Which unfinished camp do you fall into? Netflix or Hulu? Here is a quick review of both and my personal preference.
NETFLIX : FYRE
First thing to note about this documentary, it’s created by the marketing company behind the festival, F$@!Jerry. That’s important to know as an audience member so you can understand the bias of the film. Documentaries are inherently biased. This is hotly debated among creators. I think understanding the creators is almost as important as the documentary itself. So what does that mean for FYRE?
I think the most interesting thing about this documentary is the victimized stance of anyone involved in the creation of the festival. Everyone seems to point fingers at Billy. Especially the marketing company. They even take the stance that by not paying Billy for an interview, they are not contributing to the madness any further. Yet, that are ok with profiting off the story. Yeah, ok guys.
It just falls flat.
While this documentary is shot really well. It’s flashy, it’s funny and feels outrageous because the story is outrageous. It takes no stance on the subject or the depth of it’s characters. The narrative is: “Look at this train wreck story, isn’t it crazy?”
To me, it feels like one long marketing video for F@!$Jerry. They position themselves as the geniuses who made FYRE huge and then watched it burn to the ground without taking any responsibility for it’s creation. I imagine a big corporate client watching this and going “Hey, we should hire them!” They don’t dive into any real discussion about the responsibilities of marketers in our digital time. That is a huge, deep and interesting topic. One that influences elections, money and power in ways that we are only really starting to understand.
I did love hearing the story of the initial promotional video. I’ve been there. Unreasonable expectations by a client to create the MOST EPIC VIDEO OF ALL TIME, while going around every filmmaking process that ensures great results. But we glossed over a major dynamic on this shoot. The use of the girls. The toast JaRule gives says it all “Here’s to living’ like movie stars, partying like rockstars and F$!@ing like porn stars.”
No one talked about the ethics of what they were doing while filming the promo. They show interactions between Billy, JaRule and the models and it made me want to cringe. Men with power, filming women on a deserted island with no structure. They came up with ideas that would be “cool,” and ask the models to participate in the fantasy. It’s gross. A rich boys club gone wild. I kept waiting for some of the interviews to point out the ethics of it all. Not just the creation of the marketing, I wondered where the responsibility of everyone involved. Seriously, what was with the “take one for the team,” story. Borderline harassment. If my boss ever told me to give a blow job for the good of the team, I’d report him. Tone deaf to include that and gloss over it like it was a locker room story. Ick.
The “characters," keep moving the project forward, claiming to be on an almost unstoppable train. I wondered, why? No one really answers that question.
As a director, I wonder why we don’t go here. It’s the most interesting exploration of human behavior. Why did people continue to play along when there were clear red flags in every direction? The filmmakers never ask this. The best interviews were from the workers on the islands. That community had the most substance simply because they had the most to loose out of this situation.
At the end of the day, F$!@Jerry made a documentary on Netflix that got us all to watch, point our fingers and go “man how messed up is that!” But the real underbelly of the story isn’t explored. This documentary barley touches on consequences of the fraud of the festival or what happened to the islanders afterward. It ends almost abruptly. The most interesting footage at the end is the business meeting where Billy and JaRule try to convince employees to stick with them. They attempt to share the story about VIP NYC but I didn’t fully understand it till I saw the Hulu documentary. Then, like the festival, the documentary ends. With a whimper and a cheese sandwich.
The documentary attempts to poke fun at the fact that the world loved seeing the festival fail and that’s the most interesting stance it takes. It lacks a meta voice. An outside perspective to place the story within social and cultural context. I wanted more zeitgeist. Fyre is a documentary created by a marketing company and it feels like just that.
The best thing to come out of this one is what happened after it’s release. The owner of the catering company that lost tons of money on the island, Maryann Rolle, raises over 100K on go fund me as a result of her tearful interview and Jerry Media donated over 30K of that.
So good for you guys.
The real victims of this whole story are the islanders and none of the documentaries attempt to tell their story with the depth that it deserves and cost of that deception. This tearful interview is all you will get between both docs. I think we could do better.
