Hulu and Netflix each released a documentary about 2017's failed Fyre Festival. The question I've heard most is "Which one should I watch?"
Faced with a choice between Fyre Fraud on Hulu and Fyre on Netflix, my first answer has been "Why not both?" They're both entertaining, well-made, and different enough to each stand on their own. However, after hearing friends who are so used to turning to Netflix for originals, I started making a case for Fyre Fraud on Hulu.
Hulu describes the movie as a true-crime comedy, but I think of it more as an Autopsy of a Con. The movie takes a deep dive into what made the organizers and the festival into the phenomena, failure, and fraud that many regard them as.
If you managed to avoid the events behind these movies, Fyre Fraud is a Hulu Original Documentary about the Fyre Festival concert event in the Bahamas. The event was built on a slick social media campaign that quickly went viral. However, the show did not go on, crashing on opening day in a similarly viral fashion. From guests arriving to a lack of promised accommodations, a lack of any organization, and none of the promised music acts performing, Fyre failed in every area of being a luxury music festival. The behind-the-scenes context in the documentary explains how Fyre, and the people behind it, went from failure to fraud.
It doesn't matter if you've seen the Netflix doc already or you are coming in with fresh eyes. Here are the reasons why you need to watch Fyre Fraud on Hulu:
The interview with Fyre CEO Billy McFarland
Fyre Fraud builds its narrative around an interview with the CEO and organizer of the festival, Billy McFarland. Hearing directly from McFarland as he looks back on everything that happened, in his own words, is mesmerizing. The way he handles the questions, which grow more challenging as it goes on, reveals more about him and his motivations than any behind the scenes footage could.
McFarland gives continued denials throughout. He has hesitation and double-talk regarding what his business partner, rapper Ja Rule, knew about the planning of the event. When faced with follow-up about facts that can be researched and verified, Billy McFarland stares and repeats his original answer word for word, like a rehearsed testimony.
The way McFarland behaves during the interview gives the viewer a sense of how the festival pushed past so many red flags without being postponed or cancelled. There is a real feeling by the end of the interview that, to Billy, the truth is whatever he says it is. The closest he comes to taking responsibility for the many failures of Fyre is an answer regarding poor financial dealings. "I was a big boy. I knew what I was getting into."
When contrasted with his guilty plea to fraud charges, and the details of the event laid bare, his answer is as difficult to understand as it is to believe. It's hard to understand why he agreed to do this interview at all. However, as his girlfriend Anastasia Eremenko said in Fyre Fraud, "He wanted to tell his story. And he wanted to go deeper than the festival failure."
The background context
Fyre Fraud on Hulu provides a huge amount of background detail, and it is helpful in understanding the context behind the Fyre Festival. This context makes all the difference once the worst parts of the Fyre festival decision making unfolds.
This documentary goes back to Billy as a child entrepreneur, and it takes the time to understand what motivated him. From his obsession with Mark Zuckerberg to his trips to Silicon Valley to pitch venture capital without a real product, Billy McFarland as shown in Fyre Fraud appears much more focused on his image of success than on the work or decision making needed to achieve success.
Fyre Fraud is patient with viewers, taking the time to walk through his early business of Magnises, a strange company that specialized in credit card perks. It explained how he used money invested into that company to instead create connections for himself with celebrities, including Ja Rule. It even walks you through his close relationship with an early investor, Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy, who was indicted himself on charges of rigging business practices.
All of this context is helpful even when watching the Netflix documentary, Fyre. I watched the Netflix documentary after Fyre Fraud, and I was happy with how much more sense it made by understanding the company, and the founders behind the concert.
Scam of the Social Media Influencer Era
Movies about scams have been popular for years, from The Sting to The Big Short. Documentaries about scams have even made a mark before, including Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. What makes Fyre Fraud unique is its profile of the first major scam of the Social Media Influencer Era. It tries to make this commentary a part of a bigger observation on the millennial generation as a whole, but it feels less heavy-handed when applied to a narrow slice of social media and influencer culture.
Fyre Fraud does an excellent job of addressing the role social media, and influencers, played in the rise and fall of the Fyre Festival. The organizers paid high level influencers to be involved in the announcement and launch commercial for the festival. They generated curiosity and interest by having them all post a simple orange square simultaneously. Many ticket buyers assumed that these same models and celebrities would be attending the Fyre Festival, but they would not be there.
Fyre Fraud particularly focuses on the involvement of Elliot Tebele's social media company, known by several colorful names but here let's call them Jerry Media. Hulu's documentary questions their involvement in building the monster that this festival became from the very beginning. It highlights how the Jerry Media team avoided the obvious question of if Fyre could deliver on their promises. And they strongly imply that the team contributed to what Ja Rule labeled as "false advertising", especially when removing social media comments and questions that hinted at the failures that were to come.
This link is much stronger in the Hulu documentary, and there have been theories of why that may have been. Fyre Fraud itself points out that Jerry Media is one of the production companies behind the Netflix documentary Fyre. It leaves us all to draw our own conclusions on how that would affect the focus on the social media promotion role in the ultimate failure of Fyre Festival.
Still, one of the key moments of the Hulu documentary happens when an interviewer asks Oren Aks, a former employee of Jerry Media, a key question about responsibility.
"Who's guilty?" the producer asks.
"Everyone," replies Aks.
Fyre it up
Fyre Fraud is more than just a guilty pleasure. It's a modern documentary version of a disaster movie. In the same ways that you can enjoy The Day After Tomorrow or The Towering Inferno, you can make some popcorn and enjoy Fyre Fraud on Hulu without feeling any guilt at all. Leave the guilt to those the movie focuses on, because by the end you may hope that's all they're feeling.
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