Monday, January 21, 2019

Doc Watch: Fyre - the Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)

Watched:  01/21/2019
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's

(late edit: shortly after posting my initial, pretty visceral reaction to the doc, I got some new info that will show up later in the post.  It's always nice to feel less crazy.  And certainly learning what I did colors and informs literally everything about the doc.  Basically - it may be somewhat true, but it's also deeply skewed and can't be seen as having any journalistic integrity.

While I recommend reading this post first - and watching the Netflix doc first - the post on the Hulu Doc is here.)

I'm no commie, but few things leave me wanting to declare "let's just eat the rich" like the film I just finished.  And not just the subject matter they covered, but the way in which the filmmakers themselves covered it.

The lack of ability to reflect and look at the *source* of the issues around the notorious Fyre Festival is probably the weirdest part of watching Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019), the Netflix documentary that's been grabbing headlines.

At the end of the day, I'm just left thinking:

  1. I don't think the people who made this doc necessarily understand why this festival didn't happen
  2. They kind of wish it happened as advertised
  3. I'm kind of wondering what deal they made with the people close to Billy McFarland to make sure he took it all on the chin and they could just act surprised and duped on camera
  4. The film is remarkably dismissive of the public reaction to Fyre's implosion
  5. It's also remarkably quiet about who the audience was for Fyre and the economics of who was impacted by the failure of the event versus people who could drop $100,000 on a luxury weekend getaway to see Ja Rule  
  6. Also - Billy McFarland needs to quit filming himself and he needs to understand the value of an NDA because...  holy shit, dude, you're going to keep winding up in jail
I guess the question comes down to: do you think people like what's-her-name, Kim Kardashian's little sister, are a good idea or not, and do you do things because she says to do them on social media? Is "lifestyle brand" something you've actually bought into (or, can you afford to buy into) and can you unpeel enough from getting excited when you hear the name of the flavor-of-the-month DJ/ hip-hop-artist/ SoCal pop-rock group that you feel the need to spend a year's college tuition and living expenses for an average 18 year old so you can get drunk on a beach at a Blink 182 show?  

There's no real indication that the filmmakers of this doc ever thought "wow, a lot of people's lives were ruined in the wake of this debacle - what happened on both sides of this equation to make this possible?"  The notion of "influencers", "super models"* and wearing ugly expensive clothes in a remote location just seems it goes unexamined.  

Look, this is a doc that reports breathlessly how Fyre as a company paid god-knows-how-much to a LOT of "influencers" to post an orange square on their instagram account with a hashtag and never once says "and, apparently, this actually worked.  Man, people are stupid."  And then kind of makes fun of the kid who got the "cheese sandwich" photo out because he only had 400 followers. 

I mean...  talk about missing the point of social media for normals, I guess...

The filmmakers DO have access to a lot of key people from the company that was Fyre, which was intended to be an app where you could, say, get in touch with Iggy Azalea's people and book her for your birthday.  At one point the Fyre Festival was supposed to be a promotion for the App, but it spun off into something else and became it's own thing, and, indeed, it's own wing of the company.  But... that's not to say that you don't see people getting interviewed talking about how they really "believed in" the app - IE: were super excited that their life's work was making a shopping cart system for the super-rich (or deeply financially irresponsible less-rich) to buy the time of performers.  

Which, sure... but one of the logistical issues of Fyre Fest that goes uncommented upon is that they don't know HOW to hire acts, and leave it to a 23 year old who seems to have been working on a mix of optimism and fear (and who casually mentions how he wound up carrying debt for the Festival on his personal AMEX card.  Also, what 23 year old chooses an AMEX card?).   

But, look, I do *some* event planning for work, and one of the things I always tell my colleagues new to the work is that "if you have a space and you have food, you'll be fine.  The rest will be flexible if you work out the food and shelter bit.".  So, naturally, that's where you start.  But that is the last part these people started with - and it's all so... @#$%ing dumb.  While the film spends a LOT of time talking about how things just got progressively dumber as they go to the day of the Fest, it's amazing we never hear from people that quit - everyone stuck with it, including everyone interviewed.  And some of what they seem willing to do to make a frikkin' Blink 182 concert happen is... unspeakable.

In a lot of ways, I can't blame the people who did pay the $25K ticket fee, because, my GOD there's so much at stake and who you're messing with if you're messing with people who can afford a $25,000 concert ticket.  Let alone hundreds of the super-privileged who can lawyer-up the moment they have a bad day.  OF COURSE you assume "this is the first year and they want to make money every year, so this will be okay".  I mean, I like to laugh at dumb rich people losing money and having a bad time of it, too, but I also have basic expectations that if I pay for a hotel room, when I show up it's not going to be "it's a pup tent!"

What gets surprisingly light coverage is the fallout.  I'd never heard of Fyre Festival til I was stuck somewhere watching CNN (which means airport or Jiffy Lube) and they were describing what was happening in CNN bullet point style, which made it, frankly, hilarious.  For whatever reason, the doc just glosses over the numbers of people stranded, for how long, and seeks out surprisingly few of the people and not really any of the "influencers" affected and how it impacted them or how they thought of their part in it.  And seems to dismiss the notion that influencers should acknowledge when they're paid to promote something.

