When Jason Baumgardner set out to make what he felt had the potential to be a trailblazing documentary about the ever-evolving daily fantasy sports industry, he was intent on spotlighting the persistence, hard work and willingness to fight the odds that it takes to succeed within it.
As it turned out, he’d need a healthy dose of all three to see the fruits of his cinematic labor, Perfect Lineup, eventually come to fruition.
The nearly year-long odyssey through the exhilarating world of DFS live finals and in-depth interviews with prominent players, site operators and industry professionals had its initial screening at the first annual DFS Players Conference last November in New York City, where it received rave reviews. With Baumgardner having only stopped filming the month prior, however, it meant that the post-production process was the proverbial race to the finish line.
“We hired several editors who cranked on it and I didn’t have the final cut in my hand until we were literally on the ride to the airport,” he said. “First time I watched it was in NYC just before the DFS industry saw it.”
Perfect Lineup has come a long way from that Big Apple debut, with its official online release having occurred over this past weekend. Moreover, it will have its official World Online Premiere on Labor Day evening at 8:00pm Eastern/5:00pm Pacific, with viewers encouraged to watch on the device of their choice at that time and live-Tweet their feedback on the film.
Before it ever reached the brink of global distribution and consumption, however, Perfect Lineup often faced, and overcame, considerable obstacles.
Merging of Fantasy Sports and Filmmaking
Like many a current DFS enthusiast, Baumgardner’s love for the fantasy industry originated with his participation in the season-long version of the pastime, having played for years with college friends.
The Texas-born director also grew up keenly interested in filmmaking and married his two passions when he made his directorial and writing debut in 2009 with a season-long fantasy football-themed web-only series titled The League.
While it began to get some traction, received positive feedback, and even gained a sponsor for a second season, the eventual debut and popularity of the FX show of the same name helped put an end to its early momentum.
Although he feels he’s made leaps and bounds as a filmmaker since, Baumgardner describes the series as “a great foray into two things that I love- fantasy sports and filmmaking”.
The subsequent experience of helping a friend edit a documentary about the video game industry in 2013 and part of the following year helped Baumgardner sharpen his resolve about pursuing the film industry full-time. As he became cognizant of the burgeoning daily fantasy space in 2014, he soon realized that he’d quite possibly hit on the subject of his next project.
What struck him the most was that no one had yet taken the step of documenting the many fascinating aspects of the community, excitement and high stakes of the daily fantasy industry, as well as the visceral engagement with sports that it prompted in its participants.
“No one was talking about this great industry except the community that played it,” Baumgardner said. “I wanted to capture that community, explore the world, and showcase the DFS industry before someone else did.”
Overcoming Financial Obstacles
He didn’t have a real road map of how to proceed, so he took a major step by asking industry leader FanDuel for access to their December 2014 NFL Live Final. Armed with unfettered access to the event, he proceeded to shoot his first piece of footage for Perfect Lineup and fell in love with the project in the process.
“By the end of that weekend, I knew I had a story that no one else had and a community I really wanted to keep exploring”, he recalled.
Unfortunately, his enthusiasm was considerably tempered soon thereafter by what Baumgardner describes as serious financial hardships. The difficulties were enough to put the project in jeopardy at its inception, but through the generosity of friends and family, Perfect Lineup marched forward.
That’s not to say every subsequent piece of footage was easy to come by. While the access to live events and day-to-day operations were in virtually every case gladly granted by site operators, players and industry professionals, the ability to get a camera in front of them was often in doubt due to financial distress.
A network of family and friends continued to be instrumental in helping Baumgardner and crews get to other events covered in the film, including the 2015 NBA Live Finals for DraftKings, FanDuel and Fantasy Aces, as well as MLB Live Finals for the latter two operators.
Sacrifices with respect to accommodations and transportation were often involved, such as when Baumgardner shacked up in a hostel in South Beach for the FanDuel 2015 Basketball Championship, and then took the jaunt upstate on an overnight bus to interview industry luminary Dan Back in his Jacksonville home.
