Fyre Festival was a beautiful disaster. It captivated the internet in 2017. Now, Netflix and Hulu are nearly-simultaneously releasing two competing documentaries to capitalize on all of our rubbernecking.
Both are about the same April 2017 luxury music festival. It was supposed to be the height of luxury, an elite experience in the Bahamas marketed to the wealthy for the wealthy. People paid as little as $12,000 and as much as $250,000 for a ticket. Except that nothing came together. Sure, Fyre Festival was in the Bahamas, but instead of white sandy beaches, there was a rubble-strewn lot. Music acts canceled, companies pulled out, the luxury villas weren't villas but soggy FEMA tents.
Netflix announced their documentary, Fyre, in January. It's slated for release this coming Friday. Quietly, Hulu released their own documentary, Fyre Fraud, ahead of Netflix on Monday morning.
Fyre Festival put the cart before the horse. Its organizers—none other than rapper Ja Rule and Billy McFarland, a wannabe-Zuckerberg-type—didn't have anything planned for their festival after an eye-catching, and highly effective, social media campaign.
Hulu's documentary features an exclusive interview with McFarland, who is now serving six years in prison for fraud. Netflix doesn't have any McFarland interviews.
According to The Ringer, Netflix attempted to contact McFarland for an interview:
“We were aware of [the Hulu production] because we were supposed to film Billy McFarland for an interview,” says Smith. “He told us that they were offering $250,000 for an interview. He asked us if we would pay him $125,000. And after spending time with so many people who had such a negative impact on their lives from their experience on Fyre, it felt particularly wrong to us for him to be benefiting. It was a difficult decision but we had to walk away for that reason. So then he came back and asked if we would do it for $100,000 in cash. And we still said this wasn’t something that was going to work for us.”
Hulu balked at this and said that those numbers weren't accurate, that McFarland is a notorious scam artist and a compulsive liar.
Hulu's Fyre Fraud is good. It tells the story of Fyre Festival well, centering the narrative on McFarland and his colorful history of failed ventures and schemes. All of them failed, from the Google+ spinoff called Spling that crashed and burned at TechCrunch Disrupt to the exclusive credit card Magnises mainly used for supposed social capital. All of them had to do with social media.
If you can get past the preachy moments about millennial culture and the Donald Trump tie-ins, Fyre Fraud does a decent job getting to the bottom of how Fyre Festival was able to work and exactly why it was destined to fail.
Fyre Festival hinged its success on influencers. Anyone with a six figure Instagram follower count and name brand recognition participated in the initial social media blast. It was just an orange square. Tagged was the username "fyre festival." When people clicked a glitzy ad appeared.
People lapped up the narrative: You and all of these supermodels and musicians on a powdery beach in the Bahamas. Where do I sign?
But, for months, organizers, including the prolific marketing agency, Jerry Media—better known as the meme account, FuckJerry—knew that something was rotten at Fyre. Things weren't coming together, nothing was as advertised, and still, the social media marketing ramped up. Kendall Jenner was allegedly paid around $250,000 for one Instagram post plugging Fyre Festival.
It ended the way it started: on social media. Horrified concert goers, many with legions of followers themselves, documented every flaw for the internet to see.
The dinner that @fyrefestival promised us was catered by Steven Starr is literally bread, cheese, and salad with dressing. #fyrefestival pic.twitter.com/I8d0UlSNbd
— Trevor DeHaas (@trev4president) April 28, 2017
At the end of Fyre Fraud, after the wire fraud, the lies, the screwing over of the local Bahamians, and the rich kids getting stranded on a beach, Hulu delivered one final blow. Text on the screen read that there are only two documentaries about Fyre Festival and that Jerry Media, the marketing agency for Fyre Festival from the beginning until the end, helped produce the other one: Netflix's. Shots fired.
new info: apparently hulu paid billy for that interview (lol - that's bad)
also hear the netflix one has insane access bc the footage was originally commissioned by billy for a doc on how awesome Fyre Fest was gonna be. whoops! so maybe its good? we'll find out on friday i guess
— Joseph Carnegie (@JoeCarnegie) January 15, 2019
I'll be interested to see Netflix's documentary. But, knowing that one of its main producers has an ax to grind and a reputation to save? I guess I'm team Hulu for once—even if I learned as much from this New York Times piece as I did from the 98 minute documentary.