The Fyre Festival that never was was a maelstrom of epic proportions. With the help of Ja Rule, a handful of investors, and a con artist’s eye for millennial exploitation, one man — Billy McFarland — convinced hordes of LuMee case-carrying Instagram influencers to pay up to $12,000 to attend an amorphous luxury music festival on an island in the Bahamas, before being tried and sentenced to six years in prison for fraud. He promised villas, supermodels on jet skis, Blink-182, and lots of liqueur. And while liqueur was a-plenty, the festival itself was a grand scam. The hordes that arrived for it (on commercial air travel, no less), were greeted by a gravel parking lot with disaster relief tents, green water, and those sad cheese sandwiches.
This week, Hulu released Fyre Fraud, a “true-crime comedy” documentary by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason that investigates that very question. In true Fyre fashion, the film itself was enmeshed in drama — Hulu dropped the film just days before Netflix was set to release its own documentary about the festival, called Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. Hulu’s version includes an exclusive interview with McFarland (for which he was paid an undisclosed amount), and also one with Oren Aks, a disgruntled former employee of Fuck Jerry Media — the Instagram meme page-turned-multi-million dollar marketing agency that was a partner with McFarland on the Fyre Festival in addition to the Netflix film. The streaming platform drama has, you could say, given us that old Fyre Festival taste of controversy. As such, we couldn’t help but gather some of the more absurd dispatches from the Hulu documentary on what has to be the greatest scam of the Insta-generation.
THE HISTORY OF SCAMS
The documentary delves into McFarland’s long history of scamming, from his Kindergarten days running a crayon repair business, to the web-posting company he ran in fifth grade, in which he managed three full-time workers in India.
“My first combination of technology and marketing happened in second grade. I was put next to a girl who I had a crush on, and her crayon broke, so I said, ‘If you give me a dollar, I’ll fix your crayon.’ The school bought very basic Internet-connected typewriters, and I realized this was the best way to market my crayon business. So I figured out the school’s administrator password, and I started messing with them. I changed the password, and I’d lock all the teachers out. So every time the office monitor was turned on, it would say, ‘For your broken crayons, basically come and find me.'” — BILLY MCFARLAND
THE MODELS VS. THE PIGS
Michael Swaigen, a filmmaker who McFarland brought on to help document the festival, described one early trip to Pig Beach, an island off the coast of Exuma in the Bahamas, uninhabited by all except a bunch of pigs. McFarland, along with models like Chanel Iman and Shanina Shaik, sought out Pig Beach presumably for the ‘gram, but ended up with a more … impactful souvenir.
“Everyone kept talking: when are we going to the pig island? It’s an island with a bunch of pigs. As soon as we get there, they’re all swimming up, and someone’s feeding them beer, he thinks it’s funny. They’re like pigeons, except they’re pigs with mouths and teeth. Chanel Iman actually fell because she was getting bit by a pig. The pigs, at one point, bit Billy in the balls. He’s running off, and people are just laughing.” — MICHAEL SWAIGEN
THE SOCIAL MEDIA BLITZ
When the public began catching on to the various nebulous details of the Fyre Festival, the Fuck Jerry team was told to “hit back with a counter-punch that can only be described as a social media blitz,” says Jake Horowitz, the Editor-At-Large of Mic, which helped produce the documentary.
“Any time there would be anything that was ‘distasteful,’ or calling Fyre out on anything, it was always a matter of, go to that source and eliminate it. [We were] instantly flagging words like lineup, performers, details, info, flights, fraud, stupid, scam, festival even. ‘Festival’ was blocked — it got that bad.”— OREN AKS
THE PIRATE SHIP
As McFarland drowned deeper into debt, he became increasingly rabid for luxury and excess. Perhaps no image further encapsulates the saga than Billy’s pirate ship. “Despite all the warning signs, as even the most basic things just can’t come together, Billy becomes obsessed with an idea of bringing a pirate ship to the Bahamas,” Horowitz says. “The team is really against the idea, but Billy is so obsessed with it that they go through the process of trying to find it anyway.”
“He could sit in the cannon ball, and you could shoot him,” said Ben Meiselas, a partner at Geragos & Geragos, the law firm that filed an $100 million class-action lawsuit against the festival. “He would do three 360s, throw out a bunch of money, pour drinks in everybody’s mouth. He’d say, ‘Billy’s here!'”
Though they promised villas with luxury bathrooms, the team could barely scrap together Port-O-Potties.
“There was an urgent email about the bathrooms — that instead of having these luxurious bathrooms, they were going to have to ship in Port-O-Potties. There’s this great email that I love that quotes, ‘Well, nobody’s eating, so nobody’s pooping.'” — JAKE HOROWITZ
As if all the poor planning was not already enough to doom the Fyre Festival fantasy, one day out, a literal storm hit the island. “The night before, we worked through the night,” said Felix Vargas, an event producer for Fyre Festival. “We were driving back to the house, it’s like 3am at this point, and it starts to rain, and we’re like, okay, it might just be light rain. And then…
“It started monsooning. We all started crying of laughter. It was like hours before the first people were supposed to get here.” — NICK BOTERO, Event Producer, Fyre Festival
“And then thunder, and the lights go out. The roads look like they’re flooded. I thought to myself: this is an act of God.” – FELIX VARGAS
“It was just gravel, mattresses stacked up along the road. There was plenty of liquor. There were pallets of liquor sitting next to kiosks that said “bar.” These were FEMA tents. My first thought was, ‘What have I done? My child is like Satan.'” – OREN AKS