We Ranked The People In Netflix’s Fyre Festival Doco By How Little We Feel Sorry For Them
Is that guy who went around peeing on everyone's mattresses okay?
With each new development, Fyre Festival just keeps giving the gift of schadenfreude — and the new Netflix documentary about the failed luxury festival/scam is no exception.
Directed by Chris Smith (who was behind Netflix’s acclaimed documentary Jim And Andy: The Great Beyond), Fyre: The Greatest Festival That Never Happened meticulously recounts how entrepreneur/conman Billy MacFarland and rapper Ja Rule created Fyre Festival to act as the launch of Fyre, an app used to book celebrity talent for private gigs.
Featuring interviews with attendees and festival workers — from event managers to day labourers — the documentary has an all-eclipsing view of everything that went wrong in the lead up to the festival, including not having enough food, water and accommodation for attendees, let alone the festival acts. Ultimately, the festival in no way resembles the luxury Bahamas experience that was originally advertised.
MacFarland is currently serving a six-year sentence for fraud, but you know the saying: it takes a village to put on a multi-million dollar scam. There’s plenty of shady behaviour going on, and, at times, Fyre can feel like the interviewees are scrambling to avoid accountability — especially given that Jerry Media, the marketing company behind Fyre Festival, produced this documentary.
With all this in mind, we’ve made a ranking of how extremely not sorry we feel for the figures of Fyre, from the genuinely mistreated to the scum which rises to the top. Let’s dive into the turgid waters of false promises and Instagram promotions, shall we?
The People That We Genuinely Feel Bad For
The Residents And Workers Of Great Exuma Islands
In lying to investors, co-workers, and the public, MacFarland fucked over a lot of people, but there’s a (probably unfair) sense that, on some level, these people deserved to be conned if they were willing to throw away so much money based on one promo video of models on a beach. But Fyre makes you feel awful for the residents of Great Exuma, which, despite the advertising promising Pablo Escobar’s private island as the location, was the eventual home of the failed festival.
As the doco puts it, hundreds of labourers were working around-the-clock before the festival, literally to the day of, to create the stages, plumbing and housing needed. None of them have been paid properly, nor have the residents who rented their homes out last minute to make up the festival’s never-built luxury private villa packages.
Fyre also centres Maryann Rolle, the owner of a restaurant at Exuma Point Reserve who catered to Fyre staff. In the documentary, she says she was never paid by MacFarland and was left out of pocket at least US $50,000 as she paid staff from her own savings. A GoFundMe for Maryanne has reached US $150,000 within a week.
I just watched the Netflix Fyre Fest doc. What a mess. The only person who settled her debts that weren’t even her debts was the black woman, Maryann Rolle.
— roxane gay (@rgay) January 22, 2019
Fyre Media Employees
As Fyre Festival blew out of proportion — and MacFarland refused to reconsider that a music festival can’t be organised in a few months, let alone a luxury one on a private island with no potable water — it completely swallowed Fyre Media, the company making MacFarland and Ja Rule’s app.
Those who continued to work on the app did so diligently, separated from the festival. As money troubles began in the lead-up to the event, employees began to receive half-filled or late pay-checks, if at all.
Across the documentary, Fyre Media workers exhume fury — as one puts it, they worked for a year on the app for it to completely implode, separate of anything they could control. Later, when Fyre is about to fold, MacFarland tells all employees they are not being made redundant but were being kept on without pay, essentially forcing people to quit — and not be eligible for any government unemployment benefits.
In a late scene, several employees are in a conference call with MacFarland and Ja Rule, the latter of who refuses to admit defeat. “We can’t dwell on how we fucked up,” he says. When one employee says they can’t recover from fraud, Ja Rule pointedly says, “That’s not fraud. I’d call that false advertising.” Yikes.
Early into Fyre, we meet Keith, the guy who flies MacFarland around the island they originally want to use. He explains that he has taught himself how to fly using Microsoft Flight Simulator.
As someone with 10 years experience with the island, Keith maps it out for Ja Rule and MacFarland and plans logistics. Over beers, he explains that the festival is not possible on the island, due to the impossibility of installing toilets, potable water and infrastructure. He also tried camping on the island one night, and found the conditions impossible.
MacFarland spills a beer on the map, and they later fire him because he isn’t solutions orientated. We are sure Keith is counting his blessings — and we felt blessed by his presence.
the smartest person in FYRE is the dude who taught himself how to fly a plane in Microsoft Flight Simulator
— Kevin Nguyen (@knguyen) January 20, 2019
People We’re Kind Of Sorry For
Music Festival Consultant Marc Weinstein features pretty prominently in Fyre, and comes off as a voice-of-reason. A contractor who came in to work on the festival two months out from its April start date, Weinstein repeatedly tried to tell MacFarland that the festival wasn’t possible, and that he needed to cancel it.
What does come across as a little weird is Weinstein’s preaching about the evils of social media: in both the doco and a Medium blog post, he’s placed himself as culpable in terms of his own Instagram presence while working, presenting the hellfire experience as a beautiful dream job. Your problem wasn’t that you posted some Instagrams of a beach: it was that you willfully worked for a reprehensible person.
Krost was in charge of booking the acts for Fyre Festival — that’s a mammoth task for anyone, let alone a 23-year-old who had never worked in booking before. He was one of many Fyre Media workers who got shunted over to work on the festival, and while he didn’t do the greatest job ensuring the acts — Blink 182, Major Lazer, Disclosure — would have the production set-up promised, it wasn’t really his fault that MacFarland didn’t send over the money to the bands, even if they were going to be ridiculously overpaid. No wonder they pulled out.
Krost has since started his own fashion label, and seems to be doing pretty well for himself.
