Documentaries are increasingly popping up on my radar these days. From Free Solo to Three Identical Strangers, my palette for movies have drastically shifted to stories that are grounded in real events and human experiences. Still upset Won't You Be My Neighbor got snubbed this Oscar Season!
I am sure y'all have heard about the Fyre Festival, a clusterfudge of poor management and financial fraud that led to 2017's nonexistent luxury music festival.
Thousands of party-goers and social media influencers were cheated out of a cavalcade of popular artists like Disclosure, Blink-182, Lil Yachty* and more.
*On a side note: a shout out to Wix for autocorrecting Lil Yacht to Lil Yachty. This site has its priorities together!*
Apparently, the rabbit hole goes deeper than expected. Hulu and Netflix released two competing documentaries to share their discoveries and exclusive interviews into the one of the greatests scams in modern times.
To summarize: Billy McFarland, Fyre Festival's organizer, duped thousands into spending $3,200 and more on tickets, "luxury amenities" and access to Pablo Escobar's private island. He lied to his staff, investors and the public about a lush island retreat for an A-list experience.
And it was far from the truth.
The musical talent didn't arrive. Sad looking sandwiches were the entrees. Wet mattresses in hurricane relief tents for communal sadness. Watching rabid guests ransack for a moist mattress and bottled water gave me some "Lord of the Flies" vibes. Oh yeah. And they couldn't leave either! Just a one-way flight to the Bahamian island of Great Exuma. Thanks Ja Rule!
Both docs were compelling and entertaining. Although I didn't revel in seeing the guests and Fyre employees psychologically held at ransom, the behind-the-scenes gave me some insight. The most compelling part for me as a filmmaker was seeing the signs of trouble for Fyre's production team. Whether it is a concert or a film, the common denominator is creative collaboration.
Obviously, there are so many variables that led to the festival's demise and McFarland's six year sentence in federal prison. But the way McFarland's employees enabled him and his delusions of grandeur is part of the equation.
This article is what the Fyre films taught me about working in production:
1) Marc Weinstein and Voicing your Opinions
Throughout Netflix's doc, we went through the emotional trenches with Marc Weinstein, Fyre's music festival consultant. As progress grinded to a crawl on the festival's concert and living logistics, Weinstein recognized a lot of issues that would raise alarms for Fyre. From offering insubstantial VIP packages to poor working conditions for the Bahamian locals, Weinstein expressed his concerns to McFarland. Obviously, McFarland didn't change his game plan. While Weinstein didn't quit and tried to reduce the collateral damage of this $hitshow, he is clearly the voice of reason here.
In my experience on set, we are all working hard to make the best film possible with our resources and talent. Movies aren't made with a bottomless bank account. Sometimes we have to cut corners and adapt to maybe; not having the dream camera you desire or trimming down on a scene to stay on-time for production. Every day for production costs something: time, money, resources, manpower.
Unfortunately, people make risky decisions that might save time and money, but come with additional troubles. No matter who you are on the production: crew, PA or someone in the leadership; if you know something is happening on set that could lead to injury, property damage or just downright illegal, report it. Tell someone you trust or your local union (IATSE, SAG, etc.).
Filmmaking is not all fun and games, but it shouldn't be a matter of life or death or impropriety.
2) Maryann Rolle and Treating your Employees like People!
Rich Instagrammers weren't the only ones screwed over by Billy McFarland. Meet Maryann Rolle. She was the owner of Exuma Point Bar and Grille and the woman who oversaw the catering for Fyre's party-goers. Before $hit hit the fan, Maryann was unaware that everyone was getting stiffed out of their payments. Hundreds of Bahamian locals put so much time and energy into building Fyre from the ground up. And they were either unpaid or underpaid for the labor.
And poor Maryann paid $50,000 to cover her employees' salaries, draining her savings. It sucks to not get paid. But it is HORRIBLE-TERRIBLE-NO-GOOD that you don't get a paycheck and personally supply your coworkers' payments.
She actually has a crowdfunding page up now:
This is a NO BRAINER. PAY YOUR EMPLOYEES. But more importantly, treat them like a human being! Folks have bills to pay. While you have to juggle crew payments and production budgets, the easiest thing to do is treat people with respect. A film set is like a second home. The crew is your psuedo-fam. Everyone is working together for a common goal and each individual brings something to the table.
Here is a hint for y'all low-budget filmmakers:
If you can't afford to pay crew or actors, be honest and negotiate. Sometimes your friends and coworkers are willing to help out for experience, personal interest or other reasons. But don't take it for granted. Ask if there is a way to help them with their projects or see if you can defer their payment within a reasonable timeframe. And ask before you get them working too.
3) Andy King and Not "Taking One for the Team"
OK. I am not gonna say what this guy was gonna do for cases of Evian Water. Watch the doc. Or google the memes. But I just need to give Andy King a hug for all the insanity he endured.
As event producer and former advocate for Billy McFarland, Mister King wanted to believe that McFarland was going to pull it together and save the disastrous festival before the public arrived. King continued to advise Billy on how to troubleshoot problems on the island and oversaw his part of the operations. Little did he know that he overstepped his boundaries. Like Marc, Andy could have been more vocal in his concerns, stepping down might have been better too.
Yet King felt empathetic to this charming entrepreneur and utilized all of his connections to assist McFarland in his Fyre Festival. At the end of the day, it was a real mis-fyre. McFarland constantly drained King of his connections, finances and time. Nothing like taking a pupil under your wing, only for him to ask you to debase yourself in front of Customs.
As mentioned before, your film crew is like a work family. We all band together to create something awesome. Yet it is important to set boundaries with what your role is. You gotta know your job inside and out: from the usual responsibilities to paygrade. If something feels amiss about what you're doing, listen to that gut feeling.
Well-ran productions are often clear about what are your parameters on the job and what tasks are considered appropriate for the position. Recognizing what you are and aren't comfortable is vital in the industry. No one knows you better than you.
Refresher points below:
VOICE YOUR URGENT CONCERNS.
DON'T BE A HERO AND TAKE UNNECESSARY RISKS!
AND TREAT YOUR EMPLOYEES AND/OR CO-WORKERS LIKE REAL HUMAN BEINGS!
I know it is not always simple or clear-cut when and where you should utilize these strategies. Hell, the situation might so complex that you have to pick your battles and when to let it slide. After binging the Fyre films back-to-back, my biggest takeaway is that collaboration (of all mediums and professions) means working on your communication and recognizing your value to a team. Easier said than done, right? Requires a lot of courage and self-reflection. But I believe work shouldn't feel like an emotional dumpster fyre.
Hulu’s Fyre Fraud and Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened are now available on your digital streaming sites.
Written by Chandler Kilgore-Parshall