BY ANDREW MOODY
Netflix Originals’ most elegant documentary out now is Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019), one of the best movies on the realities of Social Media fame yet made. For the internet obsessed millennial generation, you can really do no better.
Fyre Festival was a failed attempt on the part of business partners Billy McFarland and (rapper) Ja Rule to put on a luxury party on Norman’s Cay, the private island of drug lord Pablo Escobar, complete with supermodels, treasure hunts, wonderful food and state of the art beach side tents.
The financial purpose was Billy McFarland’s idea to promote his new Fyre app, designed to make hiring music and celebrity talent on your phone user friendly.
Ja Rule was quoted during the Fyre promo shoot that “the impact that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had on the NBA changed the way people saw and thought about basketball, and me and Billy are going to change the way people look at a young tech entrepreneur and a hip hop mogul coming together to create something incredible.” Utilising Social Media promotion from supermodels and celebrity influencers, they sold out the festival in a matter of weeks.
The party was to include performances from top level acts like Migos, Major Lazer and Blink 182, attended by supermodels, Social Media influencers and catered for by world class chefs.
“We’re selling a pipe dream to your average loser,” McFarland said during the promo shoot on Norman’s Cay, which became more of a drunken party for the event holders, the only direction given for the film crew was to “capture everything” as opposed to generating any realistic commercial value for the shoot. In actuality, they didn’t have a plan.
Chris Smith, the writer/director of Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Film with American Movie at the 1999 Sundance Festival. Fyre was co-produced by MATTE Projects, the production company that directed the Fyre Festival’s promotional shoot, and Jerry Media, the Social Media company responsible for covering up the fraud and representing Fyre. They approached VICE with the idea of a documentary three months after the ‘event’. According to Netflix, the documentary was director Chris Smith’s idea. Back in 2017, if you were a Twitter user, you knew about the calamity of the Fyre Festival as it collapsed real-time. The international media, targeting both the organisers and the spoiled rich kids who ended up travelling to Pablo Escobar’s former island in the Bahamas, ensured that the story went viral online too.
Luca Sabatini, in charge of Stage and Technical Production said: “We were contacted perhaps forty five days out. We were asked to take a shot at putting together a production for them. The time frame was very short, but there was definitely a chance of putting it all together.”
Of course it transpired that not only were the music artists unsigned, the luxury food not delivered except for a squishy cheese sandwich (a picture of which would go viral on Twitter and Instagram) but the state of the art beach side locations were never built for the oncoming audience.
The documentary is seamlessly put together, hypnotic in its endless drone shots of the beautiful islands in the Bahamas intercut with increasingly nervous talking head shots.
“Billy really is one of the world’s greatest salesman,” one co-worker reported to the documentary team, “He can convince anyone of pretty much anything.”
It transpired that Billy McFarland had been borrowing vast sums of money to pay for his Festival, and it became the equivalent of borrowing from a loan shark, making it impossible to break even, impossible to pay for the necessities needed to fund and support the event.
Disturbingly, since all footage of McFarland is via smartphones or industry cameras, we never quite see the private moments of the con artist. Despite his own enormous ego and self belief in his own celebrity power, the truth was that he defrauded investors of $27.4 million by marketing and selling tickets to the festival.
In May 2017, McFarland and Ja Rule were sued for $100 million in a class action lawsuit on behalf of Fyre Festival attendees. The following month, McFarland was arrested and charged with wire fraud in Manhattan federal court for his role in the festival. After pleading guilty to two counts of wire fraud in March 2018, he was sentenced to six years in federal prison.
Marc Weinstein, a Music Festival Consultant on Fyre concedes after a careful sequence of interviews that “Billy McFarland is an operational sociopath.”
I suppose it’s up to the viewer to decide.