Promotional Models Who Haven’t Apologised
Early into the documentary, we see the behind-the-scenes of the infamous promotional festival video, which saw the world’s biggest models — Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Bieber, et al — all have a grand ol’ time looking pretty on a beach island.
On one hand, only Hadid has publicly apologised for being involved in the video, which misrepresented the festival as a chance to party up-and-close with big names in beautiful locales. They also made more money from it than you and I will ever accrue.
On the other, Fyre makes it evident the filming conditions were pretty chaotic and — at times — just gross. As Marc Weinstein puts it, Ja Rule and MacFarland treated the shoot like their own private party, with the latter at one point passing out while filming. “It was more of a party than a commercial,” worker J.R. says.
It’s clear that they were filming to have fun, making the models hang out under the guise of work. In one late-night scene, Ja Rule yells at Chanel Iman to get in the ocean. When she refuses, since it’s dark and the camera won’t catch it, he raises his voice, saying “you are fucking jumping in.”
People Who We Don’t Really Feel Sorry For At All
Instagram Promoters And Influencers
The influencers who purely promoted the event on Instagram, however, can unequivocally still get fucked. At the same moment, 400 influencers, ranging from the models in the promo video to DJs and professional surfers, posted an orange tile onto their grams, with a short caption telling their followers they’d be partying at Fyre.
According to the documentary, 94 percent of tickets were sold in the first 24 hours after these posts, almost none of which featured any inclination that they were paid promotions. It was undoubtedly the celebrity factor that sold the festival to the masses — and yet, there’s little accountability beyond some relatively meagre lawsuits and late-night TV jokes at their expense.
Event manager Andy King has become the unlikely star of Fyre, thanks to the surreal moment where he says he almost sucked off a customs official to get the festival’s supply of Evian water without paying the customs fee.
King was bought in a few months before the festival began to organise everything, and tried his darn best. But his interviews betray a carelessness with people’s safety — when he compares Fyre to the first Woodstock and says that that festival survived, on a PR level, far worse conditions, we see that his job was to save MacFarland, and he had little care for the punters.
Later, he talks about feeling guilty, and having PTSD from the situation. “I was the one who continued to say, ‘trust Billy’,” he says. “I had let a lot of kids on.” But confessing guilt isn’t the same as paying for it.
The Guardian put it best with their opinion piece: “I paid $4000 to go [to Fyre Festival]. It’s fair game to make fun of me.”
Whenever the film portrays Fyre Festival marketers Jerry Media, the marketing and social media company created off the success of Instagram account Fuck Jerry, it makes sure to demarcate them as very separate from what went down in the Bahamas.
In the documentary, Jerry Media are painted as in-the-dark about the issues in the lead up to the festival, with no people on the ground at Great Exuma. That’d require a pretty wilful ignorance around all the comments on the festival’s social media by ticket holders asking for basic festival details. Fyre is produced by Jerry Media: it’s not surprising that it doesn’t hold itself accountable.
People Who Can Seriously Get Fucked
As one of MacFarland’s right-hand men and Fyre’s chief marketing officer, Grant Margolin has a lot to answer for. In 2017, he was charged with fraud-related charges alongside MacFarland by the US Securities and Exchanges Commission, and settled without denying or accepting guilt.
He was fined US $35,000 and is not allowed to be a director or officer of a public company for seven years.
Given that, according to Fyre and the SEC, Margolin inflated numbers at MacFarland’s will, he was an integral player in ensuring that MacFarland could continually rake in more and more money from investors. He’s also accused of deleting negative social media comments across Fyre Festival’s accounts in the lead-up to the festival to keep the public, press and investors in the dark as to logistical issues, and is the subject of a separate fraud lawsuit, according to TMZ.
I too was hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hood winked, lead astray!!!
— Ja Rule (@Ruleyork) January 20, 2019
While MacFarland is paying for his crimes in jail, Ja Rule is co-subject to a US $100,000 million lawsuit, and continues to deny culpability. His line of argument since the festival unravelled has been “IT’S NOT MY FAULT” (which he literally posted in all caps).
Since Fyre came out, he’s continued to defend himself online, and question the validity of caterer Maryann Rolle’s claim that she’s $50,000 out of pocket, saying “so did they have all this food or charge cheese sandwiches??” He has since apologised to Rolle, but not offered her any money.
Ja Rule comes off pretty poorly in Fyre, namely in the way he continually yells at employees, models, and aggressively tells Fyre employees — who aren’t getting paid at that point — that they can still salvage the app, as MacFarland and he didn’t commit fraud, just “false advertising”. According to Fyre, he’s trying to launch a similar talent-booking app, called ICONN.
Beyond all of his crimes, there are a few moments throughout Fyre that speak loud and clear to MacFarland’s character. Throughout, he repeatedly echoes a statement he first makes while filming the promo video: “We’re selling a pipe dream to your average loser. Your average American.”
Throughout, it’s clear there’s little duty of care for the average ticket buyer (people who earn considerably more than the average American, no less): he continually redirects focus to the treatment of influencers, even when it’s clear cutting these free invites would greatly improve the festival’s chances of running properly.
Towards the end, there’s some pop-psychology at work, as those close to him suggest MacFarland’s business ventures, like Fyre Media and luxury credit card company Magnesis, were ways to feel as though he was living the aspirational life his businesses tried to sell. When we see some shots of him lingering awkwardly at parties, or express glee that SNL did a ‘Fyre Festival skit’, we see MacFarland’s goals are to be famous, to make money — even if that means creating a new VIP ticket scam while facing criminal charges for Fyre.
But there is no way to feel sorry for this snake-oil salesman, one who continually manipulated people and lied to them with no care for their lives.
That Guy Who Went Around Peeing On Mattresses
Why did he do that? Why did he admit he did that to camera while laughing about it?
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is now streaming on Netflix.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.