HULU: FYRE FRAUD
Right out of the gate, the title and description should clue you in. The tone is different than the Netflix documentary. A true-crime comedy. They secretly drop their documentary the night before Netflix. Sneaky, sneaky guys.
Worth noting, Hulu’s documentary paid for an interview with Billy. So this story has Billy as a main character in it’s structure. Hotly debated is paying for that interview. People are paid for interviews all the time. We pay criminals for their stories all the time. So personally, I don’t care that they paid him. It does add a nice element to the story.
This documentary takes a stronger stance on that meta voice that I felt was missing from the Netflix version. I really liked how they dove into Billy as a character. They hit the fraud harder. They place the instagram campaign in social context in ways that helps me think about the bigger picture. It’s not a home run. Some of the themes I mentioned above don’t get a deep dive, but this documentary tries a little more to have a meta voice and structure.
Fyre Fraud takes more of a stance on story.
Fyre Fraud takes the position that the festival and Billy were fraudulent from the beginning. It seeks to tear down the “We tried something so big, we got in over our heads and failed,” narrative that the lawyers for Billy have spun. It paints Billy as a con artist from the get go. It’s not as flashy as the Netflix version. It’s not as funny. But it feels more like a documentary to me. There is more research. More outside perspective interviews and a larger point that they are trying to prove.
Billy’s interview tips the scales for me. I am really interested in how the Billy’s of the world are created and perpetuated by society. I loved the millennial lens. The connection to escapism and fantasy selling. Discussion of wealth and power. But we still don’t talk to the islanders enough. I don’t think the consequences of the story are as clear as they could be.
The closer we get to people arriving on the island, the more the footage is the same. It’s almost like both documentaries were working with the same batch of collected footage with a few new surprises. Cutting back and forth to Billy, who looks like he is shrinking in his seat, is more compelling than the Netflix version. From here, we get a closer look at the lawsuits and issues that arise after the attempted festival.
The new information we get here is what Billy did in the hours and months after the festival, his conviction and, the depth of his delusions. They pose the question about his six year prison sentence, was it enough?
Finally some one says what I’ve been thinking: “Don’t just focus on Billy. There are lots of people who helped Billy create fraud so they could make money too.”
Was that enough to satisfy my point? Not really. I would have loved to see the creators ask people about their responsibility in a deep and critical way. A credit sequence reveals that the workers on the island were never paid, Grant was fined, JaRule distances himself from the backlash and they point out that F@1$Jerry made the Netflix documentary and they pose the question about marketers responsibility. I didn’t like that we waited till the end to do so, but I’ll take it.
The verdict: I think FYRE FRAUD attempts to tell a fuller story and at least booked you into that villa on the island. So it gets my vote as the better doc.
I think that the FYRE Festival is a great zeitgeist of our time. A reflection of the power and influence that marketing can have to create big things while at the same time exploiting others for financial gain. We LOVED seeing rich white kids fail. The meme’s were hilarious. I think everyone likes a good train wreck story. I also wonder why.
The perception of white collar fraud in our country is flawed to say the least. I think most people see these documentaries and don’t fully understand the depth of the crime. We poke fun and make a joke without understanding the real consequences beyond sunburn and delayed flights. We create the perfect martyr in our con artist Billy persona and watch him fail with delight. We gloss over the racial and social justice topics. It doesn’t bother anyone that they essentially exploited a poverty stricken island for the festival and then didn’t pay them? What happened to the islanders? Why do we tell Billy’s story and not theirs? Where is the responsibility of everyone involved? How do we prevent the Billy’s of the world from creating more situations like this? If it were me, I would have told the story from the perspective of the islanders first. That would have been compelling.
Honestly, wasn’t crazy about either of them. It’s a great story but both lack depth. Ironically, like the almost-festival that they document, they disappoint.
Good documentaries entertain us, Compelling documentaries ask great questions and challenge our perceptions.
Neither of these are compelling by those standards. They do entertain though. I am curious, what did you think?