Now, I don’t know much about business, but one thing I do know is that you shouldn’t over-promise and under-deliver. The daring entrepreneur Billy McFarland, however, did not take heed of this textbook rule and the consequences were disastrous.
Netflix’s Fyre documentary at times feels more like a thriller than an account of events that actually happened. With seemingly endless amounts of footage of the festival at their disposable, the producers had a lot of freedom when it came to framing the events in a way they thought relayed the truth in the most entertaining way.
The first half of the festival is filled with supermodels, yachts and success. The first-time festival sells out 90% of its tickets in just 48 hours and Instagram’s top influencers create an epic hype around the event simply by posting an orange tile. Although the documentary does not fundamentally criticize the harmful role that social media can have as a whole, it still relays the sinister part that social media played in the success of ticket sales. Netflix demonstrate that although posing on Instagram in a scenario that makes your life look a lot more glamorous than it actually is is mostly harmless, it can also potentially be dangerous.
What Billy McFarland sold for millions of dollars was not a festival, but the idea of a festival. People handed over thousands of dollars so they could have a taste of the dream, which turned out to be camping out on wet mattresses in tents that were previously used to give shelter following Hurricane Katrina. When it is revealed to the ticket-holders just how much of a fail the Fyre festival actually is, it’s hard not to laugh at their misery.
And then just like that we feel guilty for laughing. Hundreds of festival-goers being locked in an airport with no food and water is more disturbing than funny. The hundreds of local workers who were unpaid for their labor is devastating, and the woman who gave her life’s savings to appease as many of the workers as she could is heartbreaking. Watching her tear up in front of the camera admitting it is painful for her to talk about the festival is a reminder of just how real and severe the impacts of McFarland’s mistakes were.
Is McFarland a bad person? The documentary leaves that question ambiguous. The Billy we see is a man who gets overexcited by an idea and gets trigger-happy, selling all sorts of promises he ultimately cannot deliver on. Billy would not give up on his dream, and while perseverance in the face of a dream can be admirable, when it came to the Fyre Festival, this perseverance was foolish, disastrous and ultimately criminal.
Overall, Netflix’s documentary is firing on all accounts and is one of the tensest recollections of business gone wrong we have seen. Billy McFarland is the Wolf of Wall Street without the profit, and he is just as entertaining to watch as Leonardo DeCaprio. The shocking story of the greatest party that never happened was told superbly by Netflix, and we’ll be talking about it for weeks to come.