Last Call is a documentary series from the Pokerisivut YouTube channel.
I was able to chat with writer and executive producer Miikka Anttonen and Matti Harju, the series’ director, lead cinematographer, and editor. We spoke about how the show came to be and what is in store for their team in the future.
The series is presented by Finnish rapper and poker enthusiast Dan Tolppanen — better known in Finland by his stage name, Uniikki.
The first season features interviews with Finnish poker pros Jens “Jeans89” Kyllönen and Patrik Antonius, as well as Dara O’Kearney. The first episode is centered around Kyllönen’s poker career and has been watched 51,000 times in its first month.
The origins of Last Call
The road to getting Last Call made wasn’t easy. The filmmakers explained to me how scheduling conflicts and then the pandemic derailed their initial idea multiple times.
“Last Call has existed in our minds in various forms over the years, but all the pieces finally clicked together in the fall of 2021,” Anttonen explained. “Dan, our star, came up with the idea of a documentary series following his journey to the WSOP a couple of years ago.
“Then the WSOP got canceled in 2020, and the plan was to try again in 2021. We spent most of this summer and fall planning the documentary assuming we’d be going to Vegas, but Caesars (understandably) took forever to announce the fall series, and eventually, we had to ditch the idea because it was starting to look like there wouldn’t be a WSOP this year, either.”
With frustrations mounting, the team decided to switch directions away from the WSOP.
“Then the WSOP got canceled in 2020, and the plan was to try again in 2021,” Anttonen said. “We spent most of this summer and fall planning the documentary assuming we’d be going to Vegas. But Caesars, understandably, took forever to announce the fall series, and eventually, we had to ditch the idea because it was starting to look like there wouldn’t be a WSOP this year, either.
“When it became clear that we would miss out on the WSOP again, we sat down with Dan, our director Matti and my co-producer Antti and started bouncing ideas off each other. […] Dan already knew Jens, and I came up with the idea of getting Patrik on board. All of a sudden we realized that we had something better in our hands than just another WSOP documentary.”
With the idea in place, all that remained was getting some footage in the can.
The Uniikki connection
Dan Topplanen is probably a new face and name to many in the poker world. He’s the affable presenter of Last Call and is clearly in love with the game. But in Finland, Anttonen explained, Topplanen is a music icon.
“I didn’t really have any previous experience on making documentaries,” Harju admits. “In 2018, I started making poker vlogs with zero knowledge about cameras and lenses. After a few thousand YouTube videos and lots of trial and error, I slowly started to get to know my filming gear and understand the basics of filmmaking.”
Harju is showing considerable modesty here, the series has a professional polish that wouldn’t look out of place on broadcast TV.
Getting the ball rolling
“In the summer of 2019, I traveled to Las Vegas to play at the WSOP,” Harju continued. “I vlogged the whole journey from start to finish.
“A year and a half later Dan contacted me saying that he wanted to make something similar to what I had done in Vegas — a documentary about him playing at the WSOP and filming the whole journey. He asked me to serve as the producer, and I remember being shocked and happy at the same time. Ever since I first looked through the lens of a video camera, the ultimate dream for me has been traveling around the world and producing high-end poker documentaries, and finally, I’d get to show my skills to the world!
“After a few meetings with Dan, we realized that we had something special in our hands and that we needed some backup.”
Anttonen picks up the story here.
“It was around this time when Antti and I came along,” he explained. “Antti brought years of producing experience from the podcast world, whereas I initially set out to help with the writing and especially the storytelling aspect of it. I ended up writing over 60 pages of scripts for the first four episodes alone.
“Luckily I also have quite a few connections in the poker world after 14 years of working on both sides of the fence, so I was able to help out with some producing duties as well.”
The difficult second album
Providing COVID doesn’t throw a spanner in the works, filming on season two will begin in February.
“In fact,” Harju said. “I’m relatively certain there will even be a third season.
“It’s going to be special. I honestly expected that season one would end up pretty well received because what we are doing is so unique compared to so many mass-produced documentaries. But Last Call has still done much better than any of us could’ve imagined. It’s beating basically every Finnish-language documentary on any subject on Finnish streaming platforms.
“In fact, it’s being streamed more than stuff like Dancing With the Stars and Survivor in this country.”
Harju isn’t letting the success go to his head though.
“At the same time, I feel like there are so many things we could improve on,” he adds.
“For example, I’d like us to get a little more adventurous when it comes to the traveling aspect. There are certain characters I’d also like to get on board. I’m taking no shortcuts, trying to get the likes of Ziigmund and Isildur on the show.
“I can’t tell you what we have planned for season two yet, but we are aiming for even bigger things without losing any of the authenticity.”
The first season of Last Call is available with English subtitles on Youtube, new episodes weekly.
Featured image source: Youtube