They also barely touch on the general public's reaction, which was not dissimilar to my own.  Of course the first blush of "a guy who had never run a festival and Ja Rule charged dummies tens of thousands of dollars and lied about accommodations" is just funny to us normals.  But the doc's last comment on the public reaction is a statement by someone involved suggesting people were, essentially, just jealous.  The Jerry Springer-esque, dumb kid response to proper levels of shaming.  

They *do* start to get into the fact that locals worked for a month and were never paid, but, oddly, that's put on the same level as the folks who've been humming along with Fyre back in NYC making no small amount of money.  But the implications of race, class, etc... go utterly unexplored and they hang around the entire enterprise like an albatross.  We get one woman's story, which is nearly tear-inducing, but that's not the voice of the hundreds of people who were put to work in the sun for weeks and got nothing.  Nothing.  All so some dipshits in ugly sunglasses could throw around some money and have no consequences.  (edit: a GoFundMe for one of the people deeply affected has surpassed its goal already as of this writing).  

The movie lays all the blame, again, on Billy McFarland, and... maybe.  Maybe a big portion is on him, but he was enabled and believed by gullible, guileless dopes all along the way, and the people who do seem to know what they were into seem to be here in this doc spinning wildly.  Billy is clearly a sociopath and he got in over his head, but just watching those videos, there's so many questions about who he really is, where he came from, how anyone doesn't smell "con man" on him from a mile away...  I can't believe we don't know more about "who is this guy?", because it can't be that hard to find out.

All of this is a little surprising when you realize the filmmaker is Chris Smith, who brought us American Movie and other docs.  I fully expected this movie to be the work of a 30-something with a terrible haircut.  It's possible the filmmakers meant to leave it open and believed the evidence was damning enough to let the public come to some raw conclusions about what happened and why, and maybe feel a bit icky about our need to duck-face on remote beaches and pay $10K per head to attend a yacht party with Kim Kardashian's little sister...  but they never make a stab that direction, just leaving that stuff floating around the edges.

But, look... it's hard not to watch the doc itself and see it having a lot of problems it's either unaware it has, maybe look at it as a bit of defensive propaganda from folks who are also facing legal challenges based on their involvement (posed here as mere victims of something they went along with).  After all, they provide a lot of footage to the doc, including POV video from video conferences, etc... that were clearly captured for CYA purposes.  One guy, who's real name is apparently "MDavid", just keeps working with Ja Rule on the dumb-ass "Iggy Azalea at your birthday party!" app, which I had actually heard of, called iConn.

(late edit: someone slid into my DM's and told me "one of the companies involved is a producer".  And, yeah.  Jerry Media**, the social media company that was hired to promote Fyre Festival, is involved.  James Ohliger of Jerry Media, who appears a lot in the doc, is listed in the credits as a producer.  Which... look, really explains the whole "we can't blame anyone but Billy" angle.  Because Jerry Media could easily be named as a co-defendant in any lawsuits as they seemingly willingly continued to promote the event and it is very, very fuzzy what they knew and when.  Maybe it's all on the up and up, but that's not exactly rock solid journalism when you have someone with an arguably vested interest producing the doc saying "we're not the ones to blame!"  So, basically, this doc is compromised as all hell.  And as a company that built its brand on Instagramming and lifestyle nonsense, it explains a lot about refusing to do any self-reflection here...  And it explains so much when you know they're getting their asses sued right now.)

Which, look, do not go from being "Fyre" to "I (am a) Con (artist)" who, on their website, proudly announces a partnership with "SKAM".  Like, c'mon, guys... a little @#$%ing self-awareness... that's all we ask.

There's plenty more to talk about and how weirded out I am by the economy of the entire event and that, again, while I'm not exactly a super-pinko, seeing how this stuff works makes me think Robin Hood may have had something there...  But I'm also just constantly blown away by what passes for glamour and lifestyle for people these days, how people just bite on this when it's so easy to know better...

It's all just such lame, basic shit.

*look, documentary, I was an early 90's teen.  Those are NOT @#$%ing super models.  They're models with instagram accounts.

**Jerry Media became famous, I guess, as @fuckjerry - that was their brand.  So.  Yeah.


mcsteans said...

It both explains everything and is deeply disappointing to learn that there were folks involved in the documentary that were also responsible for this mess. I mean, hats off I guess to wanting to get out in front of any competing doc with hours of footage and the ability to spin it any way you want, but it all just puts an even worse taste in my mouth than I had after finishing the movie. And I'm now kind of pissed I wasted an hour and a half on being jerked around (which is their entire business model for everything).

The League said...

the only good thing about it is that I felt way less crazy and maybe mad at the world in general once I found out this was sort of a contained event, and why they framed the public reaction and the fallout the way they did

Simon MacDonald said...

It was still a pretty interesting doc warts an all. On one level I can't believe that people would have spent money on this stuff to begin with but anyway.

One thing that did strike me while watching the doc was these folks are suffering from the Sunk Cost Fallacy. There is a good podcast on this phenomenon and if you are really interested you should read "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman. They kept on pushing along with this bad idea hoping that it would eventually pan out. I've seen the same thing where folks kept working for this local start up long past when it was obvious it would implode

The League said...

Oh, my friend - let me tell you about how that same notion plays out in digital libraries sometime... it's an ugly tale full of tears, blood and terrible, terrible code.