8 Takeaways From Hulu’s Surprise-Released Fyre Festival Doc

Billy McFarland, scammer extraordinaire. Photo: The Cinemart/Hulu

On Monday Hulu fought fyre with fyre by surprise-releasing its own documentary on the doomed-from-the-start Fyre Festival just days ahead of Netflix’s scheduled release of its own rival doc on the same fiasco. Fyre Fraud, Hulu’s version, is described by its directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason as “more than the story of a failed music festival in the Bahamas” but a “cautionary tale for a generation.” Or, at the very least, one super-specific privileged, megalomaniac set of that generation.

Hulu’s doc, while attempting to diagnose how Fyre became a cancer to millennial culture, turns the mirror on its mastermind, Billy McFarland, who scammed attendees, investors, and the Bahamas collectively out of millions of dollars with his pipe dream of a luxe Instagrammable destination festival that ultimately went up in smoke. The doc features tense interviews with McFarland just before he went to prison for fraud, as well as with employees who witnessed firsthand how his hubris and desperation snowballed to derail the festival. Here are our eight takeaways from those interviews, including the supposed truth about what co-founder Ja Rule really knew, Hulu’s subtle dig at Netflix, and McFarland’s lies exposed.

Ja Rule knew something was up.
Half of the inspiration for Fyre Festival came from rapper/aspiring mogul Ja Rule, who was touted as a co-creator. (Though, according to a McFarland employee interviewed in the doc, his role was more for flashy marketing purposes than any real hands-on involvement with the nuts and bolts of the festival.) Rule himself never took any responsibility for the festival’s wrongdoings — but gladly took credit for its idea — however the doc now claims that he was very much clued in on the festival’s inevitable implosion. Delroy Jackson, a local Bahamian hired as a fixer for the festival, recalls Rule visiting the barren festival grounds four months out from the start date and expressing skepticism that they’d actually pull it off. “He pulled me aside like, ‘Yo, Delroy. Just be straight up dawg. Is this festival gonna happen. What’d you think?’” he says. “All I did was scratch my head. I was just like, ‘Ja, it’s really not gonna happen.’” Asked point-blank in the doc if Ja Rule, who declined to be interviewed, had any knowledge of his scam, McFarland’s answer is less than convincing. “I was in charge of the festival and I made the decision to keep it going to … to … to … I was in charge, and so its on me,” he stutters. “But … yeah.” Asked if while on the island Ja Rule ever told him to cancel the festival, McFarland says he won’t give details of their private discussions: “We’ve had many conversations, as well as I did with the rest of the team, and those were the decisions we made.”

McFarland truly doesn’t see a correlation between his committing fraud and the festival going awry.
For scamming investors with fraudulent wire taps, McFarland was ultimately sentenced to six years in prison. But if you ask him, which the doc painstakingly does, that fraud apparently had nothing to do with the festival. “The legal situation does not involve any aspects of the execution of the festival,” he says. Then later repeats, “We didn’t break the law in the execution of the festival.” Is he a compulsive liar? the doc asks next. “I’ve been called a lot of things since the festival,” he says, then asks Hulu to show him the lie. Which it does, one receipt after another, prompting McFarland to take a ten-minute “personal break,” presumably from the truth.

Employees were instructed to delete negative comments.
In order to ramp up the festival’s clout, Fyre outsourced its social-media marketing to Instagram influencer Fuck Jerry’s media company Jerry Media. The doc reveals that even until the bitter end, Jerry Media employees were told to keep on promoting the festival like it was business as usual, though they allegedly knew it would be a disaster. Oren Aks, an ex–Jerry Media designer hired to do social media for Fyre, says he was personally instructed to delete any negative or accusatory posts about Fyre on its Instagram — even simple logistical questions from attendees — and block any accounts that left such comments. He was told to flag on Fyre’s socials general words like “lineup,” “performers,” “details,” “info,” flights,” “fraud,” “stupid,” “scam,” and, yes, even “festival” (“it got that bad,” according to Aks). “I could say, ‘I’m scared.’ I could say, ‘This is dangerous,”’ Aks remembers of those last days before the festival. “It won’t change anything ‘cause the festival has to happen.”

