One day, our children will ask: Where were you during the Fyre Festival documentaries war?
The notoriously disastrous music festival — which, it should be noted, lacked both live music and proper festivities — is at the center of two films released this week by streaming rivals Hulu and Netflix. Each takes viewers back to early 2017, when millennial entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule attempted to organize a luxury music festival in the Bahamas to promote their music-booking app, Fyre.
Nothing went as planned, largely because of an extremely tight schedule and a lack of funding for McFarland and Ja Rule’s extravagant vision. Musical acts canceled after sensing some shadiness, and guests who paid thousands of dollars to attend were greeted with tents and soggy sandwiches in lieu of the villas and gourmet meals they’d been promised. McFarland is currently serving a six-year jail sentence for fraud.
There’s a lot for the documentaries to tackle, as you can imagine. Among the most pressing inquiries: Why and how did this happen? But Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” and Netflix’s “Fyre” approach this task from different perspectives. To help you decide which to watch, we’ve answered a few questions of our own.
When did each documentary come out?
Hulu dropped “Fyre Fraud” on Monday, just four days before “Fyre” hit Netflix. While Netflix’s release date had been announced in advance, its rival took the public by surprise. Hulu hadn’t clarified a date beyond sometime in 2019. “Fyre” director Chris Smith told Business Insider on Tuesday that he had been tipped off to Hulu’s documentary, directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, but that Netflix didn’t really care.
Now, we have a new pair to tack onto Hollywood’s long history of twin films. Which one do you think is the “Deep Impact” to the other’s “Armageddon”?
How long are they?
Netflix’s “Fyre” clocks in at just over one hour and 37 minutes, while Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” is literally a second under one hour and 36 minutes. The difference is a bathroom break.
So, they’re just two films about the same thing?
Not quite. Netflix’s “Fyre” focuses quite a bit on the how, particularly regarding how Fyre Festival reached its catastrophic end. It documents the nitty-gritty of how the festival fell apart, ranging from the basics (McFarland’s pilot friend Keith says in an interview that Fyre team members focused more on influencers and festival promotion than making sure there would be working plumbing on the island) to the bigger-picture stuff (McFarland commits wire fraud to make fast money).
Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” focuses on the why. Yes, it touches on some individual blunders that led to the eventual fiasco, but it’s much more interested in the culture that allowed McFarland to do what he did. What made the college dropout decide to scam rich millennials? What does it say about our society as a whole that this many people would pay thousands of dollars to attend a festival they had never even heard of before?
While the Netflix documentary strikes a more serious tone, Hulu’s employs more humor. In one scene, a former employee describes McFarland’s management style as “like ‘The Office,’ except with no redeeming qualities.” The latter film also uses pop-culture clips to really drive home points in a way that winds up feeling reminiscent of an Adam McKay film.
Who shows up in each one?
Netflix’s “Fyre” includes interviews with a solid number of people who worked with McFarland and Ja Rule in planning the festival: Fyre Media employees, Fyre Media consultants, scorned Bahamians and employees of Instagram influencer F---Jerry’s social media agency, Jerry Media. That last one is controversial.
Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” mostly interviews external commentators — social media experts, journalists and so on — but also features a scorned Bahamian, a former Jerry Media employee and McFarland himself. That last one is, you guessed it, also controversial.
How ethical are these documentaries?
Now for the promised controversies! Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” points out that Jerry Media, whose employees created Fyre Festival’s promotional videos featuring models Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, is one of the companies that produced Netflix’s “Fyre.” As a result, “Fyre Fraud” is much more wary of Jerry Media’s involvement in the scam.
“I feel like there’s a bigger ethically compromised position, and that’s going and partnering with folks who marketed the Fyre Festival and were well aware that this was not going to happen as planned,” Furst told the Ringer of the rival Netflix documentary.
That ethical comparison refers to the fact that Hulu paid McFarland for behind-the-scenes footage and an eight-hour interview, according to the Ringer. Smith, who directed the Netflix film, says McFarland told him he was offered $250,000 from Hulu. Furst says it was less.
“After spending time with so many people who had such a negative impact on their lives from their experience on Fyre, it felt particularly wrong to us for [McFarland] to be benefiting,” Smith told the Ringer. “It was a difficult decision, but we had to walk away for that reason.”
What are some of the wildest quotes from each documentary?
From Netflix’s “Fyre,” sans context:
- “If we want to go … see the pigs, we go see the pigs. That’s it.”
- “We’re selling a pipe dream to your average loser.”
- “Instead of thinking about models, you have to think about toilets.”
- “We knew very little about what was happening on the festival side — except, you know, the persistent feeling of growing dread.”
- “I was, like, ‘Oh my god, Billy. Jeepers.’ ”
- “Nobody died, but we did flat-out lie to the public about what we were giving them.”
From Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud,” which wins this round:
- “Once you attach Ja Rule to something, you know it’s legit.”
- “Teeny-tiny crayon-based businessman.”
- “There’s just random white guys there for who knows what reason.”
- “Nobody’s eating, so nobody’s pooping.”
- “You say that Billy tried to get you to rob Customs?”
- “If you’ve never been out on bail before, that’s the time in your life where you want to be committing the least amount of crimes.”
- “In the millennial era, scamming is the air we breathe.”
Just … why?
We’ll let our television critic, Hank Stuever, handle that one. But before we depart, please enjoy this viral photo of a Fyre Festival “sandwich.”