Sarah Grant: On or off camera, poker work is the surprisingly perfect balance
How did Sarah Grant go from film school at New York University to interviewing poker players in Monte Carlo? Her answer is simple: "The universe pushed me into this, and it's made me happier than anything ever before."
Sarah's path to her current role with PokerNews and PokerStars wasn't one that anyone could have imagined. Nor would it have been predictable that she would live in Las Vegas, be madly in love with a UFC fighter, and looking forward to a summer of poker tournaments at the World Series of Poker. And it was never in her life plan to shave off her hair, move to Thailand and find peace, or run a restaurant called the Tilted Kilt. But everything had its time and purpose.
"I realized that I didn't have to take a certain path to get what I wanted," she discovered. And that was only one of many lessons the universe had in store for Sarah Grant.
Born in Colorado in 1983, Sarah Grant spent her younger years with the goal of attending New York University to study film. And she did just that, moving to New York and studying to become a film director or producer. "It was my dream," she recalled.
The first of many boomerangs that interrupted her path came in the form of US budget cuts in arts education, which chopped off 40 percent of her scholarship and made college unaffordable. She left in her sophomore year and reacted with her own style. "I freaked out, drank my face off, shaved my head, and moved to Thailand."
Though she had previously backpacked through Europe and lived in Mexico, the Thailand trip was open-ended and full of unknowns, and it turned out to be a positive move. In addition to learning the language, discovering and teaching rock climbing, and finding a general calm, she got in touch with her spiritual self as well. And in the end, she decided to pursue that career in the film industry without the degree from NYU. So it was off to Wisconsin for a temporary film job and then to Los Angeles to find more work in the industry.
Working as a production coordinator, production assistant, and assistant director (AD), Sarah decided that the AD position was what intrigued and excited her most. But the next step in the business was to respond to an offer to join the Director's Guild of America, which would have made her the youngest woman in the DGA at the age of 23. But the $21,000 price tag was off-putting, as was the idea of having less freedom to do the indie projects that she loved. The universe stepped in to help with the decision.
The situation was complicated. She was working on a film called "Sex, Blood and Fights" (eventually changed to "Never Surrender") outside of Los Angeles, and it featured several UFC fighters. A request to drive one of them into Los Angeles produced an awkward conversation between Sarah and Heath Herring, who she found to be educated, cultured, and generally charming. They fell in love and built a long-distance relationship between LA and Las Vegas, where Heath lived. One night, she finished a film shoot very late, collected props into her purse because the art department was closed, and headed straight to the airport to spend the weekend with Heath in Vegas. It turned out that one of those props was a set of brass knuckles, of which possession was a felony offense and taking them to the airport was a federal crime. After an arrest at the airport, several days in jail, and a $10,000 attorney fee, she was sentenced to 40 full days of community service.
Sarah had another life choice to make. The community service time would make it tough to work in Los Angeles and as a new member of the DGA, and the attorney cost severely cut into her funds to join the DGA. Heath offered the alternative of moving to Las Vegas to work with his chef and trainer to get healthy while he trained for a fight, and she could serve her community service hours in Vegas. Goodbye, DGA and Los Angeles.
Hello, Las Vegas! Sarah's new life with Heath came with many changes, first of which was a temporary move to Palm Springs to run the "Tilted Kilt" restaurant. During that time, Sarah wanted to do something to spend more time with Heath, who had recently begun playing poker. She read books, learned more about the game, and began playing. When the restaurant went bankrupt due to owner theft, they moved back to Vegas.
The "I wasn't sure what I was doing with my life" issue came up for Sarah, and she missed film but didn't want to work on the road again. She found a job as a production assistant for the World Series of Poker in 2011, though initially the then-CEO of PokerNews thought she was overqualified. She wasn't going to be the person to get coffee for the crew, but they realized that she could help manage the video team. She built schedules, booked travel, arranged housing, and launched a management program that involved contact lists, call sheets, and other helpful schedules
At the end of the WSOP, PokerNews offered her a full-time position doing videos for them and PokerStars. Even though she had some AD jobs lined up for post-Series months, it was another crossroads. And she chose the poker work. Eventually, they requested that she be on camera as well as work behind the scenes. "I was so nervous but excited!" she recalled.