Hulu shades Netflix’s rival Fyre doc for bias.
Speaking of Fuck Jerry, its creator Elliot Tebele is one of the many executive producers of Netflix’s rival Fyre Fest doc. The problem? Hulu’s doc accuses Fuck Jerry and Jerry Media of knowingly lying to attendees by positively promoting the festival all the way up until launch day despite all evidence of pending disaster and, indirectly, also accuses Netflix of bias for letting Jerry Media produce its doc. (Jerry Media is one of the defendants named in celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos’s class-action lawsuit against the festival.) In a statement to Hulu read in the doc, Jerry Media slams Oren Aks’s accusations that the company deceived attendees, insisting that McFarland duped them, too: “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.” “Well, fuck you guys,” Aks responds, adding, “I honestly can’t believe this documentary — there’s two of them.” Hulu doesn’t name-drop Netflix as that other doc, but it then acknowledges Jerry Media’s role as a producer of said second doc, followed by a rather pointed word from an attorney representing the firm suing Jerry Media: “You kind of hope they do the right thing. You can hope all you want. More frequently, you have to sue.”

People slept in FEMA tents because McFarland “lost” the keys to their sweet villas.
Fyre Festival attendees were promised fancy villas, suites, and mansions as their accommodations. But as was famously documented on Twitter, they were instead greeted with FEMA-style tents and mattresses all posted up on gravel. But if you believe McFarland, the luxe living truly did exist … he just misplaced all the keys to get in. Behold, a scammer at work: “We have 250 houses rented for millions of dollars with paper receipts and pictures of every house. [Pause.] We had a box of physical keys, cars to take people there, and maps for every single house, and the box of keys … uh … unfortunately it went missing.” So why didn’t he just break that news to attendees? [Blinks. Stares at ground. Internal panicking ensues.]

McFarland tried to steal back his merch from the Bahamian government.
With so much already going wrong with Fyre, remembering to pay pesky things like national insurance and customs bills to the Bahamian government wasn’t high on the priority list. So after all was said and done, the Bahamas seized all the Fyre merch as collateral. According to fixer Delroy Jackson, one of McFarland’s many bright ideas to recoup money to pay back investors, then, was to merely steal the merch back. As in, have Jackson rob his own government without even so much as a plan for how to do it. So did he? “Me ain’t never stole any merch,” he smirks.

McFarland’s been scamming since the fifth grade …
When McFarland was sentenced for his Fyre Fest and other related crimes, the judge diagnosed him as a “serial fraudster.” And it’s true — his schemes go way back. In the doc, McFarland boasts about being a scamming prodigy. In the second grade, he offered to fix a crayon for a girl he had a crush on but only if she gave him $1, which he then turned into a whole “crayon business.” He figured out how to hack his school’s internet access, lock teachers out of the school’s AlphaSmarts, and post messages on it promoting his new venture. By fifth grade, he posed as an adult and hired three full-time employees outsourced from India for his “web-posting company.” “I had like the worst fake-deep voice on the planet,” he reminisces. His mother, whose quotes in the doc are for some reason read via a Stephen Hawking–esque robotic voice, describes her son as dangerously resourceful from the start: “Billy has been gifted with a blessing and a curse. He can only think big.” McFarland says adult Billy went on to come up with the idea for his luxury credit-card business, Magnises, when he committed debit-card fraud after dinner with friends, wanting to make debit cards “cooler.” (He successfully copied his card’s bar using metal and magnetic tape to make working fakes. Don’t get any ideas, folks!)

… And he’s still scamming behind bars.
While out on bail on the Fyre Fest fraud charges, McFarland ran another ticket-buying scheme that landed him additional charges and time on his sentence. But McFarland’s in for the long con. It’s revealed that, while now in federal prison, his latest scheme is teaching a class on music entrepreneurship to other inmates. His true vocation at last!

Hulu’s Surprise Fyre Festival Doc: 8 Things We Learned