Obsessed with Fyre Fest drama? Two films compete to tell the truth

Obsessed with Fyre Fest drama? Two films compete to tell the truth

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The Fyre music festival in the Bahamas apparently turned into “The Hunger Games” for rich people.
Time

It was billed as a luxe culture festival on an exclusive island. But Fyre Festival will long be remembered as a schadenfreude sideshow where rich kids got suckered into staying in wet tents and surviving on cheese sandwiches.

Last October, then-26-year-old Fyre founder Billy McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison for falsely advertising a musical-getaway-turned-screaming-hellscape. But the question lingers: How did the disastrous event that had wealthy influencers taking selfies from inside a locked airport even happen? 

Lucky for us, both Netflix and Hulu have competing documentaries on the topic out this week. Netflix’s “Fyre” debuts Friday, and is partly produced by Jerry Media, the company that marketed Fyre Fest. (USA TODAY has reached out to Netflix and Jerry Media for comment.)

Hulu, however, beat Netflix to the punch Monday by dropping “Fyre Fraud” with no notice – and their project boasts an exclusive interview with McFarland himself.

So which approximately-90-minute streaming doc should you see? Honestly, both. Come for each film’s depiction of behind the scenes chaos, stay for the moment the Hulu film puts a former Jerry Media employee on screen to cast suspicion on the rival Netflix project.

In fact, treat them as companion pieces. Here are the craziest facts that both Fyre movies bring to light.

1. A promo video existed before there was even a Fyre Fest location

You may recall the look of the Fyre Fest trailer: aerial views of the ocean, famous supermodels like Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski frolicking in the sand, bros drinking booze, everyone laughing and jumping into the water. It advertised the festival would be on Norman’s Cay, a Bahaman island it touted as once owned by Pablo Escobar.

However, as “Fyre” lays out, promoting that the island was once owned by the Colombian drug lord violated McFarland’s land agreement. So McFarland had to find a new location for his festival after the video was released.

Both documentaries agree that the twenty-something promoter landed on nearby Bahamian island Great Exuma only a few weeks before the festival, failing to factor in that it didn’t have the necessary infrastructure for several hundred people, namely enough plumbing for everyone. 

2. The Fyre Fest website was full of misinformation 

Here’s a sampling of lies the website told: The map of the Fyre Fest festival area was cropped to look as though it was isolated, but it was actually connected to a Sandals resort. Digital renderings of luxury villas looked nothing like the, uh, actual disaster relief tents that were assigned on the day of the event. There were no such things as cabanas, sold for $50,000, that existed on the island. Instagram comments from people confused about amenities or suspicious of what was being offered were immediately deleted.

As a former Jerry Media employee reveals in “Fyre Fraud,” he was instructed to block any comments on Instagram that included key words like “flight” and even “festival,” because messages with those words tended to be negative. Eventually, as “Fyre” explains, comments were turned off entirely. 

3. McFarland says he had keys to more houses that no one got to stay in 

Ultimately, there was not nearly enough housing for attendees. Though some high-profile influencers were put up in rented houses, many ticket holders were ushered to a gravelly camping ground with tents that had been soaked by a recent storm. Since there weren’t enough tents for everyone, some began looting mattresses and ransacking neighboring tents. At night, there was no lighting.

McFarland says in “Fyre Fraud” that he had access to more houses, but the box that contained keys to $2 million dollars worth of homes was “lost.” Why didn’t he inform the attendees what was going on, instead of yelling that everyone should go find their own tent? He has no answer. 

4. McFarland tried to start a brand new scam while he was out on bail 

After Fyre Fest failed and McFarland was charged with wire fraud (later he was also charged with bank fraud and giving false statements to a law enforcement officer), he started a new scam: NYC VIP. 

This time, as both documentaries tell it, McFarland used the email list of people who had purchased Fyre Fest passes to offer them tickets to the Met Gala and Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

He did not have access to those tickets. No one has access to those tickets.

No matter: As “Fyre” discloses, a few email recipients sent him over $100,000 for tickets, apparently duped again. He eventually pleaded guilty to both the Fyre Fest-related charges and those brought against him for NYC VIP.

5. McFarland was making a movie about himself after he was arrested

All while McFarland was working on NYC VIP, he employed videographers to film his every move. “Fyre” shows footage of this, but “Fyre Fraud” offers an explanation: McFarland wanted to make a “recovery documentary” that would show him recouping money for his investors. And “Fyre Fraud” says he apparently wanted to make a Fyre Festival 2018 happen.

More: Founder of disastrous Fyre Festival pleads guilty to fraud

6. McFarland allegedly still hasn’t paid some workers

In communications with investors, McFarland said he had $2.5 million in Facebook stock, but in reality, both docs say he had closer to $1,500 in stock. He claimed his Fyre company made millions, but it actually earned less than $60,000. Both films recall how he had similar issues misleading investors in his other entrepreneurial venture, an “exclusive” credit card company, Magnises.

Money issues continue: One former Fyre employee says he has $150,000 in outstanding bills for Fyre Fest on his personal credit card. Bahamian locals still haven’t been paid an estimated $25,000 for their hours of festival prep, according to “Fyre Fraud.” One Bahamian restaurant owner says she paid her staff $50,000 out of her own pocket after she didn’t get paid for serving Fyre Fest attendees.

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