Director: Chris Smith
Writer: Chris Smith
Cinematographer: Jake Burghart, Cory Fraiman-Lott, Henry Zaballos
Producer: Danny Gabai, Mick Purzycki, and Chris Smith
by Jon Cvack
This is the latest Netflix production to spread like wildfire, as it seemed like within only two weeks, over half the people I know had seen the film, having ranted about how bonkers the failed event was. For those unfamiliar with the story, Fyre was a multi-day island retreat music festival put on through a partnership between entertainer Ja-Rule and venture capitalist Billy McFarland. The genesis of their relationship went back to when Billy McFarland wanted to book JaRule for a private event and discovered how hard it was. Eventually the two got in touch and decided to create a service that would allow [wealthy] people to hire entertainers for their events via website. Fyre is the name of that service and the festival was meant to showcase its purpose.
In order to gain awareness, JaRule and McFarland hired ten of the world’s hottest models - both physically and on social media. They also hired a production crew, who quickly discovered that there was little vision behind the commercial other than to shoot supermodels in bikinis riding on jet skis and drinking on Yachts next to a beautiful deserted island. They hired a social media marketing company to find and pay other influencers to sell the idea; most using a solid burnt orange image as they pitched the event.
From the early stages, the film raises an interesting question about transparency. I’ve worked alongside influencers long enough to understand their power. Most recently Jake Paul promoted a foreign website that allows user (mostly under 18 teenage men) to buy mysterious packages, not knowing what’s inside, on the gamble that it’ll be either worth what or less then they paid or more expensive; and if they don’t like what they receive, they can then sell it back for fractions of its value. I’m not sure what happened legally, but many people complained to YouTube that Paul was essentially promoting online gambling to a largely non-adult audience.
What’s glaringly obvious to most adults is that Jake Paul is clearly hurting for sponsorships and willing to exploit his impressionable audience for personal profit. But for that impressionable audience, they very likely see a person they admire tell them how cool something is to buy.
The film raises a similar question - at what point are influencers with tens of millions of followers responsible for informing those followers that they’re being paid to say or promote a particular thing? While it seems entirely obvious to me and others, I think we forget that many look to these individuals for what is worth attention or not. Saying that they’re attending a festival and getting others to buy tickets, all while they have no idea how or what the festival actually is, seems irresponsible. Then again, if they’re being paid up front to promote the event, why should they have expected it to go any less than perfect?
With the event confirmed and thousands of tickets sold, McFarland hires a COO to manage the logistics, coordinating between the various event planners of which he has no experience doing - from those managing and paying for the bands; to those in charge of finding housing, assembling tents, organizing food and toilets; to those who have to assemble the stages and manage the social media. Nearly all of whom saw the looming disaster from the very beginning. Not that there was all that much time to prepare; requiring only months for what could have easily taken years to execute.
Along the way, we watch as Murphy’s Law chugs full speed ahead. The original island, owned by Pablo Escobar, didn’t want their name known to the attendees, and therefore the agreement was rescinded. They eventually land on a Bahaman Island that is not at all abandoned, where the only place to station the hundreds of thousands of people is the early stages of a housing development. Worse, one of the island’s largest holidays takes place on the same weekend of the festival, further limiting accommodations.
By this point, there’s a strange sadism that creeps in as you’re waiting to see how bad things will get for the attendees. The private planes and first class tickets are gone. A hard rain the previous night destroyed most of the tents and beds. Blink-182 and other artists have quit, and they still don’t know where they’re going to put most of the people. Fortunately, McFarland and Ja-Rule understood how serious the problem was and canceled the rest of the flights. Unfortunately, the hundreds or so early attendees were stuck with nothing but cheese sandwiches and limited water.
It was this section that I was a bit dubious about how bad things were, as you can’t help but think that for at least some people, they probably made the most of it. What’s shown is terrible, but there was never violence, injury, or all that much anger per the likes Woodstock ‘99. Instead it’s annoyance - that they’re money was wasted, and what they were promised wasn’t delivered. Given the issues, it seems like this could have been far worse; as in people getting seriously hurt or even dying, given how incompetent the operation was. The fact that everyone survived should be appreciated.
Ja-Rule would later go on camera to say that the festival “...wasn’t fraud, it was false advertising.” Since then while McFarland is now serving six years in prison, Ja-Rule has moved on; as of writing this, he’s announced that he wants to try a Fyre Festival 2.0.
You wonder if a disaster festival in and of itself could be a festival; essentially the anti-Burning Man where people scrounge for toilet paper, tequila, and shelter. I would like to think this is just a sarcastic idea, and yet I have no idea. My friend said the film made him scared for our generation. Another friend shared pictures of people abandoning their cars and sleeping in mud during Woodstock ‘99. The difference between the two is that Woodstock assembled some of the greatest musicians in the world while the audience, without phones, got high and listened. Fyre Festival was about money and prestige; from the founders to the influencers to the attendees and bands - it never seemed like it was about something special, so much as something unique and exclusive. To attend Fyre would allow you to go say that you attended Fyre. It was Fyre’s disaster that’s now allowed people to talk about the experience.
I remember when no one was on their phone at concerts. At a Mogwai show and during one of their more intricate song and light shows, everyone pulled out their cells. No matter where I looked there were bright screens obstructing my view. More and more need to share their every moment of existence. For some I’m sure there’s a buzz off showing people how great of a life you’re living; that is, the modern humble brag. For others, it’s about expressing how you feel through the image. I’m not sure what would have been captured at Fyre Festival, but for the same reasons I’ve never seen footage from Coachella or Burning Man, I’m sure it’s just not that interesting. It’s about being there, and the footage is an attempt to demonstrate your presence, in the process removing you from being within the moment. The Fyre Festival was like climate change; a correction for a self-obsession that has gone too far in one direction and the dangers of its radical pursuit. If the story accomplishes nothing else, hopefully some people keep the phones down for a bit longer.
BELOW: Cuisine of the highest order
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