When FYRE went up in flames

New Netflix documentary reveals the greed and corruption behind the failed festival

By on January 22, 2019

Photo courtesy of Netflix
Girls. Music. A good time. When Billy McFarland, founder and CEO of Fyre Media, used this branding to promote a music festival, he quickly blurred the line between fantasy and reality.

Netflix released “FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” on Friday, Jan 18. McFarland spearheaded the Coachella-esque festival slated to take place in the summer of 2017. He would go on to lead attendees and his own team down the path of deception.

The documentary pieces together professional and amateur footage of the preparation and eventual flop of the festival with individual interviews with people who worked with or were cheated by McFarland. In perhaps a directorial decision, each interviewee was placed down the center of the screen as opposed to a more traditional left or right justified framing.

In this manner, everyone involved was essentially asked to stare down both the camera and the audience directly to confront their shortcomings. For those involved, that was failing to see when to bail from the project and for ticket purchasers, it was when to stop pouring their money into this trip. Comedian Ron Funches said on Late Night with Conan O’Brien that perhaps no one should be sorry for anyone who was ready to drop “thousands on Blink-182.”

Surprisingly absent from the interviews was McFarland himself, who instead was paid by Hulu to appear on their own documentary of the festival, which was released just four days prior. “FYRE” director Chris Smith told Business Insider that he and Netflix executives knew for a while that Hulu had plans to release their own version of the story and were not fazed.

In both documentaries, it’s apparent that the trouble with the FYRE festival started during the preliminary stages. McFarland hired the biggest names in modeling, such as Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, for a promotional photoshoot that focused more on selling the experience of the festival than anything having to do with the music itself.

In December of 2016, “influencers” such as Kendall Jenner posted a blank orange picture on social media to begin promoting FYRE festival on the private Bahamian island. Within 24 hours of the ticket sales, 95 percent of them were sold.

As the documentary progressed it became clear to the audience that McFarland was careless throughout the process. Often shown with a drink in hand, he overbooked the event and the island alone couldn’t even fit the number of people expected.

At a certain point in the documentary, they replayed a shot of waves crashing on the island. This was reminiscent of the social media team’s recycled usage of footage with the models that they posted rather than any development of the actual stage and sleeping arrangements.

As the festival grew closer and closer, it was clear that it was physically impossible to pull off. For example, the “luxury villas” being offered were nothing more than leftover tents from the island’s recent hurricane.

As people began to show up to attend, they were hoarded on school buses, dropped at a bar and given excessive amounts of tequila. Before long, they became restless and saw their living quarters were reduced to soaking wet tents that hadn’t been protected from the rain.

When an attendee tweeted a picture of the food, it was clear that the bread, cheese and salad with dressing was not the gourmet meal they paid for. The tweet went viral and lines to demand answers consumed the island.

The documentary then showed various clips of television coverage from the morning after. McFarland disappeared immediately after the news broke and the festival was called off. On social media, it was said that the circumstances were “out of their control,” which was the opposite of the case, as reiterated by the interviews in the documentary.

One of the saddest moments of the documentary occurred when food caterer Maryann Rolle spoke about being left on the island after all of her life savings had been lost. She was emotional about it, while also maintaining a desire to move on. In the days since the documentary was released, a GoFundMe has received over half of its $123,000 goal to repay Rolle and her company.

Since the cancelation, McFarland was arrested while on parole for his crimes and sentenced to six years in prison after launching a new scam called NYC VIP. The company used the email list from FYRE to fool the same people into purchasing tickets to invitation-only events such as the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and the Met Gala. Some of the same people that were duped into FYRE were tricked again into spending thousands on these fake tickets.

As many questions as the engaging documentary answered, there were just as many left unexplained. We do not know if any of McFarland’s original team were able to find new jobs or how the festival world could prevent such a disastrous situation from taking place again in the future.

Comments

About Ryan Miller