Yesterday, Hulu surprise released FYRE FRAUD, their documentary about the disastrous Fyre Festival, a few days before Netflix would release its own doc on the subject, FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. As many noted online, this seemed like this year's version of a Deep Impact / Armageddon (or The Prestige / The Illusionist) cultural moment where two competing projects happened to come to fruition at the same time. But there's more bad blood than just that between the projects: Hulu's doc directly addresses Netflix's partnership with Jerry Media, an advertising/social media agency who had been involved in Fyre Fest. And at the same time, the Netflix documentarian says that Hulu paid Billy McFarland for his interview.
Let's tackle Hulu's doc first, since some of you may have seen it by now. In addition to the exclusive one-on-one interviews with McFarland (more on that later), the doc takes aim at Netflix's doc for partnering with social media agency Jerry Media/FuckJerry and the advertising agency Matte Projects, both of whom were involved with promoting Fyre Fest (among other things, they worked on the promotional videos featuring all those models and influencers). Jerry Media/FuckJerry creator Elliot Tebele is an executive producer on the Netflix doc, and the Hulu one accuses the company of knowingly lying to attendees by positively promoting the fest up until launch day. For example, Oren Aks, a former Jerry Media designer hired to do social media for Fyre, says in the doc that he was personally instructed to delete any negative or accusatory posts about Fyre on its Instagram.
In a statement that is read during the Hulu doc, Jerry Media denied any such foreknowledge of the disaster-in-the-making: "All actions taken by Jerry Media were done at the direction of the Fyre Festival. Like the ticket holders, we were also misled. Per our previous correspondence, Oren Aks has misrepresented himself." Aks responds in the doc, "Well, fuck you guys...I honestly can’t believe this documentary, there’s two of them."
the best part of the fyre fest doc is that some of the documentary talking heads are fraudulent themselves 😭😭😭
— Aminatou Sow (@aminatou) January 15, 2019
Hulu documentarian Jenner Furst told The Ringer, "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," he said. "That folks were not going to get villas, that folks were not even going to get bathrooms. We have emails that prove that people knew months in advance what was going on and we have a whistle-blower from inside that social media company [Jerry] who says that he knew months before that this wasn’t going to be what it was sold as."
But that's not all: Chris Smith, who made Netflix's doc, also told The Ringer that Furst and the Hulu documentarians paid McFarland for his appearance, which he believes was a worse ethical lapse on their part.
“We were aware of [the Hulu production] because we were supposed to film Billy McFarland for an interview,” says Smith. “He told us that they were offering $250,000 for an interview. He asked us if we would pay him $125,000. And 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 him to be benefiting. It was a difficult decision but we had to walk away for that reason. So then he came back and asked if we would do it for $100,000 in cash. And we still said this wasn’t something that was going to work for us.”
Furst responded to that, telling The Ringer, "I can’t tell you the amount, but what I can tell you is that if you printed [$250,000], that would be a lie. That was not the amount. It was less than that. I don’t know why Chris [Smith] is quoting him that way. We both made a film about the same person. We know the person is a compulsive liar." He seems to think that McFarland was trying to leverage a better offer from Netflix, or possibly it was an attempt to ignite a rivalry between the two docs that would take some attention off of McFarland—but either way, Furst did acknowledge that McFarland was paid some amount.
I had not realized Hulu's Fyre Fraud was, among other things, a pre-eminent critique/slam of Netflix's Fyre but it is. Truly, dueling documentaries!
— Willa Paskin (@willapaskin) January 15, 2019
Omg the Hulu Fyre doc ends with all this info about how jerrymedia is associated with the Netflix doc and also being sued by Geragos and Geragos, who is featured in the Hulu doc
— Christina Warren (@film_girl) January 15, 2019
Still, Furst argued, "It’s a little bit of a head-scratcher to say that we have an ethical quandary when it seems like people who got the rest of the world knee deep in shit are making large licensing fees and getting prestige when [the Netflix doc] comes out on Friday. To me, I think it’s a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black."
Netflix added in a statement about Jerry Media's participation in their doc:
We were happy to work with Jerry Media and a number of others on the film. At no time did they, or any others we worked with, request favorable coverage in our film, which would be against our ethics. We stand behind our film, believe it is an unbiased and illuminating look at what happened, and look forward to sharing it with audiences around the world.
So while some of us will definitely be watching both docs, you might be more interested in just picking one. On the surface, it seems Hulu has the advantage, because it was first out of the gate, it got the exclusive interviews with McFarland, and it is filled with unforgettable quotes/moments like those below.
the Hulu Fyre Fest doc that gazumped netflix is Good pic.twitter.com/sppqyuvYgA
— jo livingstone (@Jo_Livingstone) January 14, 2019
There's a moment in the Hulu Fyre doc where Billy McFarland says they paid millions to rent hundreds of luxury villas on the island, but then kind of hangs his head and says they lost the box containing all the keys, and I've been thinking about it for 12 hours
— Tom Gara (@tomgara) January 15, 2019
Best line from Hulu Fyre Fest doc so far: “Pablo Escobar is actually, like, a criminal who’s murdered people brutally.”
— Maris Kreizman (@mariskreizman) January 15, 2019
"If you've never been out on bail before, that's the time in your life when you want to be committing the least number of crimes" - Fyre Fraud does have some quotable lines
— Kathryn VanArendonk (@kvanaren) January 15, 2019
But The Week argues that while the Hulu doc gives a better overview of the disastrous festival, the Netflix one "emphasizes that the festival's real victims weren't the rich kids, but the low-level employees and local Bahamans who suffered the financial consequences." Rolling Stone also called the Netflix doc "brilliant" while promoting a new clip from the film, which is released Friday:
If you truly can't get enough of the Fyre content, we suggest you snuggle up with "Trial By Fyre Festival," a short story set at the fest whose Amazon description promises it "is sure to become your new bible."