Matthew Salsberg: Talking TV and Poker

Matthew Salsberg: Talking TV and Poker
[img courtesy of WPT Flickr]

As a European one of my weaknesses when reporting on poker is my lack of knowledge when it comes to recognizing the American poker faces, and they do like to come to the Grand Prix de Paris to participate in the World Poker Tour (WPT) event en force.

Last year, one of these invisible Americans was Matt Salsberg. In 2011, he came 70th in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event for a $108,412 score, but other than that all of his cashes were in the tournaments reserved for the lower rung of the American poker ladder.

“He’s the script writer for Weeds.” A journalist told me.

Suddenly, Salsberg had a face, and to help improve my memory he went on a heater of a lifetime to take the WPT Grand Prix de Paris title after defeating a final table that included Theo Jorgensen, Philipp Gruissem, Timothy Adams, Mohsin Charania and Fabian Quoss.

A one hit wonder?

Just like his scripts, Salsberg has longevity written into his system, and he would build on that victory to grind his way through Season XI emerging at the other end as the WPT Player of the Year.

That’s a lot of poker, and for the first time in his life his writing had to take a back seat whilst he concentrated on dealers, flushes and triple barrel bluffs. Now with a more secure footing in the game, and a WPT POY title to defend, he has an opportunity to integrate the two skills, as he travels around the world writing and playing poker.

“I had a few weeks in LA before I came to Europe, and have a couple of projects that are moving forward. I have to write some stuff over the next few months, but if I get that set up then I can write on airplanes and in hotel rooms so I can continue playing…it should be fun.”

After spanning eight seasons Weeds is right up there with the new vogue of hit televised serials that are taking over the entertainment history. The box set binge that every poker player knows well, and a form of writing that appeals to Salsberg.

“They are what Indie films were 15-20 years ago. They are very character driven, meaning you can dole out the story very slowly, and they have serialized concepts so it becomes this binge viewing of every week there is a cliffhanger. When we made Weeds we were fortunate to do that and it’s a style I love. It’s a great place to be working right now.”

Salsberg once told me that the work behind the scenes on shows like Weeds is very much a team effort, with groups of collaborative writers working together to create plot and character depth. I wondered if all series worked along the same formula.

“They all have writing staff, its very collaborative. It’s impossible to do that much work by yourself. It’s very demanding to create and write a show, and it takes a lot of manpower.”

We then moved on to the intricacies of the open and closed loops that have helped make shows like Breaking Bad so successful.

“There are certain things that can be planned in advance, but you don’t say this is a beginning and this is an end, but you can certainly have a vision of the end of a series, if not an entire show. It’s tough to sell sometimes because executives do want to know that you have a game plan and this is sometimes difficult. Once you get into a writing room and you start filming, things start evolving and changing.”

I was fortunate enough to talk to the author of Alligator Blood James Leighton, who told me that the original script for Runner Runner had changed immensely before the final movie was produced. I asked Salsberg for his view.

“It happens a lot. It’s unfortunate, but it especially happens in film. Writers have no control in film. Directors come on board and have ideas what to do with the script. It’s not unusual for a movie to have 15 different writers, one getting fired after the next. It’s sort a of a giant cluster fuck. It’s unfortunate things do get ruined in the process because writers just don’t have that much control.”

I left Salsberg to ponder his next script, which I am pretty sure has something to do with a back-to-back victory at the WPT Grand Prix de Paris.