Though Sarah was nervous about being on camera, especially with other women who already had experience and acceptance in the poker community, Heath encouraged her to have more faith in herself and learn more about poker and its players. She even played a few tournaments herself. And it turned into something she never expected.
"When working in the film industry, I'd get super close to friends for about six weeks, drink and hang out with them, then move on to the next film. In poker, the community is more consistent, and I actually made relationships in this community that have lasted to this day. I was surprised at how welcoming and nice everyone was," she said.
In addition, she found that it made for an ideal mix of what she loved to do. "I acted in a few features, and I wanted to be looked at and respected but didn't like pretending to be someone else. On a film set, the AD runs everything and tells everyone what to do, leads the crew, and is the one that everyone pays attention to. In the poker job, I can be myself in front of the camera and connect with the crew and behind the camera at the same time. We produce our own content and pursue our own visions. This job was the perfect balance."
Even further, Sarah said, "It wasn't even something that I knew existed, and it's a million times better than anything I ever imagined."
Only a few years into her poker work, Sarah has had some amazing experiences. The travel is the most obvious, as she is often able to go to European Poker Tour stops and other locations a few days early and experience the cities before work begins. Heath often travels with her, too.
Her favorite stops are many, and she couldn't limit it to one when asked. "I love the PCA each year because everyone is there. I did one of the APPT tournament stops once in Cebu and spent some extra days there. It was gorgeous, and I love the Philippines!" She also mentioned that she loved the Vilamoura stop, which was her first EPT tournament, and the EPT Loutraki in Greece was a favorite because she had always wanted to go to Greece.
But the job isn't all sightseeing and absorbing culture. Once work begins, she rarely escapes the confines of the tournament location. And what ends up on PokerStars.TV may look fun and exciting as she schmoozes with the elite in poker, but there is much work behind the scenes and on camera.
"There have been some really uncomfortable moments and interviews in front of the camera!" Sarah said. "The worst have been where people deny my interview requests. I've had the unfortunate privilege of asking Phil Ivey for an interview about four times, and it's hard because he's going to say no, and everyone's watching. Another tough thing is preparing for an interview with a player, arriving a few minutes before the break, and watching them lose 90% of their stack in a hand. Most of those players then decline the interview. And the November Nine bustouts are hard at the World Series of Poker, too. The ninth place finisher in that one is usually the hardest interview of the year."
With that said, the good moments definitely outweigh the bad for Sarah. She recalled interviewing Ronnie Bardah at the 2012 WSOP for PokerNews when he won his bracelet. "He was crying, and his boys were there from the East Coast. I do so many winner interviews with players who are nonchalant about it, but Bardah was so genuinely happy! Also at that Series, I interviewed Larry Wright, a wealthy businessman who donated all of his winnings to a charity in Africa. He was bawling and just so excited to have won, and it was a beautiful moment to share with him."
And then there are the natural interviews that happen without any need for preparation. Sarah named several favorites off the top of her head. "Daniel Negreanu is a natural. I just stick the microphone in his face, and he goes. Vanessa Selbst can tell me everything about the tournament and why she played every hand. And Liv Boeree is always up for the fun stuff and quirky segments."
Sarah found happiness in poker, a place not even on her radar only a few years ago. And while she initially saw it as a temporary job, she continues to enjoy it more and more. When describing it as the perfect balance of her skills and joys, she simply lights up and smiles.
As her past has taught her, the universe will likely dictate where she will go from here, but poker is a nice place to be at this time. "I still don't know what my forever will be," she admitted. For now, though, her engagement to Heath and work in poker keep her busy, happy, and balanced.
For more about Sarah Grant and her recent creative collaboration with work colleagues/best friends Kristy Arnett and Lynn Gilmartin, check out PrettyBroad.com.
Jennifer Newell is a PokerStars freelance contributor.