Factor in that he and his wife Catherine, a professional costume designer, were also busy tending to their then one-year-old, and the entire endeavor was a juggling act of epic proportions.
“It was all hands on deck and I am so grateful that we have been able to keep going on so little and make this happen, “ he said. “The DFS community was also amazing in opening up their homes, lives, and businesses to tell their stories. Everyone I would meet and talk with about the film was very excited about helping and being a part of the project.”
An Inside, Personal Look at Industry Members
Indeed, one of the many reasons Perfect Lineup stands out is the personal moments and reflections of industry players and professionals alike that Baumgardner and his cameras gained access to.
Nigel and Lesley Eccles speak candidly about FanDuel’s beginnings; DraftKings co-founder Jason Robins offers his views on the unique appeal of the industry; the Frisina family, founders of Fantasy Aces, give Baumgardner and Perfect Lineup viewers a look at the challenges of balancing the dueling demands of a start-up business and growing family; Back’s emotions come to the surface when expressing his appreciation for being able to make a living as a DFS broadcast professional from home, thereby allowing him to have extensive involvement in raising his two young children; DFS pro McJester elaborates on how his success in the industry helped turn his life around and enables him to provide his ailing mother with a better quality of care.
Perfect Lineup also captures the raw rollercoaster of emotions inherent in the live final events themselves, from the ongoing sweat throughout the slate of games to the climactic moment when the final whistle or buzzer on the last game sounds, leaving the latest group of daily fantasy prize-winners to soak in their life-altering moments.
A Real Buzzer-Beater
Baumgardner’s vision had been to wrap up filming with the dawn of a new NFL season, which he accomplished by attending and capturing footage of last September’s Week 1 Rotogrinders NFL Kickoff Weekend in Las Vegas. He also shot some additional footage into October, and ironically, the DraftKings data leak incident unfolded very shortly thereafter.
Would it be prudent to fire up the cameras once again, and document a development that would at least partially alter the original spirit of the film? The Perfect Lineup director determined that he had already encapsulated the most momentous year yet for the DFS community, which was quite a story onto itself.
“I felt like I had a movie,” he said. “I have a deadline, people want to see this thing, I’m going to move forward with what I have.”
And move forward he did, with an eye on that New York City debut in mid-November. In addition to all of the generosity of those near and dear to Baumgardner, the final push for the Perfect Lineup came from a Kickstarter project that raised more than $20,000 on the last day of the campaign, allowing the overall goal of $40,000 to be reached. That in turn enabled the furious post-production process that saw a finished version of the film just beat the deadline for its Players Conference debut.
“It was truly a miracle and it all came from friends, family, and especially the DFS community,” he reflects.
Despite the fact that the months to come would bring an abundance of concern and consternation on the legal front for all involved with DFS, Baumgardner never lost confidence that the industry that he’d poured over a year of his life into capturing would emerge alive and well.
“I knew it was going to survive, I didn’t know what it was going to look like but there was a part of me that thought it was going to remain in some form or fashion,” he said. “And I was excited to get in front of the wave and tell the story (of the industry) before someone else jumped in and did it.”
A Variety of Perspectives
With the Perfect Lineup’s focus shifting seamlessly from players to industry professionals, it enables viewers to digest the many different aspects of DFS, while also providing those completely unfamiliar with the games a unique look at what all the fuss is about, so to speak.
“I feel like you could watch the movie and enjoy someone’s story and take something from it,” Baumgardner said. “It really shows from an insider point of view what it’s like to pursue it, what it’s like to be a part of it, what it’s like run a site”.
Perfect Lineup is available through a variety of online sources, including I-Tunes and Amazon, as well as through it’s official website, www.perfectlineupmovie.com. Positive reviews for the film began pouring in over Labor Day Weekend, and Baumgardner says he’s ready to give the DFS community more of what they want.
“There’s a lot of good stories in this space but not a lot of storytelling content coming out about it,“ he observed. “I’d love to stay in this space and keep telling fantasy sports stories”.