfectly given the climax of the film and I loved how it might sound to be exactly the opposite of what it means to a non-bridge player.

That night I sent an email out to my two fellow producers, Jeremy Goldstein and Derek Sieg, as well as the director Lucas Krost, all non-bridge players. It was crickets, nobody replied at all. I was surprised because it seemed so obvious to me.

 

Did you have previous experience in the film industry?

Derek Sieg and I used to make home movies as children which centered around two college basketball players from the 1980’s that caught our eye. Derek was the hero, Pinone, named after a hustling guy from Villanova. I was Evil Number 30, named after a too slick guy from East Tennessee State University whose hair was too perfect and uniform just so.

Other than that, I was an extra in the movie Hush, but really nothing compared with producing a feature length (86 minute) documentary.

 

What have you learned making this film?

From a technical filmmaking perspective, the importance of watching the dailies. Michal Klukowski was 16 at the time of the event in Taicang. During an interview, the coach of the Polish girls team, Mirek Cichocki, says on camera that he thinks Michal is going to be a great player someday. Unfortunately, I never watched this footage until well after the event was over. We have footage of Michal with his teammates and around the venue, but nothing embedded with him or anything of him talking with us.

That lesson also probably applies to the larger life lesson that I have learned, being that if you want something to really take shape you must take ownership of the outcome and really get involved with the process of bringing the film, in this case, to life. Ironically that also includes allowing things time to breathe and take shape without forcing them. The dance of life.

 

What have been the most enjoyable aspects about this project?

Being finished with the editorial component of the project is such a relief in so many ways. But there is so much more to be done from a promotional and distributional standpoint. I think that people eventually stopped asking me how the movie was coming because we started five years ago and it seemed like it might never get finished.

For example, Kevin Dwyer was in Taicang, playing on the USA1 U-26 team and he has asked me so many times how the film was coming. And I just hated it. It really was coming from his heart and every time I would give him a new deadline when I thought we would be finished and that would of course fail once again. So, I can’t wait for someone like Kevin to watch it, who has supported me so much throughout the process.

 

What are your goals for the film?

I made the film with the idea in mind being that it had to appeal first and foremost to the bridge community. Then, if it resonates with you, and you have a friend that asks you about the game, Double Dummy can be something that you will share with them. I want it to be something that people can point to and say, “This is why I love the game.”

 

How do you see bridge’s prospects for future growth? How do movies like this help?

Anam Tebha told me at last summer’s NABC in Washington that she had made four hearts redoubled 11 times. It really got me to thinking that there is an incredible opportunity to bring bridge into the 21st century when it comes to keeping track of statistics.

The Common Game is doing some of this, but it needs to be way more widespread. Why would a teenager be interested in playing bridge when he or she can’t get the same sort of feedback that they get in playing a video game? Can you imagine watching an NFL game on TV and not knowing how many sacks a player has had in the game or in that season? What would the commentators talk about? Well, they only started keeping track of sacks in the last 30 or 40 years.

 

If you were in charge of the ACBL or the WBF, what would you do differently?

Bridge organizations need to make it their top priority to invest in the technology that allows for every card played in every sanctioned event to be tracked easily and inexpensively. I am encouraged by the recent hiring of the new ACBL CEO and his computing background.

 

How can people watch the movie?

We are screening the film on Sunday evening July 23rd after the evening session of play. It will also be shown as part of the Youth NABC on Wednesday July 26th at 6:45 pm. We are talking with the WBF in Toronto about how to possibly promote the film at the World Championships in Lyon.

Double Dummy is currently “in consideration” for several film festivals, which will help determine the next steps. There is an incredible opportunity for filmmakers to connect digitally today, so I may opt for that route. You can sign up for our email list on our website: www.doubledummymovie.com which is the best way to keep track of screenings, festivals, and our release schedule.

 

Anything else you'd like to add?

I would love to answer any questions from the Bridge Winners community.  I also encourage you to come and watch the film in Toronto.

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